The main reason I come to Mysore is to practice yoga with my teacher. The couple of hours spent in the yoga shala in the wee hours of the morning are the highlight of the day. I’ve been coming here for seven years now. While it’s the yoga that keeps me coming back each year, there are other things that make my Mysore time special.
In 2008, I arrived in Mysore with a broken heart. I had just said goodbye to someone I loved dearly. I knew my yoga practice and the community of friends here would help. But I also knew I needed to keep myself busy and resist the urge to wallow in self-pity. Over the previous two years I had spent more than 12 months in India. It was time to give back to the country that had given me so much.
I started teaching English in the afternoons to some young children in a poor Muslim area of the city through an organisation called Pratham. One day my contact there, Mahesh, told me about a small children’s home that was very under resourced. I visited the home – the space was tiny and the children were shy and sombre. Their ages ranged from 12 to 2 years and most had been rescued from the streets.
(After a few visits I wanted to learn their names so I took a series of these headshot photos. I didn’t realise then how fun it would be to look back and see how they have grown!)
I wasn’t sure what I could do to help. With the philosophy of something is better than nothing I started to visit them a couple of days a week in the afternoons. We sang songs, played games and anything else I could think of to entertain them (one day they even played musical statues to the accompaniment of my amateur flute playing – actually it was probably quite a few days!)
Other friends started to get involved and the support for the home snowballed. Funds were raised and donated. Activities became more ambitious from trips to the zoo, playtimes in the park to kirtans on the rooftop.
(I love this shot taken on a trip to the zoo!)
(The kids love it when Mark Robberds visits for kirtan. This was a particularly special night in 2010.)
Support for the home really ramped up in early 2011 when a fellow yoga student Chris Ebbe relocated to Mysore fulltime. Thanks to the ongoing commitment of Chris, Warren and Flora, as well as other volunteers and donors. the kids now have regular yoga classes, English tutoring, fresh fruit and vegetables, dental and medical check-ups.
Some of the children I first met in 2008 have left the home but many are still there. It’s been lovely to see them grow and develop their personalities over the last five years. They are a special bunch. They steal the hearts of everyone they meet with their big eyes, wide smiles and non-stop antics. They are definitely more precocious than when I first met them. To be completely honest, sometimes in the afternoon when I am feeling a bit worn out, I don’t always feel like honouring my tutoring commitments. But no matter how tired I feel sitting in the rickshaw on the way there, I always feel energised and very happy on the way back.
I once said to Chris, after he was telling me about some of the programs he had started for them, “Wow the kids are so lucky to have you here in Mysore.” He responded without a moment’s hesitation – “No I am lucky to have them.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
(Me with Sushmita just recently – she has become quite the little madame since I first met her!)