Moon Day Pieces • 29 January 2010

Camera’s busted! Purchased it around my birthday – extravagant little thing, supersmart, red and shiny, with many good tricks. Its last capture was my brother and me at he Eiffel Tower. Fumbling over the delicate buttons with stupid fingers, I dropped it and messed up the lens. Possibly repairable, but not around here.

Usually, I feel kind of awesome when something precious breaks or data are lost. But here’s the funny thing: the camera still works a little bit. No flash, messed up shutter, no image export. I have space for about 200, though it’s not clear they’ll ever be extractable from the device. So… shall I carry around the gimpy Canon, snap bad images at key times? Just in case? At first I thought: I would rather have no pictures than bad ones… but maybe, in a way, bad images have much better emotional tone than good ones. 

Anyway, some recent captures by even less accurate means…

-I’m sitting on the outer room without my glasses, seeing the shapes inside as I wait to begin. Then Saraswati materializes right beyond the door, to backbend-assist E, a giant Brazilian ectomorph. He drops without waiting, holding himself firm on legs so long, then she hefts him all the way back to standing at the end. She stands there facing him for a second, waiting for him to exhale. Her head is the height of his xyphoid process.

-Two bricklayers have been rebuilding the orphanage wall all week. Are masons next of kin to renunciants in this culture too? They’re saddhu-spindly, with heavy, sun-baked skin that folds over their cheekbones and necks. They dress in dirty white cloth, wrapped around the middle and up over their shoulders, and their hair is long and grey. I’d say they’re in their sixties, but could be off by decades. They crouch alongside the road and paste concrete out of a bucket right on to the wall using small triangular trowels. One works steadily, absorbed; and the second, coming along behind, divides his industry between trowel and a bidi. He drags on the smoke like a rock star, with a limp wrist and body fingers, and gazes along the wall at what they’ve done. So far, they’ve worked west from the front gate, around the corner and halfway along the northbound wall. Long way ahead.

-I finish practice just as the Gokulam elementary school kids are leaving their houses. At the top of a hill, I stop for a motorcycle piloted by a man in a starched white shirt and brown dress pants. There’s a small girl on the seat in front of him, and behind, a boy and a girl who are maybe twelve. All the kids are dressed in crisp white shirts, with dark plue pinafore/skirts or pants, hair wet and combed, staying in place as the bike bumps over a hole in the road. I turn the next corner and a rickshaw is taking off in a grey belch of exhaust. It’s leaving a superfancy three-story quasi-colonial (houses in Gokulam are crazy, creative studies in concrete, porcelan and glass—easy to ignore because lacking the greenery and yards that usuall catch my eye, but actually beautiful with their funny-shaped windows, idiosyncratic balconies and extra rooms, or arches, or columns added here and there for effect). A little boy of about five sits up straight in the back of a rickshaw, a black ski mask covering his head, some kind of insulation from the exhaust.

-End of led primary at the end of the first week, and I’m a little weary. Pick up from baddha padmasana in to uth pluthihi, and search for a drsti. I usually take ubahya in hopes that looking up will keep the padma aloft, but the other day Sharath stood in front of me in uth plu and put his finger to nose-tip (not the first time he’s instructed me to humble it down a notch from ubahya or brow center to nasagrai drsti). So there I am, crosseyed and hoping he’ll hurry up and count, and two feet come in to the distance beyond my nose. It’s his feet, larger than I’d expect, and spread wide like they’ve spent a life outside of shoes—or just done a hell of a lot of standing postures. They’re half-hanging off the edge of the stage, and both big toes are wrapped in athletic tape. Classic.

-I find myself walking down Contour Road in the power-out pitch dark on a weekend night. Every few seconds, a two-wheeled vehicle passes and shines a beam marking the way, but then I come up short on two steamrollers blocking the road. They each have miniature light illuminating the ground right in front of them, and I wonder if a biker might plow right in to great iron cylinders on their backs. Two men are trying to move the vehicles, but don’t seem able to get them out of first gear, so are inching around in circles there in the dark. They look like ancient Transformers (as in the movie Transformers, which I gleefully watched on the plane along with Terminator Salvation—OMG—and two other versions of the same movie, none of which The Editor would ever let me waste time on back home), or like 1970s childrens’ toys: all iron, no paint, no wiring… just grinding cogs and gears. Further down the road, a fresh shipment of tourist-coolant is rolling in to the coconut stand in the dark of night. A big old rusty truck, its flatbed built up with wooden sides, drives almost straight in to the tree that shades the stone benches in daytime. So many coconuts! The sweet green ones this time, a little smaller than the pale salty ones I’m learning to like. How do they even stay on the truck? The coconut guys unload them in to a kind of awesome pyramid they’ve already got going, using the woody nubs at the bottom to balance them against each other.

-And then Sambhav, the great-grandson, is just more than I can describe. He’s two and tiny, with long thin legs emerging from diapers and a fuzzy ponytail shooting three inches straight up from the top of his head. He toddles, and gurgles in a high-pitched mixture of Kaanada, Sankrit and English. Giant lemur-eyes, peaceful and curious, taking up most of his being, and a swirl of soft fuzz covering the teeny forehead. He comes in to class some mornings and warbles to his father and grandmother, saying words I don’t know and a few I do: “Trini! Pancha! Come!” Wednesday I finished on the stage, and there he was right in front of me, helping his dad squash my friend A in pachima. Yesterday, his helper, P, brought him to the park to watch some slackline. After a while, this tiny person wobbles up and puts a hand on me, waving me off when I bend down to say hi. He holds my pants-leg to balance, brings a foot up to ardha baddha, removes a sandal, then repeats the same on the other side before toddling off and extending two hands for a boost up on to the line.

13 Comments

  • Fatou
    Posted 29 January 2010 at 12:27 pm | #

    Just yesterday I was thinking about how you have no new Mysore photos up on your flickr. Now I understand. These written snapshots are pretty great too.

  • Posted 29 January 2010 at 3:04 pm | #

    You write so beautifully, your posts are a work of art. Funny about the little boy, he must be cute.

  • Posted 29 January 2010 at 10:40 pm | #

    These are awesome… can’t pick my favorite, but the tufted headed baby is ranking high.

    I’m a photo junkie, hope you capture something with that camera (or maybe get a new one? borrow? steal? beg?). But of course, keep the written photos coming.

  • Posted 30 January 2010 at 6:21 am | #

    I just sort of disassembled the little red Canon and found a tiny piece of Parisian concrete inside.

    Extracted it.

    The little thing seems to be working again….!

  • Posted 30 January 2010 at 7:33 am | #

    without the photos, we have to do our own conjuring, which, on the strength of your economic and elegant prose, is pleasurable and easy, a cerebral sukhasana.

    paris…it’s everywhere!

  • Posted 30 January 2010 at 9:33 am | #

    really lovely, your writing is so good. how do you write a dissertation and still write like this? you know what i mean, most people can’t. when i read you, owl, i get goose bumps, even though i’m a donkey and you’re from an ivory tower.

  • Posted 30 January 2010 at 10:44 am | #

    You can take the camera out of Paris, but…

    Ee, the post title was from you!

  • boodiba
    Posted 30 January 2010 at 11:06 am | #

    I love the cross-eyed dristi one. I wonder if you could find a new camera in Mysore? Just in case you DO want to take some shots. I have to think if I can get a USB modem, a new camera might be gettable for you!

  • Posted 30 January 2010 at 12:09 pm | #

    cool, cannot wait to see the photos
    and Eeyore is right, you do write so well, you are truly blessed

  • Posted 30 January 2010 at 4:43 pm | #

    Agreed.

    Oh, my big sister is called Louise Best. She’s from England… she has reddish hair, that’s about mid-scapula length and a very sweet voice. She’s a book artist (a fantastic one). If you run into her, it would be quite funny.

  • Posted 31 January 2010 at 10:13 am | #

    I just found her flickrstream… now we’ll see if I happen on L herself!

    Chances are good…

  • Posted 3 February 2010 at 4:43 am | #

    Hey. You didn’t tell me your real name when you commented on my blog… Is this Phil?

  • Posted 3 February 2010 at 9:04 am | #

    It’s AJ. Female, smallish, resident of North America…

    People tend to take my writing voice for a man’s, it is true…

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