Jul 5, 2017

Ancient Royal Roads


These photos show Mysore, India before a glut of scooters, cars, exhaust and honking horns choked the roads and the air. In those days people walked long distances, queued for crowded buses or road bicycles, which all looked to have rolled out of the same British Empire military factory – they were black, sturdy, with high seats, like tanks on two wheels—indestructible. It was easy to conjure Lord Mountbatten astride this black behemoth’s hard leather seat. Or the adult Apu from Satyjit Ray’s celebrated trilogy of films. In those days even my teacher Pattabhi Jois did not own a car.

Back then, there were so few foreigners in Mysore that we always drew a lot of attention. Folks were so curious—where we had come from, how much did our airline tickets cost, did we own homes back in US or rent, how much did papayas cost where we came from? Uniformed school children, it seemed every living one, was keen to practice their English phrases, “Hello what is your name?” “My name is…”, “My mother’s name is…”, “What is your country?” “Do you have a country coin?” “One pen, please?”

And the few cars, scooters or rickshaws moving on the quiet and broad roads would drive just alongside us as we walked, the drivers calling out greetings and questions, emittng a cacophony of horns along with bursts of two-stroke or diesel exhaust. And though it will sound like the epitome of impatience, I grew tired of it. “Let me walk in peace”, I wanted to yell.

On one especially hot, dusty trudge, I walked along Water Tank Road and a tinny electric horn began to pulse just over my shoulder, as smoky fumes wafted round my throat. My heart raced as my face got hotter. Did I have to turn? Could I ignore it? Finally I stopped and spun around with some fury, ready to throw my hands up and bark. And there, with his beautiful smile and a joyful wave was dear Guruji, my teacher, 80 something years old and tootling around on his pedal moped, crisp and neat in his white shirt, lunghi and rubber slippers. How quickly my mood turned. I was suddenly elated, like all the nectar in all the lokas pooled out over my consciousness.

Oh Mind, what a tricky and moody brat you are! Being the meanest little person on the map, feels like crap. I wish I could say I never again acted impatiently in my travels. But that just ain’t true. But daily, I try to look around with fresh new eyes. That is the yoga practice after all.

In 2000, India changed very strict automotive laws and opened the floodgates. Very quickly, any one with $5 a month or $15 could lease a scooter or a car as affordable imports flooded the market in a deluge of modernity and congestion. And at this time, Bangalore and Mysore continued to expand with the booms of software, tech and call centers. In the haste to widen the roads for all the new cars and commerce, miles of ancient shade trees were cut down, exposing a hot, dusty and scarred earth. The sight of these royal trees, felled, maimed, and chopped for fire wood, with the bare trunks exposed, trunks with diameters the size of roadside shrines, is one more haunting tragedy of modern times.

On the Bangalore Mysore Road 10,000 trees were decimated until one brave local advocate stepped onto the road and declared “Not One More Tree.” And for a moment the chainsaws’ buzzing stopped.

In the last 3 years, Bangalore, has felled more than 50,000 trees raising temperatures 2 to 3 degrees. Mysore will destroy lose 11,000 more in the coming year.

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