Monday, March 14, 2011

heat in india

i have a masochistic streak.  one of the ways it's manifested itself is in my decision to go native this time around and wear long sleeves, like the locals do.  this way i can both show respect to local customs, and suffer in the process.  now as the spring is turning into summer here i've come to fear the sun.  how absurd! i, who have always claimed seasonal affective disorder and my eternal love of heat, i am afraid of the sun.  at 12 degrees north, the sun's beams are like needles and razors somehow combined.

making this heat even less pleasant is the fact that i'm now sick.  i can no longer deny it.  without getting too detailed, let it suffice to say that the symptoms are for the most part gastrointestinal, with some coughing thrown in as an extra "fuck you."  it's a bummer, but getting sick like this is part of the india experience.  i got violently ill my first trip, and i thought i was going to escape unscathed this time.  as whitney sang, "it's not right, but it's okay."  at least i'll get that much skinnier in my last week here, which is all i ever really wanted anyway. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

at the orphanage

the main room of the orphanage is like a kindergarten classroom.  the walls are adorned with informational posters: animals, numbers, letters, all in hindi, kannada, and english.  there are pictures of historical and religious figures: gandhiji, sai baba, jesus, swami vivekananda, arjuna in his chariot with krishna, and the trininty of ganesh, lakshmi, and saraswati.  the floor is a dusty terrazzo.  there are different activities for different days.  monday, wednesday, and friday are for the playground or dancing (the hands-down favorite).  tuesday and thursday are for english, which i must confess, is quite hard.  none of the volunteers are esl instructors per se, and the younger kids barely speak english at all.

when we march the children to the playground the reaction from the locals is a mixed bag.  some of the adults look at us with quiet contempt.  as if, owing to the law of karma, these kids had their situation coming to them, so fuck'em.  others give us dull, vacant stares.  others, mostly the children, are another matter.  from them we get radiant welcoming smiles and sincere greetings.  the smiles are familiar.  they trigger the association, whether warrated or not, one makes with india and spirtituality.  when we get to the playground the kids split up, with the older boys going off to play cricket and the rest going batshit running all over the place randomly.  in this regard they are like children anywhere.  the playground is dusty, with rickety rusted monkey bars, prickly weeds, and some well-placed huge piles of cow shit.

it was in my second week in mysore that i started volunteering at this orphanage.  the place is a few miles out from the shala, in a scuzzy part of town.  i'm not sure what the stories are for all of the kids, of which there are about thirty, but the sign on the building says it's orphans and for rehabilitating kids who have been forced into labor.  one of the children, a boy named shivappa, had acid (acid!) thrown on his face, leaving half of it horrifically scarred.  he is maybe five years old.  the rest are mostly aged five to eleven years old, with a few four year-olds and some teens and preteens. i see the amazing elasticity of the human spirit when i'm here.  whatever it is they went through, the children have love, openness, and warmth which is utterly humbling.

i'm happy i came that first day, happy i continue to come, and will return when i return to mysore.

Friday, March 11, 2011

first adjustment

my first adjustment from sharath goes something like this--  after coming up from my third drop-back backbend he is there.  i don't know where he was in the room before, he just materializes.  his hands come to my sacrum and he supports me as i drop back three more times, only with these drop backs my hands don't go to the floor.  the fourth time, as i am bent back i pause, take my hands over my head, and let them dangle towards the floor.  while continuing to support my sacrum with one hand he takes my right wrist with his other hand and pulls it down to my right ankle.  "don't touch," he says.  he means don't touch the floor.  as in, "don't let go of your ankle and support yourself with your hand which is down there close to the floor."  these two words, by the way, account for perhaps the seventh and eight syllables that he has uttered to me directly in the week and half i've been here.  he doesn't talk much.  so, taking the cue not to touch the floor, i instead shift my weight into my right foot and straighten my right leg some.  my grip on my ankle remains strong.  sharath repeats the process with my left hand, only without any more verbal instruction.  i am now standing on my feet, bent over backwards, holding both ankles with each hand.  sharath then reaches down and cinches each hand up a little higher, so i am grabbing my calves.  after five breaths (not necessarily my deepest breaths, i can assure you) i pop back up.  then i sit and sharath pushes my back down as i fold forward to neutralize my spine.

sharath has goldilocks hands.  the amount of strength he uses to move my body is perfect-- not too strong, not too weak.  i think of a passage from chuang tzu:

“A good cook changes his knife once a year — because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month — because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room — more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.
“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until — flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

i'm not sure if sharath would appreciate me comparing him to the dexterous butcher, but to me it fits.  one can feel the experience in his hands, his perfect efficiency.