Nodody has only good things to say about India. But sometimes—while following your bliss—you travel to a place you always dreamed of going. Elation allows you to view the place in a surreal light. Gratitude allows you to wander around wearing those proverbial rose-colored glasses. Everything you see appears to shine in its own spotlight. Euphoria drugs you into believing heaven is some place on earth. And then one day (a week, two weeks, a month later) after the dream wears away, reality rears a snout full of teeth and bites you in the butt.
Pune was like that for me. Pune (poo-neh) was formerly spelled with a British twang, Poona, and mispronounced as poo-nah. Pune lies in Maharashtra state on the west coast of India, a four-hour train ride east of Mumbai (formerly Bombay…apparently Colonial-era Brits had a flair for mispronunciation, or had hearing issues, or just didn’t give a dink).
I was in Pune to study yoga for a month at the famous Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, the “mother institute” and the heart and soul of Iyengar Yoga, one of the world’s most widely-practiced yogas. Teachers, and experienced practitioners, from everywhere in the world come here to study and hone their yoga skills, and perhaps swallow a dose of humility. Classes are booked a year in advanced, and there are strict regulations for being admitted to Ramamani. You have to have been practicing Iyengar Yoga for at least eight years, you have to be able to stand on your head for at least 8 minutes. Women students must already know what to do and not do during menstruation. You have to have read the seminal text. In other words, not just anyone who washes up on their doorstep can attend. I had wanted to visit Ramamani since the first time I went to India in 1976, but I never made it to Pune on that trip. I’m not sure why not because I did make it to Bombay—karma, guru, woman, destiny?
In Pune, when I finally removed the rose-colored glasses and the euphoria began to huddle around my ankles, I realized that the city that I had for so long dreamed of making a pilgrimage, my Mecca, was toxic. It was making me physically sick. Most news articles used to say that Beijing (right, formerly dubbed Peking…right, by those same Colonial Brits) had the worst air pollution in the world. Now, as of this month, articles are saying that India’s Delhi is the worst, the most toxic air on Earth. Everyone agrees it’s because of poor standards of emissions on automobiles and especially, diesel trucks.
I don’t know where Pune stands in regard to the top ten worst cities for smog, but I’m voting it’s right up there with Beijing for the number two spot. Luckily for me at Ramamani, we practiced very early in the morning. It was still dark when I walked to my morning sessions, and the air was relatively breathable, and actually cool. A few hours later on my way back—not so much. The air had ladled itself into a thick soup of malicious venom.
I always carried my camera with me in Pune, even to class. Any level of photographer would, I’d imagine. I mean, you’re in India. You are going to see a something to photograph in a minute, or an hour, or sooner or later. I saw at least one shot every day on the way to class, and on the way home. And usually, many more than one scene. On one fairly brisk morning, probably around six a.m. or so, I wandered across the bike belonging to the purveyor of water buffalo milk in Pune. Notice the one handle-bar grip. And you may be able to detect a bit of smog in the background.
Check out other Challengers’ Photos and CEE’s Challenge at her marvelous site HERE