Sunday, June 22, 2008

Perhaps not exactly the rant you were hoping for

The anecdote: I'm a big fan. The tiny story that hits every level of an issue in a pitch-perfect manner - no cumbersome plot issues, no surprise endings, no character development - just a nugget of juicy multivalent goodness waiting to be unpacked by, say, a deeply disgruntled yoga student knitblogger.

The anecdote featured in this post is, as befits an anecdote, short, but since the lead-in is a bit long, I've taken the liberty of breaking up the prose with recent photos from my burgeoning collection of fabulous hand-painted ladies' and men's room signs. Professor Knitcrit knows that nothing maintains audience interest like pictures.

Let the games begin.

Today the regular coconut water man wasn't standing in his usual spot directly outside the yogashala and so the usual post-practice pack of sweaty, ethnic print cheesecloth-draped yogis was not, mercifully, in evidence. Because I cannot live without coconut water after practice, I made my way to the coconut stand on the corner near the flat Todd and I are renting in Mysore. Several yoga students were there enjoying all the potassium-laden goodness, and as I stood there I overheard a woman whom I hardly know but whom I loathe chatting with a guy I also hardly know but whom I also loathe.

I loathe the guy because years ago he taught at the schmanciest yogashala in NYC; I visited there once to see if it was a good place for me to practice and in the course of our very brief conversation I mentioned that I hadn't practiced in a while due to an injury and his eyes got this glazed look and he proceeded to give me a sermon on how in Astanga there are no injuries, just openings, and that the best thing to do when, say, one has torn a hamstring so badly that it is too painful to sit normally for nearly six months, is to keep in practicing yoga. Thanks, coach. Also, you are a maniac.

It is not at all surprising to me that this particular dude is now on an all-raw food diet and maintains a little shaved brahmin-esque topknot. Anyway.

I loathe the woman because early in our time here in Mysore, Todd and I went to one of the yoga haunts for breakfast and were forced to interact with people because of the group table setup. So this woman and her boyfriend were chatting about the usual three topics here: food, digestion, and what we might loosely term Indian philosophy, a catch-all term encompassing discussions of "ego," WWKD (what would Krishna do), Sanskrit classes, and upcoming kirtan sessions. I was attempting to participate in this conversation when her boyfriend (who, incidentally, is the son of a pastor, has "make a joyful noise" tattooed on his lower back, and in general exhibits all the signs of being a classically screwed up estranged preacher's kid) mentioned that in their last "philosophy" class, their teacher had talked all about what a darn shame it was that when the "Muslims" came to India, they destroyed many finger-lickin'-good Sanskrit texts.

Which was pretty much the same thing as pushing the big red angry sermon button in the middle of my chest.

And so in the Om-curtain draped environment of Tina's breakfast joint, I proceeded to impart all the wisdom of my Intro to Islam class as well as a good chunk of my South Asian religion class. Salient points included:

(1) When the "Muslims" came to India, they did not find a bunch of non-violent vegetarians singing kirtan. They found empires. Hindu empires. Jain empires. Empires that had armies. Empires with deified kings and temples in which the central enshrined deity shared the name of the ruler. Deified kings whose patronage of tantric forms of Hinduism was intended to augment their power. In short, empires in which there was no distinction between the religious and the political. As Richard Eaton has shown, most temple desecrations performed by Muslim rulers took place in temples that were clearly symbols of political authority for Hindu kings. The wars between empires in India were political in the modern sense of the word, and they were political on both sides. Indian history is not the history of a bunch of fanatical Muslims declaring jihad on a bunch of non-violent love-filled Hindus. Full stop.

(2) Slightly limp but nevertheless true: horrific acts of violence have been perpetrated in the name of and using intellectual tools and systems from every so-called "world religion."

We will get to the actual anecdote soon. I swear.

Somewhere in this impassioned sermon I realized that I might just be coming across like leisurely-post-yoga-breakfast wrecking maniac, and so I apologized for my tone and tried to explain that part of the reason I care so much about the topic is because the modern-day Hindu Right's re-writing of Indian history along the lines of the-Muslims-came-and-wrecked-everything-and -now-we-want-them-all-to-get-the-hell-out is used to justify recurrent horrific acts of violence against the Muslim community in India, and particularly against the poor and low-caste Muslim community.

While I was in the midst of my attempt to explain my impassioned tone, the woman checked herself out of the conversation and began copying a big list of Buddhist layperson's vows from a laminated plastic card she was carrying around into a nicey-nice little handmade paper book. Never mind actually learning something when you can copy your nice vows into your nice booklet.

And now, at long last, the anecdote. At the coconut stand, this Buddha-lovin' woman was telling this openings-lovin' guy all about a terrible Astanga yoga teacher somewhere or other, someone who had the audacity to mix up the order of postures and teach beginners advanced poses, etc, etc, etc on and on and ON about this deviant yoga teacher, and the whole time she fails to notice that if she moved her massive yoga mat bag off the bench at the coconut stand, other people (people like me) might also have a place to sit. At a certain point, another woman sitting on the edge of the bench asked me if I'd like to sit down, and, having heard the offer, the Buddha-lovin' woman pulled her bag up on her lap in a way that still didn't make it particularly easy for a person to sit down, all the while going on about the horrible unorthodox yoga teacher. I finished my coconut standing up, paid the vendor, and left.

And THAT, more than anything else, is what I despise about the culture here in yogaland. These people, like fundamentalists anywhere, have become so taken with their ideological pursuits that they do not have the ability to respond in a courteous, kind, humane way to their present situations. As in, "please have a seat." Or, "I'm sorry that you tore your hamstring."

You might at this point be thinking, okay, Knitcrit, I see how these people are perhaps a bit crazy and a bit annoying, but you seem pretty, well, mad. You are correct. Knitcrit is mad. Knitcrit is mad because she was raised in a fairly rigid evangelical environment and she can very, VERY clearly see that that these yahoos in Mysore are just as much idiotic, self-righteous fundamentalists as, say, Knitcrit's old youth group leader, whose most horrific moment was (it's a toss-up) either entertaining a bunch of high schoolers by eating a live goldfish or giving Knitcrit a long talk about how women should submit to their husbands in all things and also not aspire to becoming pastors since only men can lead. I wish he had choked on the goldfish.

Knitcrit has no use for devotion to ideology that gets in the way of people treating one another with courtesy and kindness. Ideology, including yoga, is a means to an end. Knitcrit, in case you are wondering, does Astanga not because she wants to become a superyogini enlightened bendy Sanskrit scholar, but rather, because it makes her more capable of being present, engaged, and kind when dealing with other people. Except yoga people, of course.


Abbeykins said...

Thank you for this. I have noticed that many people here who 'do yoga' see it as a lifestyle and a way to bring power over others, to demean the lifestyle that others lead. Which of course is EXACTLY how the fundies do it. You're absolutely right on, I'd never thought of it that way, but it is incredibly irritating that instead of being fanatical about Christianity, they're fanatical about what they currently interpret as the 'right' way. They're probably not smart enough to think for themselves anyway...

tara said...

i love the pictures! thanks for the comment too.
ahh, 'fundies', they plague me too and can be found virtually anywhere.