Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chennai Day Six

Tender coconut ice cream, grilled tuna with beans and potatoes (little tiny potatoes that would be tres chic heirloom potatoes in the States) and an artfully-carved pepper that I took for a bean and munched a bit on before realizing, bottled water for me, Darjeeling tea. Bruschetta, fusilli al’Amatricianna, espresso, fresh lemonade with mint, and coconut ice cream for my husband. Served in a beautiful garden encircling a marble-floored verandah with a scrawny cat and a very helpful posting of arts events around Chennai (including a French animated film festival which ends tomorrow night) at a restaurant called Amethyst.

It took a half hour through traffic that rivaled the worst of Chicago back-ups. Cars (lots of Hyundai in versions not sold in the US), rickshaws, a man pedaling a bicycle pulling a cart, motorbikes, all crawling slowly across Chennai. Turns out that all the movie stars were in the area in honor of an Indian movie star who died yesterday, and the burning of the body was at 4 p.m. today.

As I write, my husband’s reading about Ganesh, his favorite Indian god (one should note that he had not previously had a favorite Indian god) from his Gods and Goddesses of India book. Oh, and he just pointed out the mouse that carries Ganesh about on his new statue of Ganesh. Ganesh is the mover of obstacles (how else could a mouse carry a god), and he outwitted all the other gods and goddesses in a race around the world by choosing to go only around his mom and dad and then touch their feet – and that won the contest, because “one who goes around his parents and touches their feet traverses the universe.” (Hannah and Molly, he’d like you to note this…) He is also reading the Tiny Tot Ramayama, in which the fact that Rama is blue is not once mentioned by any of his family or acquaintances.

And today I had a Patience Breakthrough.
Yesterday was a very hard day: so much waiting, so much unsureness about should I look for the teacher whom I to observe or wait for her to claim me, hours of waiting in a plastic lawn chair. At 5 o’clock, it looked like I would finally have a class to observe, and then the students (two youngsters with their dad) chose not to have an observer, and I thought, is it something about me that’s the problem? The other student doing observations generally looks like the cat who ate the canary, and yesterday, reminiscent of a colleague from grad school who would walk by your carrel, look at all your research and books, ask about what you were working on but NEVER reveal anything of her work, asked me about my day but would say literally nothing when I asked about hers but just sat and smiled serenely at me.

I came home very frustrated. But then, this morning I got up, did my old and more gentle yoga practice, chanted only after instead of before and after, thought about a mountain instead of the ocean, walked to the center instead of getting a ride, and found myself ready to wait. I’m not sure if yesterday was some sort of test (this lineage is very traditional and testing the student’s commitment is not unheard of) or if I made it into one, or if it was the fact that I wore a favorite pair of pants from Anthropologie – wide legs and a favorite color of beet red – with my Indian top, or if it was the hot breakfast (rice with diced banana and honey), or the walking to work , or that the person who puts my schedule together noticed my frustration or felt that I passed the test and gave me a jam-packed schedule for today when I left at the end of yesterday – but I just felt different. More prepared, more self-confident, more patient.

And here’s what happened today: I observed five classes. I met with my supervisor, who seems wonderful (and has the best fashion sense in the center, which doesn’t hurt, and this is in a group of very well-dressed women – yesterday she helped me with the scarfy thing, and then gently suggested that it was more of a shawl than a scarf and that even Indian women, who wear these all the time, have a tough time keeping them in place). She insisted that I have tea, when I demurred. And when I went to pick up the empty cups to throw away, she put her hand over mine and insisted on removing the trash herself. She smoothed the way for me to observe a teacher who had been somewhat stand-offish. And that teacher, during the observation, slipped me the student’s file to look at. Twice. And another teacher, who was passing out chocolate after lunch, offered me a piece. I wasn’t sure if I should accept, but having tried to refuse the tea, I felt that it might be okay to just accept the chocolate. The funny part: I was surprised that it was melting, because in Chicago, the chocolate is never melting.

And then, out to dinner tonight. Tomorrow may be completely different, so we’ll see how I ride out the change. And oh yeah, I have a new scarfy thing (I think they’re called dupattas?), smaller and potentially more wearable. And I used the large one as a shawl tonight and that worked much better.

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