Monday, November 18, 2013

Lights of the Gods


Giants save the day.

Ever since we decided to come to India, I was thrilled that we'd be spending time with our friends Karen and Widi, who have lived in Chennai for five years. I was also excited to know I'd get to do yoga in the place where it all began.  Our second morning here in Chennai, I came downstairs ready to go in my favorite yoga pants and purple tie-dye yoga top.

"Do you have a regular tee-shirt that covers your shoulders and reveals no cleavage?" asked Karen.

What? Well, that certainly tweaked my concept of a yoga class.

I went back upstairs and donned my Giants World Series tee-shirt. It has a bit of a vee-neck. Being a large-breasted gal, I wasn't sure if it was suitable, but it's the only tee-shirt I brought.

Karen gave me the stamp of approval. I wondered how comfortable I'd be because I do yoga only in sleeveless shirts. Then it struck me how being a little more covered up might suggest a shift in the focus of the class from external to internal.

Karen and Widi go to Swami Sivananda yoga. In fact, Widi will participate in the teacher training in the Himalayas next year. He's more than ready to teach, if you ask me. Not only has he been a language teacher for years, he can rock yoga poses that make me sore to watch. During class when he did the peacock with grace and (apparent) ease, I felt I was in the company of a master.

The class incorporated chanting, breathing, sun salutations and various challenging poses with welcome rests in between. I was familiar with most of the poses although there were some variations new to me.

At the end was an extended savasana (corpse pose) with relaxation guided by the teacher. (I've read we are practicing to be corpses when we are in that pose. If so, death will be luxurious.)

Family decorating the sidewalk for Kartik.

After class we were given a snack: half a banana, a kind of sweet sticky rice, and tea because it was a special day: Kartik Poornima. This festival coincides with the full moon. Kartik means "star" and the day is also knows as the festival of lights of the gods.

Not only did we get an edible treat, but we put dots on our foreheads of three different color pastes (yellow, red and black). The black is ashes from burnt offerings.


Streets of Chennai.

The peacefulness of the yoga center was greatly contrasted with a walk we took that afternoon through the neighborhood. It's truly mind-boggling for this Westerner to be walking along crumbling sidewalks through throngs of people, stray dogs, and the occasional cow interspersed with cars and motorcycles and bicycles weaving through, horns blaring. In what appears to be chaos, everything actually flows in an improvisational pattern. Widi told us that cars honk not in aggression but to inform others of their location.

Cuties.  (That's Widi in the back with the family dog.)

We made our way over to the beach where smiling kids ran up to us shouting, "Photo! Photo!" After we'd take their picture they'd say, "Zoom! Zoom!" I realized they wanted to look at the picture and have me zoom in so they could see their faces. It was a beautiful thing to laugh with these children. Some of them were playing with balls, kicking them around. We also saw three boys playing with pieces of a styrofoam cooler, clearly garbage from the beach.

There is a lot of trash everywhere, no question. What a striking contrast the garbage is to the activity in the stores and streets, the colorful saris everywhere, and the energy and beauty of the people.


Near the beach I saw a little girl--not more than three--perched on the front of a motorcycle driven by her father. I wondered how she balanced so well. She was adorable; I couldn't help but stare. Her father looked directly at me, and I sheepishly smiled at him. He grinned back so fully it felt like he was beaming joy right into me. Perhaps he was happy I appreciated his little girl so much.

That smile--with teeth brilliantly white--stayed with me. Widi told me that many Indians use a twig for brushing their teeth (which some do incessantly). That, indeed, makes them very white.

He mentioned this as the four of us sat on the roof that evening, sipping wine. Fireworks lit up the sky in celebration of the Hindu festival. From a distance the haunting Islamic call to prayer echoed, and I recalled how that morning I'd been awakened by the bells of a nearby Christian church.

As the sun set, the golden full moon rose--just as it does on this day everywhere in the world.



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