The never-ending din of vehicles honking at one another is something I will never forget about Chennai, India. Nor the near-suicidal tendencies of all the drivers who aim head-on at one another and then veer off at the last possible moment. This is a country where painted lines on the roads are regarded as suggestions and the preferred way of going is to ignore everything and drive with utter abandon. Motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, cars, trucks and yellow tuk-tuks (ATV’s disguised as open-air taxis) compete with each other for every inch of available ashphalt.
Road signs give you a sense that the government is trying to re-shape the vehicular culture. One reads, “Unless you want an early appointment with the gods, slow down”.
Pedestrians cross intersections at their peril.
In fact, at one particularly crazy intersection, I asked a store to send someone across the road to escort me to the other side. When I apologized to my chaperone saying, “I can’t figure out the rules for pedestrian crossings” he responded with a puzzled look, saying “Madam – this is India. There are no rules”.
If you wander down any side street, the slums of the city spread out before you. The homes of many people barely qualify as shanties; in many cases they are just steel panels held together with bits of wood and cardboard. The unmistakable scent of rotting food and human waste drifts through the air, and clings to your nostrils in the shimmering heat of the day.
India – against the context of over-crowded streets, noise and poverty, there remains a quiet and enduring core of spirituality. In spite of the chaos, this city is home to the seat of yoga where an inner serenity prevails over living conditions, and a certain grace embraces those who enter its doors.
The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) is a very special place. Because photography is prohibited there (unless you get special permission), I did not take any pictures with the exception of this bloom:
How fitting that the only shot of my time at the KYM, is of the Passion Tree. For me, this tree represents the contrasts of India – there are thorns that cut and bleed, blossoms that fill the eyes with beauty and a presence that touches the soul. Similarly, the KYM is a source of knowledge and light set within a backdrop of ignorance and destitution. Amidst the craziness of the world outside, KYM quietly goes on with its mission of helping people and teaching yoga to those who are ready to learn. The streets of Chennai may have been a mixture of chaos, desperation and poverty, but KYM was abundantly calm, generous and spiritually rich.