My time here in Chennai is just flying by. It’s already been three weeks since I arrived and I can hardly believe that by this time next week, the Heart of Yoga program will be over and I will have to think about my traveling plans again. It has been wonderful to stay in one place and get a feel for how one might live in an Indian city. Just as I would have done in New York when I lived there, I made plans with friends to meet up and spend some time together this weekend in Chennai. My flatmates left for Pondi (Pondicherry ~ 140km south of Chennai) on Friday so I had the apartment to myself. My next door neighbor and fellow yoga student came over for dinner on Friday night to keep me company. We both had our favorite go-to comfort meal of porridge with peanuts, dates, and flax seeds. I know it’s not the most exciting way to finish a week but for me, it was a good start to a quiet weekend in the city.
Saturday I had a long leisurely lunch with a new friend from KYM, an American who has been living and working in Indonesia for the past decade. I found a lovely little ayurvedic vegetarian restaurant called Mahamudra (located in the Isha Life center) not too far from my apartment and was pleasantly surprised that such a tranquil place existed amidst the chaotic streets of Chennai. We spent most of the afternoon talking about our life’s journey and where our paths might be taking us. The food was delicious, the ambiance was peaceful, and the waitstaff was attentive. We shared a bowl of spinach soup, a nice salad with peanuts and soy dressing, bisi bele bath (a classic Karnataka dish, “hot lentil rice”), and carrot halwa (a North Indian dish) for dessert. Everything tasted fresh and clean, but the highlight of our meal was the carrot halwa. I’m not a big fan of anything sweet but this dessert was delicious! It was warm, nutty, and rich from the ghee. I’m sure I’ll be retuning for another meal soon.
I tried to be a bit more active on Sunday and set out to explore the neighborhood of Mylapore. The weather here has been progressively getting hotter so I had planned on leaving the house early to avoid the heat, but even at 9AM I could already feel the hot and humid air getting under my skin. My friends and I tried our best to follow the shady side of whatever street we were on but we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay out for too long. It didn’t take us too long to reach our first stop, Sri Ramakrishna Math, a universal temple. This is the oldest center of the Ramakrishna order in India but having had a new building constructed in the last 20 years, the temple is now housed in a beautiful and modern building. People of all faiths and beliefs are welcome to meditate there and I felt instantly at peace when I entered the temple. I did make a faux pas by sitting on the wrong side of the temple (on the left/men’s section) for a few minutes until a staff member came over and asked me to move. Once I settled down on the proper side (on the right side reserved for women), I took a deep breath and let my mind flow with the energy of the room. If it weren’t for the temple closing for the midday break, I would have stayed there all day. I know that I don’t need to retreat to a quiet place for meditation but it was certainly nice to know that a welcoming place like that can be found in Chennai.
I caught up to my friends in front of the famous Kapaleshvara temple, or what we’ve been referring to as the Mylapore temple. This temple is constructed in a classic Dravidian style with its towering goparum (gateway) adorned with colorful figures and inscriptions dating back hundreds of years. We practically hopped around the temple since we had to leave our shoes outside and the stone grounds of the temple were hot enough to fry an egg (or to grill a chapati, I should say). But the devotees of the temple were calm and collected, moving slowly around the temple to pray and prostrate with reverence as if the sun and the heat didn’t affect them at all.
Last week someone in my yoga class mentioned how much better it would be if KYM and our studies were in the mountains or somewhere more tranquil. While it would make things a lot easier, I think having our yoga course in the middle of this crazy city forces us to apply what we learn in the classroom immediately. What better way to practice my patience, tolerance, willpower, and my sense of calm than trying to navigate my way home from school each day through the maddening crowds of Chennai? It’s not to say that I’m not immune to it all. I am going to stay in Chennai for two more weeks in March but I’ve decided to not spend any time in Delhi at all. I’ll reserve taking on that big city for my next trip. For now, I’m happy to work on myself here and finding tranquility in Chennai.