The first time I went to India

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Nandin’s first steps – and stretches – towards the East.

The first time I went to India, I wrote my Last Will and Testament before I left Canada. The only thing that I had of any worth was my flute, but it felt to me like I might actually die, or at least not come back the same as I had left. That did actually end up being the case, but not until my second trip to India. This first trip was just a preliminary taste.

I had been doing yoga for about ten years and was an accredited BKS Iyengar yoga teacher. I had applied a couple of years earlier to attend a course in Pune India with the great man himself, which required getting recommendations from accredited yoga teachers and completing a certain number of hours of yoga courses yearly. Three of us went together, and luckily for us, our teacher had been there the year before, so she was up to date on what we needed to bring along. You can’t really prepare anyone for culture shock though, even though she tried.

Did people really live there under the bridge? It sure looked like it. They were even cooking there! One woman was bathing in a washtub at the side of the street completely clothed in her sari. Was that other woman really following that cow around trying to induce it to leave some dung for her kitchen fire? That guy was actually sleeping perched on top of his bicycle to keep it from being stolen? Was that an actual corpse floating in the river?

One of my travel mates had forgotten to tell me that she suffered from nightmares. One night I was suddenly awakened as she screamed, jumped out of bed and ran towards the door. Heart thumping, I asked what was happening! By then she was awake and assured me all was fine, and promptly went back to sleep! I took a little longer…

In the bathroom of our very simple hotel room, we had a rat. A fairly large rat, by Canadian standards at least. He was only there at night and scampered away if you turned on the light. He simply came up a drainage pipe that hadn’t been connected. This didn’t seem to concern the hotel owners however since rats are just a fact of life. We kept the bathroom door closed!

We took an auto rickshaw daily to the Iyengar Institute and watched kids and adults playing cricket on vacant lots on the way to and from. At the Institute we were met by Mr. Iyengar’s very strict daughter, Geeta, who disapproved of our shorts and t-shirts as too revealing. She had however by then given up on trying to get the Western women to cover up like the Indians, who wore long tunics and pants. What followed was a fairly intensive session of yoga overseen by Geeta and BKS himself. As we were holding a pose, I remember him saying something like, “You must stretch to the… [long pause]” and as he was standing beside me I quietly suggested “optimum?” which he loudly echoed.

In the afternoons we did Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) which he warned was only to be done by experienced practitioners of yoga!

What I found amusing was how all the Westerners practically jumped to attention whenever Mr. Iyengar told us to do something. The Indians in the class were much more lackadaisical and took him much less seriously than we did.

There was a statue of Krishna playing the flute in his stairwell that made me feel welcome as a flutist, and like I was in the right place.

We had been forewarned NOT to wear red or the rickshaw drivers would automatically take us across town to the Ashram in Koregaon Park. We did end up at the Blue Diamond Hotel however, just around the corner, but Osho was in America at the time. I didn’t even go to check out the place! I had no idea who Osho was anyway.

After our 3 weeks at the Iyengar Institute, we took off for some hiking in Nepal that was actually much more intensive than the yoga course! Walking up a mountain ALL DAY in the Himalayas was not what I was used to, compared to our much smaller Rocky Mountains or the European Alps. You could see across the valley to the other side which was where you were aiming for, but it took hours to get all the way down and then all the way up there again. The birds definitely had it easier!

Here the houses often had dirt floors which were however carefully swept. We had sturdy hiking boots but the natives had flip-flops and carried heavy loads on their backs in large bags with a strap going across their forehead. We had the luxury of finding a couple of local guides to carry our backpacks on our trek into the mountains. A friend of ours had organized her trip from Canada and had 10 people setting up a complete camp for her alone! After a couple of weeks of trekking, however, I was very happy when we got back to the valley where it was flat.

Back in Canada, I had reverse culture shock about how wasteful we were about everything! Did I really need all those clothes? In India, they wore theirs until they practically fell off whereas at home, we discarded ours at the slightest stain. Was I really going to simply throw away that food? In India and Nepal, if the people didn’t eat it, the local chickens, goats and dogs did! Of course, not having a fridge probably had a lot to do with that.

So that was my introduction to India. Little did I know then that I would be back again and again and again!

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  • My time with OshoNandin tells her story: how she first came to Rajneeshpuram, played for Osho in Pune, and became a street musician (published April 2017)

Born in Canada but living in Germany, Nandin is a classically trained flutist who often played very non-classical music in Buddha Hall in Pune.

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