Part 1: London to India
It took a whole year after we were married, before Mahesh was granted a settlement visa to the UK. His tourist visa was denied too, which resulted in us having a full-on Hindu wedding in Bangalore, without any of my family present. The astrologer said that the most auspicious day to tie the knot, was on Friday (the day of Venus). I happened to be sitting at my desk in London when I heard the news and couldn't expect my family and university mates to drop everything and fly five thousand miles to join me. My fabulous Dutch friend did though and managed to keep me calm when several Indian ladies were vociferously arguing in the temple's side room, about how to fold the pleats in my sari. I'd never worn a sari before, nor in fact attended an Indian wedding. Nothing can really prepare you for the unexpected and baffling journey that India will take you on. My sister calls it 'the way of drill', but more about that later.
I had no idea that the Ashtanga practice would eventually draw me away from my fabulous Soho media job (which entailed going to several gigs and movies a week, after-show parties, working hard and generally having a lot of fun with creative hedonists). I didn't expect to have to sell my North London flat either, but when I changed careers (to become a full-time Ashtanga yoga teacher), my salary wasn't enough to cover my mortgage and living expenses. One idea was to use the money from the sale of my only asset, to buy land in India and construct a fabulous homestay yoga retreat.
I had been exposed to classical Indian dance, music, art, architecture, food and yoga postures since childhood, but Mahesh had warned me that life in India would be hard. Even though I'd spent many years studying at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, the culture shock of actually moving there was massive. It's one thing to hang out with Westerners in an upmarket neighbourhood that panders to foreigners' needs; it is quite something else living in India full-time, working on a project with locals and trying to get things done. There are two Indias residing in one country: Traditional India (happily rooted in the 19th century, with antiquated values, beliefs and practices) and Modern India, where anything is possible. The complication is that they are intertwined, dichotomous and contradictory.
We arrived in Bangalore in 2011. I wanted to see a lot more of the country, before deciding upon where to build our Ashtanga yoga homestay retreat. We spent a few jolly weeks exploring North India, lapping up the cultural diversity and noticing significant differences from the South. Rajasthan was particularly beautiful with its remarkable architecture, forts and palaces. We did find North India quite aggressive though and Mahesh began to realise that his proficiency in several South Indian languages and his understanding of how things work in South India, might make the South a better choice for us. He was particularly irked when presented with a glass of instant Nescafé, after having ordered a South Indian filter coffee. "Sir, this is what they drink in South India."
South India feels a lot softer and more easy-going than the North and of course the food and climate are amazing. We'd both explored the South over numerous road trips, so had a pretty good idea of what each State was like and how difficult it might be to set up a business. There are twenty-nine States in India and each has its own language, customs and rules. Being from Karnataka and knowing the landscape, language, laws, locals' mindsets and how everything works, Mahesh felt that it would undoubtedly be the smartest place to create our business.
Over the next six months he visited numerous plots of land all over Karnataka. I wasn't allowed to go, because if the agent saw a gori, then the land price would be quadrupled. Mahesh filmed and photographed each location and reported back. Our criteria was that we needed fertile land with a water source, that is easily accessible, not too far from a town, that is in stunning hill land, has the 'wow' factor, breathtaking views and hundreds of trees and plants. We'd almost given up the search when Mahesh telephoned one morning and said "I've found it." www.nirvrta.com