One of our teachers, Sangeetha, who teaches us “Principles of Asana” at KYM told us how her daughter is having a difficult time adjusting in Paris. She calls home to tell Sangeetha it’s just too quiet, that even the dogs bark softer there. Sangeetha’s daughter wants to come back home to India where the opposite is so familiar to her. Changes in what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste can affect people so strongly. Me? I know that India isn’t a place everyone wants to visit but I think I’m doing well in Chennai so far. I am getting used to the constant honking, dust, trash, animals on the road, and the general chaos that surround me from early in the morning until late at night. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me very much. I was at lunch today with a woman from South Africa and she said that nothing here has shocked her so far because of what she’s seen in Africa. Maybe living in New York City for so long has toughened me up? I did live in Hell’s Kitchen in the 90s for a few years… Maybe it’s my having traveled in Vietnam and Cambodia that prepared me for this country; crossing the street here during rush hour isn’t as daunting as doing the same in Hanoi. I am alert when I walk around but I’m not scared. At this point, all the honking and whatnot are just background noise and I don’t let it bother me. I think maybe I’m having an easier time because I like the food here so much!?!?
What I am noticing here in Chennai though, is poverty that I knew I would encounter but I don’t feel prepared for (I guess I’d never be prepared to see something like this). I’ve seen poor before but not this kind of poor. I have definitely been insulated from a lot of this while I was traveling in Kerala for the last month, as Kerala is the most literate and the most successful of all Indian states. Tamil Nadu, where I am now, is not the poorest but the discrepancy between the poor and the rich is palpable. This afternoon I saw a BMW parked next to a guy who was practically naked, emaciated, and passed out on the sidewalk. It’s all very difficult to comprehend and it’s been a recurring topic of discussion for almost every traveler I’ve met. I’d like to think that the money I’m spending here will go towards the local economy and will help in some way, but am I just being hopeful and naive?
My school, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), is about 20 minutes from my apartment. When I first walked there I was shocked by the neighborhood where the KYM building is located. To reach the school, I have to walk through a few streets where people live in buildings without windows or even proper doors. I usually find the inhabitants squatting outside next to cow dung and all kinds of trash. Then you walk into the school to find marble floors, air conditioning, and clean white walls. It is a wonderful setting to learn and spend 8+ hours everyday but it feels a bit odd. Once I am inside the building I almost forget that I’m in India. That’s just the way it is though. It’s India.
I took a few photos at school today. We are not allowed to photograph or record our lectures or yoga practices, so these are just shots of where I have breakfast and where we spend the day studying. I haven’t seen much of the city yet, only a few streets I take to get to school and back. I hope to explore the Chennai more this weekend. I did find a “fancy” restaurant today for lunch where I splurged and spent 300 rupees (~$7USD) and a woman from school told me there was a nice cafe where I can get some ice cream (she had some last weekend and didn’t get sick). I won’t be drinking but I think there are a few people from school who are keen on getting an adult beverage or two this weekend. On the way home last night I saw a place that had a “wine shop” sign that looked like a bar, but only Indian men were inside. I will have to ask Savita, my landlord, what that’s all about. One thing that I find interesting here is that there are quite a few fitness clubs. There is a women only gym a block away from my apartment and I know that Savita works out. She proposed having lunch on Sunday so I hope she can answer all these questions I have about the day to day Indian life. I’m really glad that I am going to spend a month in one place where I can get a better understanding of how people live.