Home India “Maintain Breathing Normal”

“Maintain Breathing Normal”

by Maggie Barrett
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The walk to class everyday is a constant battle to find a balance between power-walking to get the walk trek over with, and walking slowly as to avoid ending up completely drenched in sweat. It usually goes something like this: I leave my dorm 42-45 minutes before class starts to allow ample time for a leisurely walk. People look at me (despite the traditional clothes, we still stand out quite a bit), I start speed-walking. Five minutes later I realize that I’m starting to sweat so I slow down for a few minutes. Then I get anxious I’m going to be late to class (not a real concern considering it’s a 25 minute walk at the most and I have a 20 minute buffer, but still) and power walk again. Upon realizing that sweat is dripping down my back, I slow down.

Actual classes have been going okay. Monday was the first day of school for us, and I went to Hindi and attempted to attend Ayurveda (both SIP classes), only to be told after wandering around for 10 minutes searching for the classroom (classroom numbers are impossible to find anywhere) that Ayurveda class today was canceled and I should come Wednesday instead. Hindi was slightly…overwhelming. I’m having conflicting feelings hovering between “this is so pretty and fun to write!” and “how in the world will I possibly learn this in only five months?” In all honesty, I think it will be my hardest class here, simply because it’s like nothing I’ve ever learned before. Spanish and French at least shared a common alphabet with English, but Hindi is a whole new cricket (hah) game. The alphabet consists of 33 consonant sounds and 13 vowel sounds. Unlike English, which has many silent letters, when you write in Hindi you write exactly the sounds that you say. Hindi is one of the official languages of India, along with English, although the most common language spoken where I am currently is Telugu. All together, there are over 750 languages spoken in India (according to the Hindustan Times), and hundreds more local dialects. It’s learning things about the culture like this that continue to amaze me.

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On Monday, I also experienced my very first yoga class. Having never actually been to a yoga class before, in my head I imagined it being very peaceful, in a dark room, perhaps scented with incense, with lots of slow movements and ample meditation. I could not have been more incorrect. After power-walking to the studio with a few of the girls here, we hurriedly rushed in, grabbed mats, and sat in the ardha padmasana pose as the instructor began a chant. The rest of the participants (apart from us, causing us to stick out as Americans even more than normal) followed suit. The air seemed to be actually vibrating. It was beautiful, even though I have absolutely no idea what was said besides namaste and ohm. Next, we stood up. I assumed we were going to now be entering into a series of slow movements and poses. Instead, the instructor swung his hands over his head, arching his back and shouting “INHALE!” before violently swinging down and touching his toes (“EXHALE”) and then whipping upright and quickly repeating the motion.

I was shocked, I was stunned, I was barely able to hold in my laughter as everyone in the room mirrored his vehement movements, entirely in sync. In vain, I attempted to make eye contact with the other girls I came with, hoping someone was just as surprised and unprepared; yet they seemed to have somehow been anticipating this and were following along. After about 10 (exhausting) minutes of various calisthenics, we switched into the surya namaskara, which after repeating many (many) times fairly rapidly we transitioned into holding that collection of poses and various others for a count of 10. He finally told us to lay down in savasana and “REEELLAAAHHHXXX.”

Despite the slightly crazy and unexpected start, I’m officially hooked: we attended every afternoon class this week, and this morning I woke up at 5:20 and convinced my roommate to start her run earlier so we could make it over to the yoga studio to take the 6 am class. When in India, I guess?

Leaving the yoga studio Monday night was a whole other new experience, being caught completely unprepared in a monsoon. No one had umbrellas or raincoats, and, considering we were already cutting it close with dinner, there was no choice but to trudge through the downpour all the way home. We got many strange looks, and arrived home thoroughly soaked, but hey, it eliminated the need for a shower that night!

Tuesday was my first day of class in a non-SIP course, meaning it was with non-study abroad students in the general university. I was slightly nervous about this: besides knowing the building name I had no clue where my class was, I was worried about understanding the professor (since it usually takes me a few minutes to adjust to each person’s specific accent, though overall English is spoken very well here), and I was unsure if I would even be allowed to take this class because no one I spoke to knew if it was a undergraduate or Master’s level course.

I arrived super early (and only a little sweaty), and wandered around the Health Psychology building (which thankfully is really small) until I found the office, where I inquired as to where the Health and Nutrition class was taking place. I was informed that it was actually being held in the building next door, in room 6, so I wandered over there, still very early. Not paying much attention I walked straight into room 6, before realizing (as everyone stared) that I was in some sort of upper-level calculus class that was currently going on. I profusely apologized and hurried out and sat in the courtyard (now sweating a lot) until 9:55 (my class was supposed to start at 10).

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However, 9:55 came and went and the room was entirely empty. So I waited. And waited. While I was expecting a little lateness due to what everyone calls “India time,” by 10:10 when not a soul had shown up I figured something was wrong. I went to the office in that building, he told me that room 1 is where my class would be taking place, I hurried there: room 1 was locked and definitely empty as well. After a hurried walk back to the Health Psychology building, I found out that the class had been moved and was actually held in the room next door to the office, in the Health Psychology building itself. Now 30 minutes late, I quietly tiptoed in: this time, “India time” worked in my favor, as class had yet to begin. As I tried to discretely survey my classmates around me, I was still unable to determine what age they were and thus was still clueless as to what level class this was.

Something worth noting is that a lot of the body language here is different than what I’m accustomed to in the United States. Instead of nodding in agreement, Indians sort of tilt their head from side to side. It isn’t exactly a shake of their head, so doesn’t specifically look like “no,” but it’s different enough that it throws me off every time and I constantly worry that I’m upsetting someone or they’re mad or disappointed in me. Which is what occurred when I talked to the professor after class- with his head tilting, I wasn’t really sure where I stood with being approved or not to take the course.

Thankfully, this was all cleared up on Thursday, when I had Health and Nutrition again. Glad that I now knew where the class was, I showed up and was dismayed to find the door locked and no one in the office. Panicked and frustrated, I paced the hall, unsure of what to do and frustrated that I had no way to contact anyone. After a few minutes of this, one of the boys from my class on Tuesday walked in the building, saw me pacing, calmly introduced himself, and explained that class was postponed until 11 today (it typically runs from 10-12) due to a conference that the professor had to attend. All the rest of the students are all in the same cohort of classes, so they of course knew. He was very friendly (and patient as I adjusted to his accent) and invited me to get chai (South Carolina should get on board with this) at the stall across the street with him and a few of our other classmates while we waited for the professor to arrive.

In hindsight, the postponed class was the best thing that could have happened, because it allowed me to ask my classmates all sorts of questions and figure out how to get the syllabus, how to get the PowerPoints, how to contact them (shout out to Whatsapp), and much more. I also learned that they are all part of the Center for Integrated Studies Program here, which means they are doing a combination Bachelor’s/Master’s degree in 5 years. They were all in their third year of school, which is the same as me, so taking this class would be no problem! They also all seemed to enjoy the fact that my name is the same as the brand of noodles here.

My only dilemma currently is that I don’t know which class to take for my fourth credit. I was planning to take Medical Anthropology and attempted to attend class today- yet after a lot of wandering around the social sciences building (wandering classroom buildings is becoming one of my talents) I found the head of the Anthropology department, who kindly notified me that the class was rescheduled to Monday/Thursday, meaning it now conflicted with Health and Nutrition. So hopefully I’ll be able to find a solution!

Last night after yoga, we stopped by a talent show of sorts being held in the main auditorium on campus. One of the people I’ve met at Tagore, Kaustup, was break dancing in it. We arrived just in time to see his performance (which was spectacular) and then watched a few of the other acts, including some singing in Telegu and Hindi, sitar playing, and two traditional dances, one of which involved sticks of various sizes and small tree branches and was quite the production (the crowd went wild). It as also cool to just be involved in something that all the other students on campus were doing, since at times it is hard to feel connected, though I think this will get much better as the semester goes on.

Tomorrow, Ishmeet has promised us a tour of the city. Hyderabad has so many landmarks and monuments, and enough time has passed since our whirlwind tour of North India that I’m really excited to see everything!

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