I believe it was David Byrne (it’s possible he was quoting someone else) who said, “Rich people will travel great distances to take pictures of poor people.” Certainly by local standards, this was me.
The last few weeks have been some of the most evolutionary of my recent life. For those of you following along, you know I’ve been through some harrowing times and some adventures, had a good deal of fun and done some great shopping. A friend of mine from home, who has been coming to India for 40 years and still finds it quite challenging said, “India is relentless in its pursuit of forcing you to become who you really are.” His words carried me through much of this journey.
My Ego was obliterated on the mat and my days made needlessly complicated by the simple lack of infrastructure this country suffers. I was forced to phone a friend for some emotional support for what I was experiencing. And yet somewhere around day 13, I came through the dark night of my own soul and emerged happy, energized, and excited to go to my next class, buy yogurt from the little store on my way home, and cross the death-defying 6 lanes of traffic that separated my neighborhood from that of the Iyengar Institute in Pune. India has a pace all its own and it clearly took me some time to adjust. As I get ready to leave, I am simultaneously relieved and sad and anxious to come back, though next time I will make a point of staying longer and seeing more of the country. There is just way too much good stuff here not to spend more time.
I made some friends here who I will miss very much. Parvez and his wife Zarin sell CDs and books in the institute. Parvez was a pharmacist for years and evidently sleeps on my Eggs to help the severe curve in his back — perhaps from years of hunching over to fill prescriptions? He and his wife love the Eggs so much they want to be my Indian distributor. Rima tailored a dozen articles of clothing for me by way of contributing to my Indian makeover. And Nana, oh, Nana. Everyone needs someone like you if they’re going to come someplace like this. When Nana was with me, life was smooth. When he was absent, life was much more… real.
I have some parting advice I’d like to offer for anyone coming here in the future. Feel free to ignore it.
If you are coming to study yoga at the Iyengar Institute, try to find accommodations as nearby as you can. You will want to spend lots of time here and the wrong commute can be discouraging to that desire.
- Bring this mask to protect your lungs from the pollution. Wear it whenever you are in a rickshaw or walking down the street. Don’t worry about how it looks. First of all, it doesn’t look that bad. Secondly, lots of people wear something over their nose and mouth. Third, it really works. I lost mine 4 days before going home and the difference of not having it was huge. I was very sorry to have lost it. I tried a bandana, but that did nothing to filter out the fumes of which there are many. I cannot recommend this mask enough. It is paradoxically too expensive and worth every penny.
- Bring a mat that you plan to leave behind. They are badly needed and deeply appreciated. There is no need to make a display of leaving it. Just pile it on with all the other mats and walk away smiling on the inside.
- Don’t bring Iyengar books. You can read/purchase them all at the library/bookstore there and you’ll be supporting the Institute when you do.
- Bring shoes you can walk long distances in and slip on and off without laces or even bending down. You will be expected to enter the Institute, all homes and some businesses barefoot. Socks are discouraged indoors, I don’t know why.
- Drink bottled water and only bottled water. Brush your teeth with bottled water. Be prepared that you will be throwing away a lot of plastic bottles. It’s depressing. I never quite got over it but I wasn’t in a position to pay an extra $200 baggage fee for a spare suitcase just to pack them out and recycle them at home.
- Try to stay humble. If you fail to stay humble, India will humble you. No matter how humble you think you are, it is quite possible that India will humble you further. It’s okay. It actually feels good once the Ego has relinquished its death-grip on your daily experience. I saw a T-shirt that summed up my feelings with some humor and extreme accuracy.
- Avoid doing battle with authorities. They can be whimsical in their decisions to enforce their power. Smile, be polite, and be prepared that they will mostly treat you kindly if you let them.
- India is Relentless. Just keeping that in mind will help when you are experiencing some of its relentlessness. This comes in all forms: from the constant noise; to the pollution, the tireless bargaining; the uneasy feeling that you’re always paying the “tourist” price despite of the economy working drastically in your favor; the food and possible dysentery that can result from eating it; the sheer density of the population; and the traffic, oy the traffic.
India is a place unlike any other, though my experiences here were on par with my travels in Ecuador back in 1991 — I lived there for 6 months and traveled almost every inch of that country. Developing nations share certain idiosyncrasies that distinguish them from places like the US and Europe. Adjusting to life back home can be even more disorienting than adjusting to life abroad, but that’s another subject altogether.
I’ve had an amazing journey here and with a 10-year visa I hope to come back. It hasn’t always been a good time, but it has indeed been a truly great experience.
Below are a bunch of photos I took during my trip. They don’t really have much context other than showcasing the streets and the people. Thank you for following this series of blogs. Please leave comments, tweet and share with your friends.