After an uneventful passage through customs, I now embark at Bengaluru airport. When the automatic door opened to the India soil, I took a quick scan of the people holding signs all lined up to greet us. Something was different. I lifted my eyes above the horizon and saw the immediate noticeable change at sight. It is indeed a brand new airport. That’s right, this airport opened last May and Hindustan is now officially operational. This is located 50 kilometers outside Bangalore (the opposite direction from Mysore, yes, further!) Bangalore beat Delhi in offering a new airport? Delhi has been boasting a state of the art airport slated for 2010. Oh, I remember vividly the unpleasant discomfort and nuances traveling around Delhi (that is another boring chapter so I will skip that). I paced myself slowly passing each placard, reading, looking for my name (even my last name and not first name as that is how I was addressed here before). There was my guru, Dr. Murthy and one of his sishyas holding a sign for me that read My name Wel-come while Dr. M was holding a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Vinay loads my two 50 pounder luggage in the car. I scout the scenery while Dr. M acknowledges my arrival and reassures me of unconditional comfort in his home in the next few days while I decide which shala I will choose to study so he can strategically place my accommodation accordingly. By the way, one of these 50 pounder luggage is full of school supplies for the kids here. I can’t wait to see the faces of happy kids. Sad to say, it will never be enough. A big thank you to all my students who tossed me a dollar here and there to help get something for the kids. My luggage allowance limited me to buy some more but rest assured, it will help me buy those sacks of rice come Christmas for them.
It is almost midnight. The streets are still very active, loud and full of life. As I observe around, déjà vu sinks in. I see many familiar scenes, the haggard physiques, the rushed intentions, the incessant honking, etc. The putrid smell, men standing against the concrete fences tending to their personal business, as if hosing down the walls will grow flowers or produce more dahl, the incongruent flow of traffic with all signs ignored (or perhaps they are all color blind and red or green just means it is a permission to drive whichever way you please). There is that motorcycle scene again, three or four people; the driver, wife on her saree riding side saddled with a child on her lap and another human being sitting in front of the driver. I know that wearing a helmet was already a law before I left last time but I did not see any of these people wearing one. There was rubbish strewn all over the land, the dilapidated buildings and holy cows in every corner. I thought I have forgotten the most annoying peculiar gesture of bopping heads. When you talk to people here, they stare at you and bop their heads. Really. It looks like one of those Oakland Acers mascot holding a baseball bat, at the back of a car and its head bopping, floating into unconditional agreement. When I first encountered this, I thought the guy had a motion problem, some kind of repetitive movement due to a damaged nerve. I repeated my question over and over and his head kept bopping deeper and wider. Exasperated, I exclaimed, “Come on, say something!” Filipinos raised their eyebrows when they mean yes assuming that you can hear their brows move. (Marci, have I discouraged you yet? Are you still joining me later?) No, I am not dreaming. Yes, I am in India!
We arrive at Dr. M's home. My temporary flat is in the living room in a corner. The bed was the size enough to hold my fatigued and limp body. There was a light blanket for me to use, not to keep me warm but to discourage the mosquitoes from beaming me up to Punjab. By my head was a shut door. It’s a good thing I placed my head on that direction. I learned the following morning that it is their altar. Ganesh, Shiva, Lakshmi and Saraswathi were all there. It is disrespectful to point the feet towards the altar. That I made sure will not happen.
The next morning, I was alone as everyone went to their business. It was bath time. Oh yeah, there is hot water. I still have to mix the cold and hot water in the bucket and scoop it over my head. Lucky for me the water is clear. In some parts of India, the bathing water is actually brown. You have to close your eyes, purse your lips and buy two liters of bottled water for your final rinse.
Finally, my very first long awaited yoga sadhana. And there were two. Dr. M instructed Acharya Nijaguna to pick me up in his motorcycle so I can attend. He arrived 10 minutes before the scheduled class time. I asked how far is the shala and he said 10 kilometers. Given my knowledge of India’s traffic, my calculating mind quickly started rolling down minutes into distance and I knew very well, it would take a miracle to get there on time. I got in the back of the motorcycle and quietly obliged to hold on to something with one hand while I clutched on my yoga mat with the other. By this time, my rear pack is now suffering from a “camel saddle syndrome” from riding motorcycle with Mo. I know this ride will be different than Singapore though. Still I obliged. Either that or fight with the rickshaw drivers and I know they will not get me to class on time. Even if they did, I will have to add extra minutes for the time it will take for us to argue over the fare anyway. Nijaguna revved the engine and off we went. For every turn, my knuckles got whiter and tighter. I asked myself, “What would it take for us to get there on time?” Nijaguna blazed the traffic unfazed joining all drivers in unison honking his horn. It was no doubt the perfect moment to call on Ganesh, the God who is referred to as the Remover of Obstacles. Come to think of it, every driver should pray to Ganesh every time. Then all the traffic challenges will be solved. I found myself reciting the Ganesh mantra quietly. “Om Gum Gana Patayei Namaha” over and over again. Even if it means going against the flow, Nijaguna was a maharaja of all might at the moment. Then I saw many people walking towards us. It can’t be. We are driving on the sidewalk! This time, I closed my eyes, clutched on the iron plate tighter as my digits can manage as they started to numb. My recitation got faster and faster but this time I was reciting my acts of contrition and I was calling upon my own God, Jesus. Are you in India? Oh GAWD, Jesus, please save me. Do something, beam us up, something, now. I closed my eyes, pursed my lips and KUMBHAKA! For how long, I don’t recall. I slowly squinted my eyes and hesitantly peeked to see if there are cops or sirens surrounding us. None. We entered a gated compound and the scenery began to change. We are now in the shala. We made it! Nijaguna turned off the engine. How dare he asked me with a proud grin, “Did you enjoy the ride?” Not a word came out of my mouth but with my heart thumping, inside I uttered, “How could you?” He did not apologize. Of course not! Was I to expect that? In his mind, I probably should thank him for his splendid maneuver and for getting us to class, on time and alive. He smiled and said, “I will be slower next time.” It’s not like I have not been on a bike in India.
No one was stressed but me. Now I really need yoga. I slowly slipped my shoes off. Everyone was busy chatting when we walked in. It got quiet and the eyes were on me. I was noticed. I looked different. I did not wear a suit and I did not speak Kannada. Nijaguna introduced me and I politely bowed and said “Aap kaise hain? Mera nam hae Samson.” Light laughter in unison. I am not sure if I pronounced my fragmented Hindi properly or if they were expecting me to speak Kannada instead. At the end of the class, three women approached me and acknowledged me. “You did very well, have you been practicing for long?” I responded, “dve deja.” Another chuckle; Sanskrit but no Kannada.
I got to practice twice in one day amongst women in two different venues, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were about 20 women in each class, all yoga’ing in their suits (without the shawl). For every urdha hastana, I can hear their bangle bracelets clink and clang. For every bhudrasana, I can see their tops cover their faces. For every parshva drishti, I could see their bindhis imbedded in their ajna chakras. The distraction was temporary as I reminded myself to gaze inwards and closed my eyes. This sadhana is for me. Acharya Vinay says “Vanish your stress. Forget the body. Melt away the aches and pain.” That I did. The practice was quite different than my regular routine as we inserted svasana and schlokas in between groups of asanas. This is typical though for all ananda yoga.
After then we headed to Lalbagh Botanical Garden where Dr. M practiced with his champion sishyas. This is where I see Dr. M regarded by his country as a World Champion. Yes, he just won another World Champion title last July with his picture of Ekapada Mayurasana, (the wounded peacock balancing his entire horizontal body with one hand). Here he was on urdhva dhanurasana walking back and forth with his hastas and padas up and down the rocky stairwell, then got up, picking up his entire body into uttanasana. He looked like a runaway Alaskan king crab on a slippery glacier. As if that was not impressive enough, he then went into mukta hasta vrkrasana up and down the hill once again. Okay, the difference here is that urdhva dhanurasana was balancing on all fours while mukta hasta vrkrasana is balancing with dve hasta (two hands) while his feet were resting on his shoulders, in the dark! (It was about 6 pm.) He looked like a mad scorpion chasing its prey. I am not making this up. I could not take pictures as it was dark but I am certain we will have more sessions to arrive. He did this as a warm up; to inspire or demonstrate? Either way, he got my undivided attention.