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Breakfast serial

This is an, already vintage, interview with Nithya, young architect from Chennai. At the time, in the first week of April 2012, she was living in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where she was working on a large-scale urban design project, unique in its kind in India.

I served Nithya breakfast on a working day, before going to the office.

How does your day start?

My alarm clock goes off at 07.30 and I snooze for another 30 minutes before I get up.

I would like to be an early riser – wake up and do some exercise and cook lunch before leaving to work. But I am a night-bird. If I could, I would wake up between 9 and 10 o’clock.

What is currently your main source of happiness?

Planning holidays and occasions to meet my family and boyfriend. I am always looking forward to what is planned for next month.

BreakfastwithNithya

I also enjoy cooking a lot. It has a de-stressing effect on me.

When did you first start cooking?

I started when I was doing my Masters in Glasgow. That is when I started making my own full meals. Before I might give a hand in the kitchen, or bake…

Why did you choose to study in Glasgow?

Well, I was looking for an international experience and I did not want to go to the US.

I think that Europe has a greater experience of urban design. So I short-listed three English-speaking schools. Two in London and one in Glasgow.

Glasgow was cheaper both in terms of tuition fees and subsistence costs. On the other hand, the city of Glasgow was working closely together with the University. The whole city was like an urban lab.

What did you find most challenging academically speaking?

We had to perform an urban design analysis choosing a subject from our hometown, an area in Glasgow and Europe and present our results.

How did you actually choose to specialise in urban design?

It was when I was an undergraduate student. I had never thought of urban planning and design before.

While I was studying I was very interested in eco-friendly architecture and creating housing for poor people.

Nowadays, I am less idealistic.

What would your dream work project look like?

I would like to live in a smaller place, and create a sustainable village model.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from?

Sustainability was a horizontal element at the school I went to, until 10th standard: KFI, Jay Krishna Murti school.

We could run around barefoot in the school yard and climb on trees.

After 10th grade I decided to shift to a state board secondary school, as I belong to a forward caste and would need grades of 98% to get into university.

I found the new system unchallenging.

Generally speaking, I must say that today’s children are not really allowed to be children.

Parents put their children to accent training and other meaningless courses. India is very competitive.

Was there something that shocked you when you arrived in Glasgow?

Actually, being around so many Indians. I had so much looked forward to the international experience.

I also liked how I could walk everywhere, how safe it was for pedestrians.

Did you miss anything in particular?

Well, sometimes the sunshine, but not too much. The food once in a while.

I was vegan back then and it was really easy to find food. There would be special sections in the supermarket.

What did you find shocking when coming back to India?

The noise and the dust. I had to get used to tuning out the noise.

What do you like about Ahmedabad?

I like  the small scale. That I can get around easily on foot. The variety of Gujarati vegetarian food and the fact that people here celebrate even the small things in life. In the South people are more stoic.

I like the street-food in Ahmedabad. In the South you do not see much of it. It is considered to be food for poor people.

And on the negative side?

The dry summer heat, the fact that people stare and the new unknown language.

Well, I guess the difference between Ahmedabad and Chennai are a bit like London and Athens.

Ahmedabad is a safe city. I would not want to work in N. Delhi where women cannot walk around alone at night.

What do you like the most about your job?

The project itself….

It is a first time initiative in India. Looking out of the window I can see the river-front.

The project started ten years ago. It took time to clean the sewage, drain it and clean it. Sabarmati is not a flowing river.

The project is of a total of 11 km on both ends.

I cannot get any satisfaction out of designing somebody’s house when I can work on a public project.

What would you change in Chennai if you could?

Chennai has a good coastline.

I would opt for better public spaces and promote a walking culture.

India is a developing country. What does that mean to you?

There is the financial aspect. We are developing headlessly. I think we need to take a breath and think about where we are heading to. If we aspire to be where the West is now.

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After seven sticky hours on a bus I arrive in Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world and the place where Lord Rama came for penance after killing Ravana in Lanka, if you remember the Ramayana.

I had been traveling next to a  smartly dressed Nepalese young man, who had recently found Jesus. After completing the formalities of asking me which country I come from, he immediately jumped to the next crucial question “which God do you worship?”.

You got to know where you stand, or at least want to find out if you intend to visit  a place vibrating with  spiritual energy and visited by streams of pilgrims and seekers from all over the world.

At a yoga class the next morning, I meet Greek Athina. We go for breakfast and end up chatting for hours with T, another European class-mate.

I take out my block of notes and decide to interview the two of them. I want to know what they feel about Rishikesh. After all, I am only there for two days.

I start with T who is sipping his chai:

How does your day start in Rishikesh?

I start with yoga and then I have my breakfast: oat porridge with banana and ginger chai.

What is your favourite way of starting your day?

Doing yoga, because of the way I feel afterwards. I could be happy with tea, or coffee and breakfast, but the good feeling would not last.

How long have you been practicing and how were you introduced to yoga?

I started one year and a half ago. I have a double herniated disk and for three years I could not move properly.

I was staying at a friends place who saw my suffering and suggested that I  start with yoga. I refused. The second day he kept on insisting and I kept on refusing. The third day he would still try to make me change my mind. I got so irritated that  I decided to try just to make him stop. I felt it was good for me right away; of course, everything hurt. Doctors could only suggest operation.

What made you come to India?

I always wanted to see India, but was worried about the hygiene and the crowds everywhere, but because of yoga I decided to come and I am very glad.

Yoga  is not the main reason to come to India though, there are so many other things. Now I am open to try, everything makes sense. I can see the many years of tradition behind. Yoga has opened my mind to many things.

How long would you like to stay in India?

I could stay here for long. If you disregard of the trash and the pollution India is a beautiful country and people seem so peaceful and relaxed.  India is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been to. It is shanti-shanti, no?

Athina is tasting her first banana lassi of this trip and spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread. I start with the same question…

How does your day start in Rishikesh?

I salute Ganga and then go to yoga.

What is your favourite way of starting your day in your everyday life?

Saluting the sun and practicing yoga 🙂

How many times have you been to Rishikesh?

This is the fifth time

What makes you come back?

The beauty of the Ganga, the knowledge that circulates here, the yoga and the groovy atmosphere.

How did you get into yoga?

I have always been interested in Eastern philosophy. I started meditating and practicing yoga with some friends and it all felt familiar.

Then I joined  a group of dancers around 13 years ago. Yoga was part of the practice.

The very first time I got started with yoga I just went with the flow, it was an unconscious choice. The second time it was more conscious as I was sick at the time.

Did you ever feel like you needed a break?

Not really. Some times I have felt I needed a break from certain teachers. I started teaching myself in 2004. I needed an identity. Teaching showed me the way and made me more responsible in my practice.

Yoga is about unity, the channel between the earth and the sky. Everyone of us has a particular vibe that is connected to that of others, but that stays unique.

What kind of yoga do you practice?

I combine elements of BKS Iyengar, Anusara and flow.

Where do you see yourself in  the future?

I am looking for a confirmation that I am doing the right thing. The image of a yogi is that of a person who appreciates what they have, who reaches sadhana. We should be aware that what we do is only part of the whole, of something bigger.

I would also like to teach and learn in different places of the world. Yoga is about searching. It is an ongoing process. I would like to feel the divine in every cell and help myself and others in the healing process.

It sounds like the most important reason to come to Rishikesh is yoga, and this is not the message I want to convey.

OK, so tell me why  Rishikesh is a groovy place?

I love this place anyhow. I bow to the teachers that have been here throughout the years. It is just such a loving place.

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

(‘Tomorrow never knows’, the Beatles)

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