Thursday, February 26, 2009


Bindi and I braved Thursday's severe thunderstorms and flooding to see Delhi-6, the latest film by Rang da Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.

Like Slumdog Millionaire, this fast-paced snapshot of Delhi has been taken to task for shining a mirror onto India's darker aspects - in this case caste and religious intolerance, dowry, misogyny and police brutality. It's got everything, including the Ramayana pageant, windbag politicians fanning the flames of intolerance, a cow giving birth in the street and a Hindu-Muslim riot.

It stars Abishek Bachchan as a US-born NRI (non-resident Indian) who accompanies his grandmother back to Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk neighborhood, where she wants to spend her dying days. Once there he meets quarreling relatives who are not pleased with his mixed Hindu-Muslim heritage, learns about "real" India and falls in love with the beautiful Sonam Kapoor (which of course he announces in English, rather than Hindi).

Abishek's character throws a monkey wrench into the community's age-old customs - whether her's handing a box of sweets to a Brahmin who's just stepped out of the loo, trying to help the sweeper woman carry her garbage, or telling a father he can't marry off his daughter without her consent. There's also a kaala bandar (black monkey) thrown into the mix, to represent fear and intolerance. The film moves fast, clocking in at 2:20, and doesn't pause to explain its references - which was rather refreshing but may be confusing to those who don't know much about India.

It costars the still-handsome Rishi Kapoor as Uncle Ali, and boasts a cameo by Big B, Amitabh Bachchan. Plus it begins and ends with a message that is basically the essence of yoga: All gods represent the same God, and inside each and every one of us there resides a small spark of the divine.

The soundtrack is by none other than two-time Oscar winner A.R. Rahman, and can be heard here.

The wonderful but blurry video pasted below was worth the price of admission, and shows what would happen if Times Square were to relocate to Chandi Chowk - or vice-versa. If it did, I'd move there in a New York minute.

Delhi-6 runs through March 5 at Piper's Alley.

Thanks to Bindi for the head's-up on this one! Read her excellent review here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

India has been in news quite a bit over the past couple of weeks.....

Last week, two-time Oscar winner A.R. Rahman was interviewed on Public Radio International's "The World" - where he said he wanted to get away from musical cliches when he scored "Slumdog Millionaire."

"In a film, when you see an Indian face, you normally think you're going to hear sitar and doleks and stuff like that, so, for us, the first thing that you hear in the film needed to have the quality of 'put on your seat belt' kind of a thing," he said.

Hear the rest of the interview here.

* * *

The New York Times also ran a piece about Mr. Rahman last week (thanks to Catesy for the tip). Here's an excerpt:

His work has been in more than 100 films since 1992, and after scoring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bollywood-themed stage musical “Bombay Dreams” in 2002 he enjoyed had a steadily growing profile in the West. One of the first major composers in India to embrace digital technology, he is in his natural habitat at the computer, and he maintains the manic, multitasking rhythm of a true 21st-century techie.

“I like to see a film and then start scoring it in my mind, while doing something unrelated,” he said. “You just grasp a film and start working, and something unpredictable comes out from a third element. The mind, the more active it is, the more productive it is.”

Productivity, along with a gift for golden melody and a cosmopolitan touch that reflects the new, globally conscious India, have given Mr. Rahman, who lives and works in Chennai (the city formerly known as Madras), a kind of national-hero status. “Rah Rah Rahman,” The Times of India proclaimed on its front page after the Oscar nominations were announced.

“He has a rapper from Tanzania working with him,” Mr. Boyle said, “and fulfilled a mutual desire to work with M.I.A., part Sri Lankan, part London, part New York. Add the house-music disco beats sweeping Bollywood dance lately and you have a real moment of fusion.”

* * *

Yesterday, the unstable situation in the Indian states of Jammu and Kasmhir was explained simply and concisely by journalist Steve Coll on Terry Gross's NPR radio show "Fresh Air." Coll, who has a related article in the March 2 New Yorker called "The Back Channel," made it easy to understand origins of the long-disputed territory between India and Pakistan (apparently the Muslim-majority princely state was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja at the time of Independence, and he decided to go with Hindu-majority India). Coll rightly took the British to task for the complete botching of their pullout from the Subcontinent - which resulted in the death of over a million people during Partition. Hear the interview here.

* * *

The New York Times recently carried a story about cartoonist Nina Paley's handmade animated feature film "Sita Sings the Blues," which weaves together the Hindu Sita-Ram epic with the story of the dissolution of her own marriage.

An excerpt:

In 2002 Ms. Paley followed her husband, an animator, from their home in San Francisco to a town in western India. It was there that she first learned of the tale of the Ramayana. When she reached the part when Sita kills herself to prove her fidelity, she said, she thought, “That’s just messed up and wrong.”

An idea for a postfeminist comic strip began brewing. In it her new ending would still have Rama rejecting Sita, but instead of committing suicide she would become empowered. “She says, ‘To hell with you. I’m going to go join a farming collective.’ ”

Before Ms. Paley could commit her I-will-survive strip to paper, though, life intervened. While she was on a business trip to New York, her husband sent her an e-mail message telling her not to return. In a state of “grief, agony and shock,” she remained in Manhattan, camping out on friends’ sofas.

The film will appear soon on PBS and be distributed at some point (for free) over the internet; read the article here.

* * *

A five-screen Bollywood cinema is slated to open soon in near north suburban Niles, according to announcements in the local Indian newspapers. No word yet on when the Adlabs Films USA-owned Niles Talkies will open. But just think - No more schlepping to Barrington! And five screens! Five!

* * *

As if that weren't enough, I noticed last week that Target is selling Hindu prayer shawls in the purse/accessory section. For just $11.99, you too can look like a Brahmin priest this spring.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


...which means that one could break the Shivaratri fast with decadent (400-calorie) Fat Tuesday Polish donuts from Dinkel's.

The cakelike, deep-fried glazed donut comes in flavors like plum, apple or chocolate, and constitutes the opposite of the prescribed live, vegan, low-sugar yogic diet.

Fortunately, you can get them only once a year.

More on Paczki here.

The recipe (which it is probably best not to read) is here.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Today is Shivaratri, or the Great Night of Lord Shiva*.

It is Lord Shiva's favorite day, and each time you chant his mantra today it is like doing it 1,000 times.

It is also a day of fasting, and staying up all night chanting His name (which is why the shala in Mysore is always closed on this day).

From Lily at the Dharma Yoga Center:

Celebrated on the 14th night of the new moon in months of February and March, Maha Shivaratri or 'Shiva's Great Night' is known as the wedding day of Lord Shiva and his wife, Parvati.

On Maha Shivaratri day, devotees of Lord Shiva fast for the entire day and recite "Om Namah Shivaya" japa throughout the day. The entire day is spent in intense worship to the Lord. Maha Shivaratri is a blessed opportunity for the aspirant of Yoga, as he who remains vigilant and sincere in his worship on Maha Shivaratri will conquer Rajas [passionate activity]. Furthermore, those who observe vigil throughout the night of Shivaratri are said to conquer Tamas [inertia] entirely!

Let "Om Namah Shivaya" be your mental and verbal mantra all day and night, surrendering yourself completel
y the Lord Shiva, the representation of that almighty light dwelling deep within you. **

Here in Chicago there is an all-night event at the Sivananda Vendanta Center, starting at 9:30PM. The fast is broken the following morning.

Om Nama Shivaya!

*Lord Shiva represents the Supreme Self dwelling at the right side of the heart and encompassing all of the other gods. He symbolizes renunciation, and is a favorite of yogis.

**From Swami Sivananda: "The two great natural forces that afflict man are Rajas (the quality of passionate activity) and Tamas (that of inertia). The Shivaratri Vrata aims at the perfect control of these two. The entire day is spent at the Feet of the Lord. Continuous worship of the Lord necessitates the devotee's constant presence in the place of worship. Motion is controlled. Evils like lust, anger, and jealousy, born of Rajas are ignored and subdued. The devotee observes vigil throughout the night and thus conquers Tamas also. Constant vigilance is imposed on the mind. Every three hours a round of worship of the Shiva Lingam is conducted. Shivaratri is a perfect Vrata [religious observance]."

Sunday, February 22, 2009


The best Oscar moment ever happened during tonight's Academy Awards show, when the Japanese winner of the best animated short film, Kunio Kato, gave a halting speech slowly thanking his company, staff, producers, etc. It took awhile, and his accent was thick (the title of his winning film is La Maison en Petits Cubes).

Finally, he paused and said, rather pointedly, "Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto."

I nearly fell off my chair.

Sadly, most of the people in the audience didn't understand his sharp wit.*

Plus it's not every day you get a Styx reference during the prime-est of prime time shows.

Thank you very much, Mr. K-Kato!



*Turns out that Mr. Kato's website is - so maybe the joke's on me.


A gentleman with a ponytail got on the hotel elevator at the same time I did early Saturday morning.

"Which floor?" he asked.

"First," I replied.

"Lobby?" he asked.

Something about the way he said the word piqued my interest.

"Are you from India?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"Where are you from?"


The mind searched for the correct word for breakfast.

"Tindi aita?" I asked.

He looked surprised, but answered without missing a beat,

"Tindi aytoo."

He laughed. "How do you know Kannada?"

"I spent some time in Mysore," I said. "An important yoga teacher is there."

Now he really looked surprised.

"I'm from Mysore!" he said as the elevator reached the lobby.

"Mysore is toomba chennai gidday!" I said.

And with that we wished each other a good day and parted, smiles on our faces.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Click on the image to enlarge it.

NOTE: Many workshops are there: 2/21 in Madison, WI; 3/14 in Oak Park; and 3/21 in Chicago. Click here for details.

Also...The Silverspace class is Fridays from 10-11 in Wicker Park and costs only $10. It is geared to all levels and starts March 6 (no class March 28 - when Dharma will be doing a day-long session at the Yoga Journal Conference in Wisconsin). Use code GG24 to get a $50 discount on the conference.

For more info on Silverspace and other local classes, go here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


While paging through Sunday's The New York Times Magazine, I came across a pictorial spread about Yves St. Laurent's collection of important furniture and decorative and fine art. It will be sold soon at a charity auction, and some designers were asked to comment on the collection - which is expected to fetch nearly $400 million.

Seeing the images - he had so many paintings they were even mounted on doors - made me feel claustrophobic, and I vowed to continue my quest to get rid of stuff.

* * *

Yesterday I called Dreyfus, to tell him that President Obama said "Namaste" at least twice while signing the stimulus plan (Dreyfus said this word so many times, with such vigor and enthusiasm, during the move that he finally got a rather sharp reaction out of me).

Dreyfus told me that Mahatma Gandhi's personal belongings will soon be sold at auction in New York City.

"What possessions?" I asked. "He only had, like, three things."

That's right, said Dreyfus. Turns out they're auctioning off his spectacles, a pocket watch, sandals, a bowl and a plate. All of the items were given as gifts to other people* while he was still alive. The whole lot is expected to fetch £30,000 ($42,000) - and there are many in India who want to bring them back home.

Dreyfus, who is a hoarder like me, concluded the call by saying, "That's the way to go - to have nothing."

He's right.

It's not easy.

But as the Bhagavad-Gita says, What is poison in the beginning becomes nectar in the end.


*According to this website, Gandhi’s earthly possessions could be counted on two hands: His two dinner bowls, wooden fork and spoon, the famous porcelain monkeys, his diary, prayer book, watch, spittoon, letter openers and two pair of sandals.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I was very naughty yesterday, when I walked over to Annapurna Vegetarian and read the Sunday paper and ate an Indian lunch among the Southeast Asian families who also know a good deal when they see one. Annapurna is kind of like Stand-Up Chats in Gokulam - cheap food, fast - only here you sit in bright blue plastic booths.

Twice last week, after a long day of teaching, I walked over to the supermarket and treated myself to a tender coconut. Wonderful!

Did I mention dirt-cheap pomegranate seeds?

In the new neighborhood, people smile when your eyes meet.

(I said hello last month to someone who'd just moved into my old building. She looked away without replying).

I could be wrong, but in the new neighborhood it seems that the feeling is less I'm gonna get my piece of the action and to the hell with everyone else and more We're all in this together so we might as well make the best of it.

The new neighborhood is adjacent to a suburb that has cheap gas and stores with free parking and lower sales tax. The Foods Whole up here actually has free samples.

And last week, the cat and I were surprised to find a squirrel on the dining room window ledge, staring at us through the glass. When he was done, he leapt back onto the tree and scooted down.

You just don't see things like that on Ashland Ave.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

MONEY SHOTS of the new digs.

This is the bedroom.

The guest room.

The altar in the yoga room.

And the yoga room itself. Classes now forming. Midday Mysore in Little India, anyone? Evening Dharma Yoga in West Ridge?

Thursday, February 05, 2009


A curious coincidence:

On Wednesday nights I teach yoga just below the Chicago office of recently-ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojević.

On Wednesday mornings I teach yoga just below the Chicago office of recently-installed Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn.

If they'd just consider(ed) venturing downstairs, crossing the threshold and practicing yoga, perhaps the second line of the ashtanga closing prayer (ie; the Mangala Mantra, from the Rig Veda) could come true: Nya yena margena mahi mahishaha, or Let the administrators rule the world with law and justice....

....which could lead to Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu: May all beings be happy and prosperous.

We can only hope.

Om shanti!

* * *

NOTE: The students in this priceless 2002 video of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois seem to be tittering because they didn't realize there's a final Surya Namaskar after the closing prayer. Watching this video made me realize just how much I miss that dear man's teaching. The heart literally aches, and it becomes crystal clear why I was so miserable in Mysore last year. I also realize how lucky I am to study with Dharma and Chandra - whose teachings pick up where his left off. Thinking about this, the ache gives way to overwhelming gratitude.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I am here. Now.

As in, the new apartment.

It was hell to get here. But as my teacher says when describing sattva (purity, peace, knowledge), what is poison in the beginning becomes nectar in the end.

As for the poison....

While throwing out some trash the night before the move, I met another long-time tenant - and learned that she too was moving on Saturday. At the same time. And the landlord never told us. We were both glad to be getting away from that person.

The movers - Four Hung-Over Guys and a Truck - showed up an hour late on Saturday. Nonetheless they managed to move ninety-two boxes and assorted furniture to the new apartment in just under five hours - in spite of several falls down the slippery stairs at both places. At the end, the head Guy said it was the most organized move he'd ever worked (I didn't ask how many moves he'd actually done).

Dreyfus, Mrs. Dreyfus and PKB were also instrumental in making the move a success. Dreyfus and PKB moved two van-loads of stuff to the new place. The second trip featured a mattress and dining room table strapped legs-up to the roof of the family van - which must have been quite a sight.

Mrs. Dreyfus helped with everything, and singlehandedly cleaned the rather dirty new kitchen and unpacked three rooms and one closet and countless other things. She is a dynamo and an inspiration to all.

Mr. Dreyfus installed the smoke detectors and escape rope, and fell down the stairs while throwing out garbage.

All of us starved while waiting for the cable guy - who never came.

Finally we gave up and had a wonderful, hard-earned feast at Uru-Swati.

* * *

But I'm here now.

There are trees outside the apartment's many windows - seven of which face south.

There are tender coconuts down the street.

There are so many rooms I wander about, not knowing where to go.

There is a room just for yoga - a large living room with a giant fireplace altar and windows that face west.

There's a large, sunny room just for guests.

There's a long hallway that's a huge hit with the cat.

And it is QUIET. I had my best night of sleep since Scotland here.

But it also has been a bit cold.

On the first two days the temperature inside hovered around 64 degrees.

Things improved yesterday, when I realized that the downstairs neighbor had left his window open when he moved out, and got permission to close it. No wonder the floor was so cold!

Tonight, the landlord will come and try to help me close the bedroom window, which has been painted open.

In the meantime I purchased some warm slippers, and a beanie to wear while performing asana.

There is also a special hat (crocheted by me) and a hand-knit poncho (made by Munkin) for sitting practice.

It is a bit like being in the Himalayas, minus the cave.

Plus there is a massive icicle right outside the kitchen window.

PKB dubbed it my own private icicle.

As far as I can tell, it is not in the shape of a Shiva lingam or any other sacred symbol.


Fortunately, winter is temporary....

....just like everything else on this plane.


Photos show the giant icicle outside the kitchen window. I suppose it is a bit phallic, at least in this shot. What do *you* think it looks like?