the story sequence is out of order, but so it goes…
above pic taken on my last afternoon in Chennai, September 2005, at the flower warehouse
My last day in India was the best day I experienced in Chennai.
On my last night in India I met one of the yoga students (Pat from Tanzania) at the Eco Cafe for our goodbyes and she told me that I was probably the only one who was not in the group picture. She also said that a tea was given for the students at the end of the day. But frankly, a group picture, a tea, and teary goodbyes to people I only knew for a month and probably will never see again, mean nothing to me compared to what I experienced that last afternoon.
The Banyan is a women’s organization that is about 60 minutes from where I stayed in Mylapore. I wanted to donate money and also clothes and toiletries that I would not be bringing back with me. Suresh got lost a few times, but we finally found it. I was amused that he never asked women for directions to a women’s shelter, he only asked men for directions.
Visiting Banyan was an overwhelming experience for me because I teach yoga in a shelter similar to this one. There are approximately 300 women there, and not just from Chennai.
I almost started crying when I walked through the gates — two dogs came running up to me, barking loudly, protecting their home. One dog had a bad rear leg so he was running on three legs. The other dog, was dragging her back end, pulling herself with her front legs, she must have had a broken pelvis. But she was still fierce, trying to protect her place, her paralysis did not stop her. I watched her as she dragged herself all over, with old crusted sores on her back legs from dragging herself around. But when she laid down exhausted, she looked up at me and seemed to smile!
I was greeted by a young Finnish woman. She came to volunteer after the tsunami and stayed on in Chennai, learning the Tamil language. I asked her about the dogs and she said “oh, we adopt them too…” It did my heart good when she told me that they also have yoga classes for the women.
I was given a tour and I talked with tsunami survivors, to an ex-movie actress who was rescued from the streets, to a woman from Mumbai who has the same curly hair as I do — she hugged me because we had something so mundane in common, our hair. She did not speak English, but she came up to me smiling, pointing to her hair, and then touching mine.
I lost it — I started crying because I thought about the women in the shelter back home where I teach yoga. The woman who was the ex-actress came up to me and told me in perfect English, “don’t cry, madam, we love it here, we are happy here.” They have nothing and yet they have everything.
I left and Suresh took me to the warehouse district where we walked through huge warehouses filled with fruit and veggies and flowers. I was the only Westerner and Suresh made sure no one crowded me too much. I took my best and most favorite pics of India at these warehouses. I was mobbed everywhere I went, people wanting me to take their pictures, then crowding around me to see their pic on the camera. Surrounded by 20 men and never hassled once — would that happen in NYC or Chicago? They yelled their thanks to me and kissed their hands and touched my cheeks, some bowed and made anjali mudra to the OM tattoo on my wrist.
Attend final classes that afternoon? Scheduling classes after our “graduation” ceremony in the morning was an anti-climax. I never would have given up the experiences I had that afternoon for anyone or anything. The best part was experiencing it alone, on my own terms, deliciously secure as only a woman of a certain age can be.