Navratri • 16 March 2010

It’s a kind of heavy water-heat that stews the marrow in your bones, turns the gross sheath to one malleable substance. Which in our case happens to be shot through with shakti. Walking around can be like swimming—parting the air under the trees, feet not quite on the ground.

There’s trash in the streets, but in the morning they smell of jasmine, and nag champa at night. The jasmine is has a bite to it now, like it did last March. Less floral and more peppery—so strong that I keep smelling the bike-basket full of it when the merchant rides up outside the shala each morning. That’s the one tiny bit of fresh air—as a cool medium delivering jasmine-pepper, wafting on to the stage in the one moment I need oxygen the most. There’s a tall brass jar filled with ghee, and the candle whose wick is soaked in that ghee flickers when the jasmine wafts in. This flickering is what makes me think the cool jasmine air is not just a weirdo aromatic hallucination falling out of my spine like another bit of post-backbend LSD.

Not that I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing LSD. I just do chakra bandasana and, like the nadi shodanites also do, see what body memories bubble up from the marrow thereafter. Entire full-sensory recollections, of meaningless whole-moments from years or decades ago, keep flickering in to re-possess us. This is consciousness on the move? It is a kind of knowledge of one’s karma?

Everyone around me is learning this bizarre and improbable body maneuv—taking kapo heels from the air, for godsakes!—and I’m teaching a Scooty Pep to turn like my old Gary Fischer even though it’s built like a Ford Festiva.

Sharath observes from the stage, says little things that blow our mind (including, at conference, some talk of the Yoga Korunta and a story about Vivekenanda stopping time one year at the Worlds Fair—a tale that separated the sheep from the goats in the shala, or at least those who got through Autobiography of a Yogi from the literalists). The room is his Sony Playstation, as a friend put it; and at this point we are some pretty agile little operators. I suppose the controller-to-remote bot connection is as good as it’s going to get for a while.

But we’re still not all the same. Run three hundred globs of substance through this tightly contained system, and on the other side of the process the bodies are way more evened out energetically but still show so much culture, gender, and personality. The shala’s a whole damn migratory bird sanctuary, really.

I love to watch us move, coming down the steps at dawn after practice, nothing but coconuts in our heads. The energy is mostly in the uddiyana-manipura, though there are also a lot of sexy pelvis-MB centric descents, and a few friends—who now I realize are the easiest bunch to love—with their shoulders released and hearts blown open. I can’t see myself, but my guess is I’m reflected in the airy not-so-secret nerds who for all the bending are still essentially heady. But it’s good. The sanctuary needs nerds too. It’s helpful to be able to spot and snag an egghead these days, when I’m working on getting my complete-sentence skills back together.

It’s my mother’s birthday today. Her age keeps changing—she loses and gains years the way India loses and gains hours on its clocks: arbitrairily and confusingly—but we’re pretty sure this is the big six oh. (This trip has been a lot about her an my father, when it comes to the liminal space I’m trying to light up.)

And, back to my mom, this is also the start of Navaratri—the Shakti bookend to Shivaratri. Nine nights in praise of Goddess—starting with Kali and Durga for purification, then three days with faces of luck, then three more in wisdom—Saraswati—then a tenth when one begins new things.

Then I fly. Not bad.

On airplanes in India, this country that has given us Kali and Durga and et cetera, one is not permitted to travel with what a dear friend calls her pocket rocket. If the contraband is detected, the authorities are instructed to confiscate it immediately. Well. Thank Kali I have been uninformed of this prohibition. (Meanwhile, said friend has been traveling with the rocket in her carryon, just wishing for detainment.)

I always praise contemporaneity—forget nostalgia for life before google, vaccines and airplanes—but ancient India is definitely dressing down the modern when it comes to Shakti. Maybe there is something to this Yoga Korunta business, for that matter. Maybe I’ll give the traditional a bit more of my time.