So, I’m just about packed and ready to go, relieved that my suitcase isn’t quite as bursting at the seams as I feared what with all the new dresses and Ali-baba-style yoga pants I’ve acquired since I came here. But, lightweight and effortless, they appear not to be weighing me down, which is a blessing, because if I came to India with a stock of emotional baggage, I am glad at least to be leaving feeling lighter brighter and breezier, certainly with a nice sun tan and even, possibly with a little bit more flesh on my bones – or at least the inner strength, energy and vitality to allow that to happen in due course.
But of course, I cannot claim to be a whole new or entirely different person. I know I have not exactly been reborn or remade afresh after just five weeks in India, this morning being a prime example of how easily we can be… discombobulated – to use a word my sister was once all too fond of.
For, awaking at 6:30 from dreams heavy with lovers past and imaginary, I rolled out of bed to walk down the road for my last asana practice in the shala just as I’d intended, but not unfortunately with the same anticipated joy and optimism. What had seemed such a nice idea last night suddenly, as I left my flip flops in the usual place and walked barefoot along the dusty corridor and up the stairs as I had done so many times before weary and hungry, didn’t seem so exciting. Weary and hungry indeed.
Perhaps my mind was too caught up in dreaming, perhaps I was too preoccupied with thoughts of leaving, of packing, of pedicures, taxis, flight times… I cannot blame my tamasic mood on last night’s chocolate and beer binge because I gave in to neither temptation but went to bed with some wholesome literature and fell sound asleep before 10:30pm. Perhaps then my lack-lustre mood was just an indication that, no matter how hard I try I am simply not a nice person in the morning – that a cup of hot tea (at least) is required before I can or should attempt any conversation with myself or God, or any physical exertion, be it going to work or going to my yoga mat. Well, c’est la vie!
I stayed for the short duration of half an hour, long enough to discover but not resolve a stiffness in my upper back and decide that today was not a day to push myself, but to go straight to Fatima’s Corner for iced tea and fruit salad, to meditate on the infinite goodness of lemon and mint, banana and papaya, and to reflect that I am more than ready to move on to Hong Kong, to studios and apartments with air-conditioning that will allow me to sleep in past sunrise and practise yoga before sunset; how good it will be to be back in Marvin, Charlotte and Sky’s classes, to – just occasionally – give over my will to that of a teacher, to once again have my practice dictated and determined by them rather than my own free choice and discretion. For while I agree with Iyengar that to do self-practice is empowering for allowing you to follow your own will rather than that of a teacher, sometimes – especially when you have awoken to your worst, most grumbling inner child – it is good to surrender yourself to someone else’s instruction, to tell yourself you’re here for the hour, like it or not, and find at the end of an hour that you like it very much and off you go. Thank you!
Iced tea over, the thought of packing returns to plague me, as does my commitment to be at Govini’s beauty parlour at 9:30am for a pedicure – to finally get the sand out of my toenails after four weeks and to replace the chipped and faded green nail polish with something more sophisticated and demur for Hong Kong. How easily we are stressed by time commitments: too many things to do, too many things on our minds, to go here and do this and that by a certain time. So I take off, only to find her just arriving herself – ten minutes late – I find myself feeling a little annoyed, at her and myself. Even after 5 weeks, I am still forgetting this is India and there is no need to hurry. I could have stayed and finished my drink!
But it turns out that we are both hot, perspiring and a little stressed this morning. Having struggled to get a ride and been saved by her friend just in the nick of time, her concern not to be late makes me feel guilty. I am glad I was not too late for her, but wish I’d given her the benefit of the doubt. Of course she would not choose to be late; even if this is India and there is no hurry, she is conscientious about her work. It is her yoga.
Switching on the fan, she waves me into a chair in front of it and gets busy with the water, towels and implements she needs and within minutes has my feet soaking in a steaming bowl of hot water – “hot, but relaxing, right?” she smiles up at me, encouragingly. I do not argue, but let it work as an auto-suggestion. Yes, hot but relaxing. Relax, relax, relax…
I open my book. Gideon too is coming to the end of his journey: another pilgrimage on foot, but this time around the 80-odd temples of Shikiko, one of the four main islands of Japan. And as I read, with Govini scrubbing satisfyingly at my feet, massaging cream and getting to work on trimming my cuticles, I start to melt away. No pressure, no worries, nothing to do but sit here and feel myself softening, the nerves and excitement – because as Govini looks up and asks me, it is exciting, to be moving on, going ‘home’, seeing old friends and embarking on another yoga course in a matter of days… But it can all fade away for now. I am still here, now. I settle in and feel myself becoming peaceful.
Gideon is contemplating doing it all again – his o-henro-san thingamee – but I am not tempted to do the month over again. As I felt this morning walking barefoot up to the empty shala, it is enough. The days and weeks of dragging myself, tired and hungry and hot, up there are over, done and finished, and me with it. My break from reality has run its course and I am ready to start getting on with the busy-ness of life again, start thinking more seriously of the future – of university or work, money, family, etc. It’s been necessary to take time out, but all things come to an end, and perhaps that is why I am finding it hard to relax this morning. Much as I try, and I do, and succeed for a short time, I am ready to be on the move, anxious to get going. I have things to do, people to see, decisions to make. And it’s bloody hot here, too hot to do a damn thing but shower and sit in the breeze drinking iced teas, and I have not reached that level of samadhi just yet. I cannot rest on my laurels completely, not just yet.
As I stand up to choose a new nail colour, I realise that it is simply being with Govini that I find so soothing and relaxing. She is the same age as me, but already married with a baby, she has been something of a mother to me, calling me “dear”, waxing my delicate bits and telling me how beautiful I am and how much more beautiful I would be if I had some more fat on me. She laughs as she tells me how she is always eating, making a little miming eating gesture with her mouth like a rabbit. She is soft and feminine, but by no means big – I guess a UK size 12 – but she would like be bigger. “Even my husband, he is telling me,” she says. In India to be big is beautiful; it is to be happy and healthy. Richly alive.
With her mild manners and gentle, characteristically Indian wobble of the head, she has become something a comforting presence – a friend – in my life here. Yesterday, after painting a new henna tattoo on the palm of my left hand, she gave me a gift of some silver bracelets, which I wear proudly. I have never really worn a lot of jewellry or taken much care over my appearance, but yesterday as I showered, dressed and put on my bracelets to go out for dinner, I felt pretty for the first time in a long while and was conscious of the looks of the men as I passed. Indian men are always looking, so perhaps this was nothing new; but I felt pretty, confident and strong inside and this was new. Even going off for dinner alone felt more of a treat because I’d made an effort: I was on a hot date, with myself.
This is thanks largely to Govini who, on the first visit I made, told me I was a beautiful person – inside and out – but that I needed to look after the outside more. I had a good heart, she said, but in this world that is not enough; people need to see your beauty on the outside too. “You do it for yourself but also to show everyone else you’re beautiful,” she said.
This was an interesting idea to me, as I’d always believed that true beauty shone from the inside out. I am still of this belief, but also appreciate that, like today, when I give Govini her gift (my Accessorize bag that she’d so much praised when I first entered her salon four weeks ago) and she grabbed me back, stopped me from leaving, hugged me twice and sat me back down in the chair so she could thread (that is, wax) my eyebrows, inner beauty deserves its outer compliment, and no one wants hairy eyebrows – not even my taxi driver who, he tells me, plucks his himself and is often complimented by the ladies. (Though I think this information was offered in an attempt to curry favour with his “beautiful” passenger.)
Oh, Govini! What have you done? Poor Mr Happy, who I’d been starting to think was not as happy as his name suggested, is, I now realise, love-sick. He is having to say goodbye to the woman who walked into his life for the first time only a week ago, had one brief ride on the back of his scooter, rejected his offer of a beer-and-beach date, and is now employing his services merely to fly out of his life again, with little or no guarantee of ever returning.
He plays romantic pop songs to her in the car, but she is distant and quiet, hardly talking, certainly not chatting away as has been her wont with most of the locals she meets. She watches the scenery out the window, takes the occasional sip of water and is reticent about accepting his proffered bananas. But, arriving at the airport, she gives him a sweaty hug, an extra 100 rupees for his trouble and leaves an apple on the passenger seat for him. Perhaps it’s a sign that she’ll come back after all, and marry him and live happily ever after: him feeding her bananas, getting her nicely fat around the edges and she fresh from the salon cooking him dinner every evening in the beautiful dresses he buys for her.
Or perhaps he underestimates her, takes her polite, friendly but quiet demeanour for willing subservience. She did not seem to like it when he asked her where she was going that time, seemed quite annoyed by his questions, his intrusions. He does not realise that all the men – the taxi and tuktuk drivers on the street – bombard her day and night with questions of ‘where you going? want taxi?’ preferring to dictate to her than let her decide where and when she’d like to go. He does not realise her independent streak, her hostility to those who try to tell her what to do, who suggest they know better, or how far she might run in order to escape such control. This is, after all, the first time she’s ever even taken a domestic flight – Goa to Mumbai, Mumbai to Delhi… It’s always been all international with her, and as she said about her Hong Kong boyfriend and he agreed, distance is hard.
So he walks away with a grin and a smile, the hope that maybe he’ll see her next year, for now happy in the knowledge that he lives in one of the most beautiful places on earth and that that by itself must be enough enticement. After all, who wouldn’t want to settle down to domestic bliss in a tropical paradise? You’d have to be crazy, right?