Before Dawn

I drag myself sluggishly from bed, with practiced effort. The hour is not so ungodly, just before five am, but in the evenings I still have trouble finding sleep in time to get a full night’s rest. Then there are the buzz of traffic and the blaring of horns, which resume consistently shortly after four, impinging on my slumbers as I drift nearer to the waking hour.

It is still dark as I make my way to the gate, and there are but few souls out and about, as I set off up the hill towards the yoga shala. Thanks to the street lights, the way is well lit, and nothing stirs in the shadows, though sullen stacks of bricks stand silent there, by piles of stones, awaiting their daytime labourers, (India is constantly building). There is a chill in the air, and a breeze, which here in Mysore at this season seems an almost constant feature, and later in the day will be most welcome. I reach the shala, and climb the stairs to the top room, a large spacious hall with a tiled floor and many windows. I am in good time, and unroll my mat in my chosen spot, though I still lack the enthusiasm to arrive early and warm up like some students.

The teacher arrives, and practice begins. I coax my body into movement, and soon, as the mind turns its focus to the breath, and I slip into the well-rehearsed movements of asana, I enter that space where time flows effortlessly, and I know that the two hours will be up before I know it. At some point, daylight appears, revealing a milky dawn, the sky a pale wash tinged with pink. Birds awaken and the ring of their song drifts through the curtains, interspersed with the raucous caw of the mynahs, but the dawn chorus is a timid one, not like the mesmerizing outbursts in the early hours I remember from more rural India.

I emerge with a trickle of others after the class, feeling refreshed, my head clear, my body energized and limber. Strangely, it feels cooler than when I left the house, and I am glad of my single sweater. The low morning sun brings out the colours all around, the greens of trees and bushes, the intensity of the flowers, and a faint moon hangs in a now blue sky. I am calm, my senses wide awake. By the coconut stand at Doctor’s Corner, a few Westerners from other yoga schools stand chatting, breaking their fast with sweet coconut water. The last sweepers are still out, an elderly man with a threadbare kurta; a slender woman draped in bright loose clothes, clearing leaves with a swish and a scrape of her coarse broom; and a portly lady dressed in bright purple, singing as she stiffly swings her brush, as though keeping the ground at arms’ length. After the brooms comes water, the short driveways to people’s gates are still wet after a cleansing scrub, and decorative white chalk patterns dry there on the damp concrete. Here in Mysore, every day new patterns, mostly geometrical, appear in front of homes, drawn seemingly for no other reason than because they are beautiful, (and I have even seen these designs carefully scraped into the red dirt in front of more modest abodes). Here and there, by the roadside, small piles of organic matter with the odd scrap of litter – leaves, twigs, banana skins, seed pods, food wrappers and so on – still smoulder, reduced to fine ash.

I turn around and notice we have all now gone our separate ways – the day has begun anew. I hoist my yoga mat higher onto my shoulder, and quicken the pace – hot chai at Amruth’s awaits.

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