#SOUTHINDIANSWAG: ANYONE CAN DESIGN
It has been a privilege so far to visit homes in low-, middle-, and high-income families. At every level, I saw taste, sophistication, and a use of color that indicated intelligence, pride, and nuance. In my earlier trip to Munnar, my guide wanted to stop in Vattavad, a small farming village. It’s only about 3,000 people, and very few have indoor lighting or plumbing. My guide asked if I wanted to take a picture of a rather shoddy-looking home. I guess as a reflection of the poverty. I declined. I know poverty tourism when I see it. Instead, I chose to highlight the homestay just a few hundred feet away.
Look at the color spectrum. The execution of the tilework. The detail in the ironwork. All reflective of a very intelligent community. And a lot of the tilework confirms my suspicions about the new Uber logo.
THE SCENIC ROUTE THROUGH TAMIL NADU
My driver from Munnar decided to take the scenic route through Tamil Nadu, a neighboring state. I was clear about taking a direct route, as I needed to save time and money. Now I don’t know how to feel about that. I got some amazing views of South India. Within an hour of the lush, green space of Munnar, we were on the ashy side of the mountain a national forest. Then within an hour of that, we arrived in Chennai and Coimbature, a more tropical atmosphere where coconut and palm trees lined the scenery. I saw a lot more Muslims, and the homes and attire are nearly white or pastel, compared to the brights and neons of Kochi and Munnar.
This was part of my morning chant at Shanthi Ayurveda Healing Ashram.
"THE INSTRUCTOR HAS RUINED ME FOR ANY OTHER YOGA CLASS."
Shanthi Ayurveda Ashram, in Palakkad, was family-owned. Dr. Nisha, has a very young practice of only three years. Guests could stay in her family home. Her father helped with English translation and yoga instruction. Her mother helped with Ayurvedic meals and morning tea. And the house was incredible. Three stories with a marble staircase and a balcony for front lawn views.
My impression of Ayurveda before coming Shanthi was,
Rub this oil on your temples and give us $35 for a bottle of almond-scented shampoo.
For the unfamiliar, Ayurvedic treatments are holistic. They deal with the mind via yoga and meditation, and the body via diet and body treatments. Dr. Nisha explained why Ayurveda takes so much time, at 21 days. The first week introduces the body to Ayurveda. The second week increases intensity. The third week increases, but with a different approach. And because Ayurveda works at the cellular level, the body needs that time to rest and restore. I told the doctor my biggest health concerns were stress, anxiety, and lack of focus. Given that I only had five days, I learned some techniques to practice when I come home such as breathing, meditation, morning tea, low sugar intake, limiting caffeine, and drinking warm water to aid digestion.
"THIS ISN'T A PART OF INDIA WHERE, IF YOU FEEL STRESSED OR BORED, YOU GO SHOPPING. YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO DEAL WITH WHATEVER YOU'RE GOING THROUGH."
We began treatments immediately, starting with lunch and an afternoon body treatment, which was fascinating. First, I disrobed and put on what looked like a disposable adult diaper. Then prayers and hands were made over my forehead and abdomen. Warm, brown oil that smelled of currant was rubbed rigorously. Movements were meant to reflect movement of the blood stream and the nervous system. A LOT of oil was used. Afterward, I sat in a hot box for about three minutes, to let the body steam. Then I scrubbed off the oil with what appeared to be a paste made of green tea powder and other body purifiers. After I toweled off and dressed, the massager sprinkled a powder on top of my head, then rubbed it in. Afterward, I washed that out as directed, careful not to get any of the powder or oil into my eyes or ears.
I had my first yoga session in months. The instructor went through many more moves than I was used to. It felt more comprehensive and less focused on strength and holding poses. More emphasis was on breathing, warming up the body slowly, good pace and meditation. I loved it. The instructor has ruined me for any other yoga class.
Every day my routine started at 6 a.m. with a cleansing ginger tea, no sugar. Roof top yoga at 6:30 for about an hour. Breakfast at 8:30. Usually dosa made of rice or flour and a coconut-based sauce. My daily Ayurvedic treatment typically started at 11, but changed depending on the schedule. Lunch was at 1 p.m. Sometimes it would be plain rice, curry, and a salad made of scallions and cabbage. Snack was at 4 p.m., usually an apple, tea, and a banana. Dinner was 8:30 p.m. I have to say I loved this. It was all about a regimen of relaxation and rest. As someone who is very active, having a reliable routine with limited distractions was what I needed. Granted I still had internet access. There was time for social media. But there was mostly a lot of reading, journal writing, and looking at butterflies. This isn’t a part of India where, if you feel stressed or bored, you go shopping. You simply have to deal with whatever you’re going through.
One evening, I visited a nearby Krishna temple. It was only open for 30 minutes, and it’s one where you can’t take photos.
I had a moment.
The temple was quietly elegant, recessed from the main road, but with a clear inviting path. I stepped out onto the mossy stones. Prayed in the candlelit temple. Watched the tumeric-dusted figures. Listened to the birds fly from the trees. Nearby guests speaking in Malayalam. The world is so full of beauty it can be overwhelming. But it’s so beautiful, that I have to respect the people who created that beauty. It’s not up for easy co-option, adoption, or ignorance of their civility.
"THE WORLD IS SO FULL OF BEAUTY IT CAN BE OVERWHELMING. BUT IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL, THAT I HAVE TO RESPECT THE PEOPLE WHO CREATED THAT BEAUTY. IT'S NOT UP FOR EASY CO-OPTION, ADOPTION, OR IGNORANCE OF THEIR CIVILITY."
As my time wound down with the ashram, I saw what the doctor meant. One really does need more time for the treatments to make a difference. I’ve been invited back. In the the next and final installment, I’ll reveal why that might not happen.
Republished with the author's permission from Inherent Design By Sela (IDSL).
Sela Lewis is the owner of Inherent Design by Sela Lewis (IDSL). She is a graphic designer, world traveler, feminist, a pretty decent cook, and a strong believer in the power of fashion and design. Sela has worked in such varied settings as commercial real estate, law firms, retail, and political campaigns. Currently she works in education advocacy. IDSL is based on the idea the strong design is set within the fibers of the work. More Sela: Inherent Design By Sela Lewis.