Thursday, October 12, 2006

Well, they say a week is a long time in politics but it’s a lot longer in India.

And 12 days is even longer than a week.

And all the time I thought ‘nothing’ was happening.

About the middle of last week I went for my first Ayuverdic massage, courtesy of the much recommended Madhu whose house is a solid 20 minute scooter ride from the gilded and gated ashtanga community of Gokulam. There to greet me with his 800 year old, oil streaked teak massage bench was the man himself, perhaps my age, with 14 generations of family members’ massage heritage welling up through his eyes and hands. The massage itself, oil heavy and very intense (read painful), was an experience to say the least. I knew my hips had some tightness to work into but I think that using the greater trocanter as a fulcrum is not perhaps what evolution intended although that is what it seemed to me Madhu was trying to achieve in the latter stages. No wonder he was getting so out of breath.

He was out of breath after about 30 minutes – a real mark of how hard he was working. This allowed me a short respite after the back massage in which to get my (mental) breath and feel the first rush of endorphinous relief flood my system. You don’t know how much fear of pain you have until you start to experience it more deeply than any other time you care to remember. I had been thinking of a conversation over breakfast with M, from Spain and a ‘veteran’ of 8 Vipassana retreats, who spoke plainly and calmly of the emergence and dissipation of pain during lengthy meditations ‘it arises but as you examine it very often it melts away under the scrutiny…’. I had yet to reach those heights, despite huge mental enquiry, and although I realise that 30 minutes on a teak bench is not a long time to embark on a path to self abnegation it was the only option I felt was really practical.

So I had my forces marshalled for the front side instalment when Madhu returned. The barriers were breached almost immediately though and I found myself actually groaning in pain this time, with breathing very little help and a calm detachment about as likely as the observation of lane discipline at a major junction in Mysore. I grunted and grimaced my way through it. The relief was huge after that and I lay recovering for a good 15 minutes, thoughts of a shower, papaya smoothie and some reading began to surface. The hypnotic ‘Om’ chant emanating from the small speaker at the head of the bench suddenly came to my conscious attention and I listened gratefully to its soothing cadence. I figured that I had been there perhaps an hour or so. 750 rupees seemed like getting away lightly really.

Madhu returned, reinvigorated, his orange Lunghi seemingly more lumiscent than before, his bindi more intense and third-eye like, its power projecting outwards communicating the deeply spiritual nature and practice of the massage. It was time to get my sides done.

That was Wednesday I think. After, despite and because of that I felt pretty good. Someone had told me it was a stimulating massage and I can’t disagree with them.

On Friday J and I took the train to Bangalore for a quick shopping/city trip. We had bought aircon seats but found that, in these comfortable temperatures, the ordinary 2nd class cars are much better as the windows are open and one can have a chat with people easily while they have a good stare as is their wont. I don’t get stared at on my own, at least not so I’d notice, but women garner tons of attention and so the two of us weren’t short on gawps for the 3 hour ride to badly in need of repair platform 2 at Bangalore City station.

Having heard that Bangalore’s bar scene is second only to that of Mumbai we had in mind a decent night out followed by a half day shopping. The night out started well with the location of a decent Japanese restaurant – as good as any I have eaten in – which served deliciously fresh Unagi on rice. My favourite as it turns out. Back on the stinking street outside the block housing the restaurant we managed to hail a Rickshaw and go to one of the 4 bars we had targeted. It was empty. On a Friday night. As were the next three. We returned to the pleasantly white-roomed, cool and quiet hotel and decided that perhaps we weren’t cool enough for Bangalore after all. Contemplation of the reverse seemed churlish.

The next day we got bitten. First of all J found a small cockroach in her breakfast. I am fully aware that the Indian diet, to the limited degree with which I am familiar with it, may be a little deficient in proteins, but this was a step too far too soon. Okay, these things happen. Time to check out the newest shopping mall in Bangalore which as luck would have it was a short stroll from the hotel. After dodging the lepers, depilated three legged dogs and mosquito breeding farms/puddles on the way we got to the Garuda Mall to find that most shops were not open until 11am. It was 930 and our train was 2pm so we decided to regroup and head to a shop recommended by K as a good bet for towels and bedding – important as Mum is arriving on the 15th so I want to make sure she is comfortable.

The rickshaw ride there, once we had secured a ride that is, was over 10kms. We were still surrounded by a wholly urban landscape. We had the address of the shop but it was proving very hard to locate. In true travelling style everyone but noone knew where it was. Back and forward, up and down streets. Although I don’t want to do her a disservice I have to say that by this time J was basically getting pretty stroppy. Now, I’ve definitely been there when overseas and I understand how it happens so I wasn’t annoyed with her but it just makes things more complicated and aggravating to deal with. In the end I remembered I had the phone number of the shop. The person who answered initially sounded helpful and I only needed to repeat our location 3 times but my final utterance was met with a loud cackle followed by the sound of the line being cut. J shot me a look that might cause serious injury. We sheltered at the nearest Bharat Petroleum servo where considerate street kids entertained us with backflips, top spinning and overly persistent arm scratching. The shop kindly sent someone to get us. It was 20 metres from where we had initially been dropped. I bought some stuff.

It was now 12pm. The mission to get to the train station elided beautifully with the day thus far in terms of levels of frustration, uncertainty and heat but we did get there with 40 minutes to spare and the sight of the station alone was enough to coax the first smile from J since about 8.43am, just before the cockroach.

So we got back to Mysore on Saturday evening and I took a couple of remedies for a sore throat caused by the over efficient aircon in the hotel.

Sunday’s delights included a visit to the pool followed by a Vegan, Sattvic (look that one up yourself) charity lunch for Operation Shanti, a Mysore organisation dedicated to helping street mothers and children. For 150 rupees V and C kindly prepared about 5 salads, a couple of rice dishes and some garlic free (that’s the Sattvic bit) humus for the patrons. It was pretty good actually. Well done them. I left my sunglasses there and have yet to recover them.

On Monday, after a super high energy practice which had me convinced the signs of illness were in abeyance, I felt the need to go shopping at Fabindia – a great shop chain – in search of trousers as shorts are a bit of a no no really, unless one is of the lower castes and working on a building site carrying 10 bricks on your head. Ended up buying a nice shirt as the trousers weren’t up to much. We headed into town to get offers from a couple of tailors on trousers. No deal done yet. Lunch was booked over in Lakshmipuram, where the old KPJ shala is but before hand I had a bit of a list of stuff to accumulate in preparation for arrival of mum. Visits to supermarket and a couple of other stops were completed on the scooter before a rendezvous with S, R and T in order to travel over to lunch together on the bikes. I was enjoying the jeans and shirt look and felt comfortable even though the day was warm and sunny.

Lunch was delicious, although there was a little question mark about where the water had come from though this was raised after I had drank a fair bit so I tried not to think about it. The meal was one of the many available to yoga students which are served by enterprising Mysoreans in their own homes. We headed back towards Gokulam, and I ended up carrying J and S on the scooter together. Not strictly legal but often enough seen hereabouts. The long and the short of it was that I crashed into another bike on the way home. We all walked away no serious damage done for those more interested parties reading this but the aftermath has been somewhat protracted as we all recover. I got ill within hours, first with a painful stomach thing then with a cold which still has me laid out on Thursday afternoon. This on top of the two cuts to my leg which got cleaned up at the hospital and the precautionary Tetanus shot (cost – 4 rupees including syringe) to the hip which also probably made me feel extra lousy. J has a small cut to the left knee and S has no physical knocks but is pretty tired and just taking things extra easy. We were lucky, it could have been a lot worse so I am thankful. Scooter riding days are over for me. You gotta recognise when you can’t trust yourself!

Anyway, there’s till plenty of time for me to fully recover before mum arrives on Sunday morning and that’s great. I’m looking forward to welcoming her here and, as you will understand from the above, glad that I have decided to pick her up direct at the airport in a (chauffered) car and drive straight back to Mysore. 5 hour round trip and a lot more pleasant than battling through Bangalore. We can do another side trip to take care of her wish to do the Indian train thing eh?

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