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Chapter Seventeen: Yoga Factory

Finally, he built a huge Shala which was as big as the ones he taught in when he toured. In 2020 I tried again to register, but still didn’t get through. The LA woman did, and I found that I could practice in the afternoon in his new Shala with one of his students named Heidi from Finland. The LA woman immediately contacted the Kirtan Woman and told her I was coming. She wanted to know what instrument I was bringing and told her a sitar. I wanted to take sitar lessons from the woman the German woman had taken sitar with. I had accompanied her to the lessons on the back of her bike and was very impressed with the way she taught.

When I got to Mysore, I was going to be sharing a house that had belonged to Madu and Ramesh with the LA Woman. The first Sunday I was there she informed me I would not be able to practice the sitar in the house while she was there as it would disturb her. I was so distraught I started to walk to the Green Hotel to see if I could rent a room where I could practice sitar but got lost and ended up at the Southern Star. The Kirtan Woman usually spent her afternoons at the pool working on her tan, so I went in to see if she were there. Her girlfriend Dawn was sunning herself in the courtyard, and I asked her if The Kirtan Woman was coming. She told me she had gone to lunch at Nagarathna’s and would be back soon. She called to tell her I was there. When she arrived, I ordered a veggie burger, fries, and had a chai with her. She suggested I talk to Shiva, which I did and ended up walking to his house everyday which was up the road to practice. Since I had walked all the way to the Southern Star the Kirtan Woman called Lyft to book me a ride. She was walking me out to the parking lot as she had to let the driver know I was the rider. When we were going through the lobby the Hotel Manager was walking by and said, “You have a friend?” To which she replied, “He’s not my friend!” I was devastated. The poor man apologized in embarrassment.

I hired a rickshaw driver to drive me back and forth to sitar lessons in the morning and yoga practice in the afternoon, as I no longer felt confident in my ability to do this myself. Partly because it had been ten years since I had been there and I navigated by landmarks, but everything had changed. And, because my lung ailment made it, so I was unstable. When I had been there years before buying an item at a shop, I received a shiny coin in change. I said to the young clerk, “it must be new,” and he responded, “Your shiny and you’re not new.” I had lost my shine.

The Kirtan Woman arranged to have a Kirtan at one of the locally run restaurants for students on a Saturday night. I was going to take my sitar and had gotten together with her earlier that week at the house she was staying at on the edge of Mysore. We play music together so well the rehearsal was unbelievable. The kirtan went as well, but the way the woman conducted the kirtan was different from ten years earlier. She had become a polished professional. She offered to allow me to play harmonium and sing, but she still had the funky harmonium the senior male students had purchased for her, and I declined. I really wish I would have as Ganesh was playing tabla and he is a joy to perform with. When we were finished, I was going to walk home, but she told me to stay, and she would buy me a hot milk. I said OK and sat down to wait for it to come. There was a man there I knew from years ago who was a Rolfer. I said to him, “It has been ten years since I have been here, and the Kirtan Woman is still bossing me around.” He said, “I am sure I have seen you not that long ago.” He was one I wanted to clear the gossip with but there was no way I could broach the matter. The Kirtan Woman wanted to have another Kirtan a week later at another restaurant further away, but I declined. I wish I would have done it, but the air at the last one the restaurant was so full of smoke from burning incense that it was as bad as the smoky bars I had played in as a Country musician. The people attending did not seem as young and open as the crowds years ago. They felt more like the crowd at a bar. In fact, I felt more like I was playing in the bar scene than at a Kirtan. The woman had a tip jar, and it was crammed full of rupees, but she did not share it with the rest of us. I had hoped we would have informal kirtans every Saturday night at the house I and the LA Woman were renting. The Kirtan Woman had come by but did not approve.

At one point I was walking up the hill to Ganesh the tabla players house as he and his wife ran a restaurant for students. On the way I ran into a woman coming down from Ganesh’s as she had been there to show him jewelry she had made as it was his wife’s birthday. She was another one I had hoped to clear the gossip with as she had given me a rye smile. But again, there was just no way I could launch into it.

The first week several of us “old students” had gotten together for lunch at Ganesh’s, and I assumed it would happen again, but it never did. I felt so at home but at the same time felt like a complete pariah. One of the first mornings while I was there the LA Woman invited me to go to Breakfast with her at a little restaurant below a small hotel. When we sat down, she introduced me to a group of young women at a table across from us as her brother. It was annoying, as if she did not want to be seen with me. It was the same way when I went to Conference on Saturday morning at Sharath’s Shala, which I called the Yoga Factory it was so huge. She had told me to come as she was there doing her practice and assisting. I sat down next to her, but she moved a few spaces away. I felt like a leper.

I brought an Atem IQAir purifier with me to India as it is very portable. I slept with it blowing filtered air in my face. It was January and getting very hot and the house we were staying in was a single story. Consequently, I could not close the windows, and air filters are completely ineffective if the windows are left open. To make matters worse we were located at a busy intersection kitty corner from Guruji’s Shala in Gokulam. When I got home and looked at the filter in the air purifier it was black and looked like the air filter out of an old truck.

That spring I spent about four hours a night hacking up garbage out of my lungs. I thought at first it was grass pollen but am confident now it was particulate from the air in India. I had taken a respirator with me and wore it when I was riding in the auto rickshaw. I was so concerned about my lungs that I made a doctor’s appointment, and he x-rayed my lungs, and it came back that I had COPD or Chronic Obstructed Pulmonary Disease. I shared this with the LA Woman, and she essentially said I was on my own. This was partly since she had acquired a therapist through her Medicare and no longer needed me. She sent me a few more messages on Skype that I did not respond to. When she asked me about it, I told her I had moved on. Which is what she kept telling me I needed to do.

It was January 2020 when we were in India. There were already reports coming out of China about the deadly virus circulating. People were already getting concerned, and when the practice at the Shala was over for the season there were several women from China who were stranded as their flights home had been cancelled. I shared a rickshaw back from Sharath’s Shala to Gokulam in the afternoon with one of them several times. She was already wearing a mask which is not that uncommon in Asia. On the flight home about 20 percent of the passengers on the flight were wearing masks. This was early February 2020. When we got to Dubai people were intuitively social distancing in the terminal and on the trams. I stayed in a pod overnight at the terminal and the attendant was wearing a mask. On my flight from Dubai all the way to SeaTac an elderly Indian woman slept with her head on my shoulder. Neither one of us were masked. When we got to SeaTac and went through customs there were no precautions, and I was shocked. No one was taking temperatures and we were not asked any special questions. For that matter there was no social distancing.

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