Monday, October 20, 2008

Rolling Rikshaws

I had an uneasy feeling as a started for the door on Saturday morning and I delayed my departure at least a couple of times with silly last-minute trips up the stairs to collect a map first and then an extra clean t-shirt. Finally I walked past Joseph at his laptop on my way out the door and told him, “Ok, I’m scared. I don’t want to go.”

It was the usual complaints of auto drivers taking me for a ride and of not finding my destination because of my accent. Really most of it had to do with the fact that I was heading to my first Kalaripayattu class and I was unsure of what I’d find especially because clips on YouTube showed this ancient fighting style that originated in nearby Kerala looked fierce. Videos showed sleek, dark warriors with loin clothes flapping and sharp blades slicing at lithe opponents all set to sounds of ominous tribal music. I looked down at my synthetic yoga pants and warn Addidas sneakers and realized that this is yet another place in which I will surely stick out.

“Traditional Kalari masters attribute mythological stories and legends to the origin of the art. Legend traces the 3000-year-old art form to Sage Parasurama- the master of all martial art forms and credited to be the re-claimer of Kerala from the Arabian Sea,” said the website “The inherent beauty of this art form lies in the harmonious synergy of art, science and medicine.” I was drawn as much to Kalari because of the medical treatment and massage techniques that developed alongside this art partly out of necessity given the intensity of the training, “The various movements in Kalari are based on animal movements. Several poses are named after animals. Hence it is generally believed to have developed in the jungles when hunters observed the fighting techniques of various animals.” Judging from the website, the fighting style of the possum was not incorporated.

After walking half way down the street only to return to the apartment again to unload my laptop and the extra rupees I was carrying, Joseph gave me a pep talk explaining that it was statistically more likely that I’d get in an auto accident before I’d get stripped of all my material goods in Wilson Gardens. I didn’t tell him I was nervous taking any new class in case it exposes once and for all that I’m a dork. With his parting words and my laptop safely at home, however, I headed out into the street again.

Things started going wrong as the auto zig-zaged the city and I knew the driver was either fattening his fare or expecting the deity on the dashboard to pipe in at any moment with the proper directions like a third world GPS. Auto drivers always nod when you tell them where you want to go whether or not they have any clue and then expect divine intervention as if that’s ever been a successful strategy.

If asked, I couldn’t even begin to explain where Bus Depot Road was in Wilson Gardens and I wasn’t about to get dropped off any old place to navigate the rest of the way myself. Not that I have anything against the Muslim sections here but they don’t especially greet me warmly and I wasn’t wearing a headscarf. Joseph had suggested it again before I left but frankly while wearing a head scarf, I look less like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and more like a criminal doing the perp walk shrouded under somebody’s windbreaker. It would probably get me into more trouble.

Just the previous week I had jumped from a moving auto to escape a driver who refused to take me home until I walked around a trinket shop after which the proprietor would reward him with a gas coupon. This has happened to me several times and each time I’ve escaped to ensure the driver isn’t rewarded in the hopes of discouraging this practice. Unfortunately at the point in which the driver had slowed sufficiently to allow me to accomplish my stunt in flip-flops, I found myself jumping into the middle of Shivanji Nagar during the call to prayer. I was of course wearing gym clothes and I was uncovered except for my larger than average diesel sunglasses.

At that point I was approached by a dog which I thought odd because most strays here are like Djinns. They barely exist in this world and operate as if they belong to a separate reality. I looked down to see the sad brown eyes before noticing the foam bubbling from it’s rabid mouth. Facing the infected beast however seemed far friendlier than exchanging pleasantries with the Muslim men whose disapproving scowls warned me in a most unwelcome way to put my flip flops on turbo. This was still on my mind as we navigated Wilson Gardens.

After clamoring down dirt roads and stopping for directions we finally found the landmark Mondavi Motors and the driver parked and waited for his inflated fare. As I dug in my dufflebag for the handful of rupees, I suddenly saw the driver lurch forward just as I heard the thunderous crack coming from right behind me. The Rickshaw, essentially a motorized rabbit hutch, was flying forward only to pirouette on it’s single front wheel before rolling onto it’s side. I was a caged bunny being tossed and I braced against the bars, put my left foot to the ground to try and stabilize myself and crumpled onto my side. Once the auto came to rest, I gathered the things that fell from my bag and then popped out of the side of the rikshaw suddenly startling the dozen or so men already collecting around the accident scene.

“Move!” I said, and made motions for everyone to step back. I could see the collection of gentleman beginning to assess the scene and form extraction strategies. It’s not that they couldn’t figure out how to get me out of the wreck but things like this are done in no big hurry and sometimes only after a hearty debate over tea and occasionally biscuits. I wasn’t about to wait around for the congress to form and for officers to be chosen especially since my left ankle was clearly injured and beginning to throb. Instead, I grabbed both sides of the auto, jumped into a locked-out position, tucked my knees to my chest and kicked out forward to clear the vehicle and land on the other side of the wreck on my right foot saving my left ankle from further damage. It was a dismount worthy of Kerri Strug and reminiscent of her 1996 Olympic moment.

This further alarmed the crowd. And it’s not that they don’t see this sort of movement all the time. In Russell Market, vegetable vendors who are boxed in behind piles of produce hang a short rope from the rafters and when they need to get out into the isle they grab the rope and swing Tarzan style over the vegetation. The first time I saw a vendor do it I wanted to squeal and clap while chanting “Do it again! Do it again!” especially since it was done with such grace I thought it was a trick of the eye. I completely lost track of Shiva’s haggling - which I don’t understand but I like to watch his face get serious - to stare down the rows waiting for another vendor to pop into the walkway.

Apparently, this sort of thing was not expected of me. I was a wild, caged thing escaping from captivity and they weren’t sure whether I was going to dart away into the jungle or stop to maul a villager first. I simply grabbed my backpack and hopped to the curb to take my shoe off. From this vantage point, I could assess the scene and I could see that it was a milk truck that hit us. As I said later on Facebook, it put a whole new spin on lactose intolerance.

When I called Chandana and started to cry – because I’m a girl and I do that – the crowd realized I was harmless and began collecting around me to help. This included every employee of Mondavi Motors much to the consternation of the manager who kept assuring everybody that it was nothing and that I was merely scratched. I think he was hoping that this bulletin would send everybody back to work. On the insistence of the crowd, I hopped into the lobby where groups of men formed into special interest groups that included “shoe on”, “shoe off”, “Ice”, “No Ice”, “sock on” and “sock off”. They discussed the merits of their arguments as seriously as if their medical credentials were being questioned.

In everybody’s defense they really were trying to help but there isn’t a lot a crowd of Indian men can really do about a sprained ankle though the bottled water, iodine and helpful sock theories were all very thoughtful. At that point, I called my friend Ganesh because I had a lot of people staring at me and short of magic tricks I didn’t know how else to make the whole thing more interesting for the group of men focusing on my ankle who had already resolved the most pressing issues of sock and shoe usage. When Ganesh answered I cried because I’m a girl and I do that.

In spite of the fact that Shiva was on his way, Ganesh insisted on coming to stare at my ankle with the rest of them. I had somehow just made the situation worse by adding another set of eyeballs and with nothing else to discuss, the crowd was getting antsy. I told the manager of Mondavi motors that he’d been very helpful but I was going to go to the Kalari class behind his building to let them know that I wasn’t going to be in class today. At which point the manager insisted that I sit while he arranged for a car to drive me 50 feet down the alley and provided me with four of the Indian men to carry my backpack.

My entourage arranged themselves in the compact car while the driver insisted I smile because everything was fine. I think under normal circumstances things would be super if you can get four men to carry your backpack. My posse escorted me into the building and started ordering ice packs, cushions, first aid supplies and I’m assuming peanut M&M’s but just the green ones from the women who worked there. I whispered to the one student taking the class we just interrupted, “Please, I’m sorry for the disruption. I don’t need anything, really. I was just trying to get away from all the men at Mondavi Motors.” She smiled as if she immediately understood my situation.

After observing the class for a few minutes and effectively giving the men of Mondavi Motors the slip, I excused myself to meet Ganesh. He arrived in a motorcade apparently having dragged the client he was training out of the gym to hop on his own motorbike and join Ganesh on his rescue mission. After a few minutes of pointless debate about how Shiva was on his way and that there was no point taking me anywhere, I finally hopped on the back of the bike with the words, “come, we go.”

I clutched at Ganesh on the short trip to Gold’s Gym, cowering from the usual traffic hazards and offering rapid fire directions on what obstacles to avoid as if he hadn’t done this before. Ganesh wore a cracked helmet which means that if he were to have an accident it would only serve as a bucket to scoop up his remains. This fact suddenly bothered me when before I hadn’t given it much thought. He just laughed and said, “Chellum, you sounded so upset on the phone, I thought there was something wrong.” He calls me ‘chellum’ which in Tamil means ‘dear’, or maybe when I get around to looking it up ‘white she-devil with loose morals’.

“Um, yeah. You caught the part about the rolling rickshaw right?! That most definitely is something wrong!” At this point I was vacillating between the, “it was nothing” argument which was ok when I said it, to “you try rolling in a rickshaw!” argument whenever anyone else suggested that it was nothing.

It was a harrowing ride and even the potholes were out to get me. I was looking forward to the safety and security of Shiva and the Maruti. I’d sit in the little air conditioned car with the seat belt pulled extra tight and Shiva and I would laugh about my escapades the way we do when we’re pretending that we know what the other one is talking about. Somehow it wouldn’t seem all that painful, I thought as I could feel the swelling and watch the bruises forming like angry dark storm clouds.

When the car arrived Shiva looked grim. India had mistreated one of her guests and he was distraught. At that point I was willing to dance a jig just to erase the sad look on poor Shiva’s face. “See, Lookee here Shiva, It’s all good!” I’d say with a little Can Can and some jazz hands for effect.

“I’m ok, Shiva,” I kept insisted and he would just shake his head, “go to the hospital, madame?” “No hospital. I’m ok,” I’d say again. “Oh, it’s a very bad day, Madame,” he’d say shaking his head and looking even more sad as if that were possible.

Just the day before Fran Mason of Level 4 CrossFit Seattle had sent me a link to a website regarding ankle sprains because my friend Nisar had been suffering from a nasty sprain that hadn’t healed. I remembered Fran and Scott Tanaka talking about it while I was there one day but I wasn’t working with clients at the time and my own ankles, up to that point, had proven to be sturdy as hell. Now, it was the perfect time for a miraculous recovery or Shiva would need to be medicated.

The Website suggested a style of treatment completely different from the standard R.I.C.E. or Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This was from the ‘Rub some dirt on it,’ school of treatment which I immediately embraced. The website explains, “Ice should never be applied to an injured ankle, because it stops the healing process. What the injured ankle needs is movement, as quickly as possible after the injury, in order to restore proper range of motion by realigning the ligaments.” Or, in other words quite literally, ‘Walk it off.’

I looked at the video clips describing traction techniques created by Dick Hartzell, AKA the ‘rubberband man’ who invented Flex Bands and founded the company Jump Stretch, Inc. Since I didn’t have rubberbands and wouldn’t have time to purchase them even if they are sold in this country, I embarked on my own interpretation using a bath towel and going through the motions of plantarflexion, dorsiflexion, eversion and inversion during the first few hours and subsequently through a long and painful night. Admittedly, I considered the man a quack at times and wanted to throw in the towel, grab an ice pack and rock back and forth wailing, “Owweee!” instead. Maybe I’d even cry because I’m a girl and girls do that.

Even though I had my doubts, what the website said made sense. It stated, “A large percentage of “minor” (Grade I and Grade II) ankle sprains are treated in a manner that incapacitates the person for several weeks. When an ankle is sprained, some ligaments have been over-stretched and are possibly misaligned. When you ice an ankle at this stage, blood flow is stopped and ligaments are essentially frozen out of place. Combine that with rest and now you’ve got muscle atrophy and a host of other problems.”

After doing the exercises again at 2 a.m. and distracting myself with a few pages of ‘Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice,” a book I’m reading by Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D., I was able to sleep soundly and woke up with the bruises looking just as angry but with full ankle flexion. The inflammation does not allow me to commit my full weight on that foot but my ligaments and tendons are unharmed and the pain is a result of the bruising alone. I can’t say that Hartzell’s therapy works simply because I didn’t technically use the therapy as he described nor could I say that the treatment healed my ankle faster because I would’ve had to know the duration and severity of the injury with and without ice.

The trainer’s at Gold’s all got to know of my adventure and, after seeing the purple bruises and the inflammation, asked whether I had been icing. What they know is that the A.C.E. manual recommends R.I.C.E. and that I at one time had been A.C.E. certified. They’re not at a point where their willing to question any expertise printed in manuals from the United States even if the results they’re getting are subpar. I’ve long since questioned ‘treatment plans’ and theories that get argued vehemently in spite of poor outcomes but then I understand how much ‘science’ gets accepted thanks to politics and special interest groups.

This could be a tipping point for India as I’ve been seeing since I’ve been here. They have the curiosity to question but not the willingness at this point to consider that the path taken by our ‘experts’ may have been poorly plotted. In the U.S. I’ve had arguments with trainers who are so indoctrinated they won’t question results and will inevitably blame the client for outcomes. Please tell me India won’t blindly take this route. It leads to obesity and malfunction – just look at our results.

Meanwhile, it’s two days after my accident and I was back to squatting and snatching today. I have a competition to train for or something.