I started this post back in February. It's time to let it out now. I think I can finally share it.
Sometimes when I am in India I get a sense that death is nearby, underlined by the exaggerated rush of vital humanity that is life in the city of Mysore. I can smell the fine line that we all walk every day but in India, it feels narrower. I sail through the city in constant prayer, a call to prayer. A leaning into feeling, not feeling. Dreaming not dreaming. The place has altered my cell shapes. I have been redefined by my deep learning and rickshaw near misses.
Reach out and touch the brush of a passing squealing bus,
put a foot in the gutter that reeks of unknown rot.
A wave of unfortunate events could catch us in destiny's slipstream and that will be it.
Cheerio and thanks for everything. That might seem mawkish to you but I've had my fair share of unexpected losses and tragedies as well as this bountiful festival of living delight. India rotates on Vishnu fire and whispers to me that it's not for long, this privileged existence, as I joked about my yoga practice being better in the next life.
I'm in the next life and it's coming along.
This is today, my day, I own the world and the moon if I want to and I am thankful for this dawn, this birdsong, this breakfast and this haberdashery shop. India gives you the gift of gratefulness, a thankfulness, a cradle to settle in and an edge that cannot be ignored.
How lucky I am, how fortunate, how favoured?
So, I heard about The Three Sisters. Again. I have let the name run through my ears for years but I never got the opportunity to explore where they lived in my adopted Indian home. It's not easy navigating the suburbs. This time I persevere and I turn up at The Lilac Door, nervous to meet the sisters. I was expecting three Shakespearian characters and in some ways they are straight from a fairy tale, brimming over with enthusiasm, leading by example, beauties.
Shashikala is the youngest and was authorised to teach Ashtanga Yoga by her teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Here, in their home I am welcomed and nurtured and I find what I need, a quiet shala with a teacher with whom I can build a practice so I join up and begin practising in the Three Sister's shala. It's perfect for me, a spacious practice with room for adjustment and absorption. I improve my focus after 8 months of various injuries and physical limitations and I actually feel myself thrive. I watch the sunrise from
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana even though I know I ought to be gazing at my big toe.
The world wakes up and it feels as though I am in exactly the place I am meant to be. The doom filters down my body and evaporates in the morning sun.
It is advised and a very splendid idea that yoga practitioners take a castor oil bath once a week. Castor oil is thick and sticky and impossible to deal with yourself unless you have lots of hot water and a wet room and an assistant. Or two. It's a greasy oil ball of gunk. Luckily for me, I have the three sisters. Or two of them. Harini and my teacher Shashikala give caster oil baths to lady yoga practitioners (and some lucky chaps if they know them well). After yoga practice on a Friday I walk downstairs and enter the labyrinth of dark rooms where I will have my bath. It's not a bath, not at first, it's a body massage with caster oil. But it is so much more and nothing more than that. It is practice again, they make me work. I panic when I can't find my hips and they escort me around my own body and I have never felt so lost and at home, so relaxed and so pushed around, so happy and so NOW. Impossible to describe the looseness of my body and the spaces that I knew were there but I hadn't dared to open. My mind was a slowly spinning universe, all seeing and unknowing, unborn and delivered. All of this whilst lying on an oily tarpaulin while two pairs of feet rolled me through medieval banquets and space travel for beginners.
This is a continuation of practice. Calling it a 'treatment' is quantitive easing the city spa. This is an unspoken promise of trust and knowledge. I will never let anyone else realign my body again. For me this is the one and only way for me and my body. A practice to compliment the practice. It's vivid. The way the sisters flattened me out like an uncooked chapati. I was Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I was Charlie's Angels and Cinderella. I can't even conceive that I went to Mysore so many times and didn't run to the lilac door of the three sisters on arrival every. single. time.
And when they have finished rearranging your bones and nerves and early childhood and say Get Up Now; your brain cries nooooooooooooo. And they peel you from the floor head first and very carefully lead your oily sticky being down a dusty book lined fly swatted passageway. You get gently sat on a stool and here begins the second bath. Soap nut paste and warm water. The water is heated by a wood fired stove on the other side of the wall. You can smell the warm woodsmoke. You close your eyes by order and then the water is sluiced over you, over and over. Warm. Everlasting. Soapnut and lentil paste rubbing the oil away. Having your face washed tenderly by these two living saints is to be transported to a third bonus childhood. Then they leave you with 'as much water as you want to take' and you can continue where they left off. Economically washing away the everything, the dust, the misunderstandings, the whispers. Wrap up in a thin towel and pick your way through the gloom to outside, dazzling sunshine. New day. There's a mango tree.
Take rest, Nagaratna - the third sister will make you a fruit salad and you'll be as high as a papaya mountain and the sisters and their babies will sit with you and press you for chatting chit chat.....your life, their lives, the price of food, the traffic, the practice. The phone rings, the babies chuggle, searching your face for clues. Vocal kannada gunfire stutters over your head. Your mind is uncoiled, unbothered, unearthed. You sing the babies your best version of The Wheels on The Bus.
Your mind is recomputing, recalibrating, the torque has been set. You think you can hold on.
The three sisters say NO SCREENS, NO COMPUTERS. You laugh, as if.
Then you find that you rest all day, night dreaming, day sleeping, water drinking, fruit nibbling.
You have gone in and out and in again.
Monkey's paws thrum on the roof and the water tank sizzles.