n May of 2002 Guruji invited me to Mysore for the blessing of the new yoga shala in Gokulam. I convinced my dear friend and favorite Mysore companion, Johnny Smith, to make a quick visit to India. The total trip was less than two weeks, and with travel time, Johnny and I were on the ground in Mysore for only 9 days. When we arrived, Johnny and I immediately went to see Guruji, who was very happy to see us and told us that the yoga shala would be closed for one week in preparation for the puja to bless the new yoga shala. Saraswati took one look at Johnny and I and said, “I see you have both become very fat.” Johnny and I looked at each other’s belly and nodded. With no yoga classes for a week, we decided to visit our old friend Ram and his daughter, Sutiksha, at their jungle lodge, Water Woods, on the Kabini River just outside of Nagarhole National Park and two hours west of Mysore. Ram is a very eccentric ex-developer from Bangalore who can always be counted on for half a dozen costume changes per day—anything from a Tibetan lama to an African Prince. Ram and Sutiksha welcomed us and offered a traditional and delicious South Indian lunch. Totally jet-lagged, Johnny and I ate way too much and almost immediately retired to our rooms for a long nap. We roused ourselves a couple of hours later and decided to take the rowboat out into the river. What Saraswati said must have been true because when we got to the middle of the river, the boat began to sink. We were both yelling and blaming each other for sinking the boat when decided we better abandon ship. Johnny reminded me that there were crocodiles in the river as we swam towards a tree, hoping that it would provide us the means to right our boat and get back in it. A rescue party came from Water Woods when they saw us in the river. We managed to empty the boat of water and get back in it before they arrived, but it was all very embarrassing. Johnny and I spent a couple of days at Water Woods and took two jeep safaris into Nagarhole for wildlife viewing—elephants, leopards, an occasional tiger, monkeys, bison, sloth bears, serpent eagles, etc. We also played cards, a game Johnny taught me called “Deuces High”. Just to make things more interesting we always played for money, and by the time we left Water Woods, I owed Johnny $100.
When we got back to Mysore, Johnny and I went to see Guruji to register for the three classes we would be able to take before going home. I told Johnny I would pay for his classes to make good on my gambling debt. There was a long line of people waiting to pay Guruji, upstairs at the old Lakshmipuram shala. By the time I got to the front of the line, he had a large pile of rupees in front of him. Guruji smiled at me and said, “Yes Teem, what news?” “Johnny and I just got back from the jungle,” I said. “You looking tiger?” Guruji asked. “Not this time Guruji—we did see a leopard.” “Leopard is good,” Guruji admitted. “How much do I owe you, Guruji,” I asked. “26,900 rupees,” Guruji said. “But Guruji,” I replied, “I’m only here for three days.” “Three days!” Guruji bellowed, “Three days, no use—bad man!” I agreed that I was a very bad man, but, nonetheless, 29,600 rupees was a lot for three days. Guruji did a quick calculation in his head and said, “One hundred dollars.” I explained that I was also paying for Johnny and handed Guruji two hundred dollar bills. Guruji said, “Thank you very much,” stuffed all the cash into his briefcase and went downstairs to meet his driver, who would take him to the new house in Gokulam. Johnny and I hailed an auto rickshaw driver, and just as we were getting into it Guruji yelled, “Teem!” I walked over to Guruji, and, as he handed me the two hundred bucks, he said, “You, 25 years student—you free. Come at 4:30.” In all of my trips to Mysore, I had never been assigned the dreaded 4:30am time slot, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. As it turned out, those three days practicing at the old yoga shala at 4:30am were some of the sweetest practices I’ve ever had.
The new shala in Gokulam is cavernous compared to the old shala and quite fancy, with a beautiful granite floor. The granite floor is just as hard as the concrete of the old shala, although Guruji insisted it was, “very soft granite.” He was obviously quite proud of it. It was a necessary upsizing with the large number of students coming to Mysore. The humble Lakshmipuram studio held 12 students--the new shala can easily fit 70. Guruji always wanted the practice to grow and he lived to see the fulfillment of his dream. As for me, I liked things when they were still intimate. I’ll never forget those three free days.