Let me just begin by saying that the trip alone to Mysore is an Oddyssean journey. From California, the trek to study with Sharath consisted of 4 parts:
- First leg: the flight from San Diego to Chicago which was delayed by one hour, which put me at risk of missing all of my other connecting flights. It was about 3 hours of pure anxiety, as I worried about what would happen if I missed my flight.
- Second leg: I got lucky and was just able to board my next flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi. The demographic had definitely changed — many of the female passengers wore saris or burqas, and there were a lot of us crammed into a tight fitting Boeing 777. Flight time was 13.5 hours of sheer agony on my back and neck.
- Third leg: From Abu Dhabi, I arrived to Bangalore in 4 hours with a total travel time of 27 hours (including all the layover time). Out of those 27 hours, I perhaps slept for only 5 hours…enough to survive and move on.
- Fourth leg: a crazy ride from Bangalore to Mysore which lasted 4 hours. The taxi driver chuckled at my horror as we weaved haphazardly between trucks, buses, scooters, even cows and pedestrians, coming within inches of collision. “Next time you come, you get used to Indian driving!” he laughed. He told me to sleep while he drove, but that was not going to happen — I was too scared, and with all the honking of horns, there was no way to sleep.
Needless to say, I did arrive safely to Mysore, dropped off at the Urban Oasis where I plan to stay a few nights before rooming with one of my friends from my shala. I arrived at eight on Saturday morning, hoping to register for Sharath’s class which starts the very next day. So, even after my arrival in Mysore, I could not completely relax. From the hotel I walked to the shala, struck by the noise, commotion, and hubbub of cows, scooters, and rickshaws speeding along the main road. My taxi driver was kind enough to show me how to walk to the KPJAYI.
When I arrived at the shala, there was already an aura of quiet anticipation. The doors were open, with only a trickling of students here and there. I was greeted by two stern Indian women who asked for copies of my visa, passport, and photo, and whether I was prepared to pay the fee. After saying yes to these things, they said I could proceed to Sharath’s office.
I have been to both of Sharath’s workshops in California over the last 2 years but found myself feeling very nervous as I approached his office. He sat quietly at his desk — a slim, slight man, only a year younger than me but honestly I was as terrified as a little girl. He motions to me to sit down with a quick wave of his hand. We say our quick hellos, and then he promptly asks me, “Do you practice Full Primary?”
“Yes,” I said. “I practice Full Primary, and up to Mayurasana in the Second Series.”
“Who are your teachers?” He gazed intently at me, with a sternness which seemed to peak at the mention of the Second Series. Perhaps students tend to get a little too sure of themselves when they reach the Second Series (or so I have heard!)…
“Andrew Hillam and David Miliotis,” I said.
“Ah,” Sharath said. He seemed to approve of that response. “Well, here you will only do Full Primary. I will have to see if you can do more.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “That’s what Andrew and David told me.”
Sharath proceeds to fill out my ID card carefully and then said, “Only one month.” He did not seem to like this. So I explained, hoping that
he would understand as a parent, “I have 2 young children…my family can’t come with me, so it is hard to make more time.”
“Ah,” Sharath says, and he seemed to soften a bit more. “Well, it is good to come here for a bit than not at all.”
So I successfully registered. I made it to Mysore, and I will be able to practice. Yet part of me felt overwhelmed, small, and lonely, half a world away from my family, in a foreign country where the people seemed so different from me. It helped, though, to see the few friends I knew from the shala: Aimee, Jen, Christi, and Aina. This was Christi’s first time in Mysore, and so we quickly bonded over the feeling of newness and anxiety.
India seems like a land of contrasts; there is a lot of beauty amidst poverty and squalor. I think of the many women and children sitting along side the main highway from Bangalore to Mysore, selling their wares amidst cows which grazed on the grass. They live a simple, basic, and perhaps rough life; what do they think of all these foreigners who fly into their land, studying a practice that was born in their culture? The air is warm, tropical, and humid…and yeah, it’s a bit primitive and dirty but there is something very neat about that, too. I’m reminded of my visits to China, Taiwan, or Costa Rica…there is a feeling of a return to a bare bones existence…