“Downward Dog Spiral” by Madhushree Ghosh

It wasn’t that Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was fat. Or even big—for she was only five feet one and three-fourth inches tall. She was simply…well-rounded. Admiring herself in her floor-length mirror, she inspected her softly enormous behind and pulled her T-shirt over it. The white cotton scraped unnaturally, struggled over the gluteus maximus, before uncomfortably settling halfway on it. She pulled at it again, then pulled up her black tights to hold her expanding stomach in. Her thighs jiggled in excitement at being ensconced so snugly. She applied her favorite Cover Girl Gorgeous Pink Plumper lipstick that stayed soft, shiny and specially pink on her bulbous lips that pouted (in her opinion) quite like Angelina (Jolie, that is), and tied her hair in a tight pony tail with a pink scrunchie that matched her lipstick. She debated on whether to apply some Maybelline foundation, but her face usually looked ashen, gray rather, when she did (because she used a shade ten times lighter than her dark complexion, which she thought suited her just fine), and knowing that she would sweat in her Level 2 yoga class at Del Mar Yoga, she decided against it (streaks along her cheeks and neck would just not do). It was Thursday, and Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was ready to show every one that she was better at her downward dog yoga pose than everyone else, and her lipstick matched her scrunchie, which made her as equal to the Del Mar socialites as any.

“Hello, Vasanthi,” Michelle, the lovely dark-eyed, dark haired, dark-skinned, very skinny yoga teacher greeted her with a toothy grin when she entered. “You’re in early, come, sit.”

Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan wobbled from one foot then the other, took off her pink flip-flops, and moved to the front of the room, grinning with pride. Her teacher, ten years her junior, had finally started to recognize her, after eight months of Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan turning up for the Thursday class fifteen minutes early so she would notice her. “Yes, yes, Meetchell, that way I can sit in the front to practice, no?” Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan always ended each sentence she spoke with a question mark so people never knew if she had asked them something. Michelle waited uncertainly, and then turned away.

Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan flapped her yoga mat loudly onto the wooden floor, and pulled the yoga belt next to her teacher, and sat down. When she smiled at Michelle again, her yoga teacher had already returned to her eyes-closed meditation lotus pose.

Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan moved closer to Michelle, who sat in front facing her, eyes closed, soft controlled breathing, her Om tank top, green, tight around her taut body, her red yoga pants clinging to her thin yet yoga-transformed supple body. Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was not in love with her teacher, after all, you can only respect your teacher, but she surely did want to be Michelle. In fact, Michelle looked so Indian, that on the first class, Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan had actually asked her, “Which part of India are you from? North or South?” to which Michelle had laughed and shaken her head, “Oh, I wish, I wish…” and moved to the next student, which had always made Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan suspect that Michelle had some Indian blood in her and it wasn’t the Native-American kind.

But this afternoon was different. Beyond the office, she heard the flush turn in the restroom. Eh, what could that mean, Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan thought. This could only mean that there was someone else besides Michelle and her. Michelle sat still, lotus posed, palms to her heart, praying for peace, while Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan leaned over to the office to spot the most handsome god in the world tying his yoga pant cord tight, walking toward the class. He wasn’t too pale, (she meant, white), in fact, a nice bronze, like he sat in the sun forever, his hair was long, almost till his shoulders, tied in a nice ponytail with a leather band and dream of all dreams, he wore no shirt to cover his ripply abdomen or his taut arms. Only his white yoga pants gleamed, pants that he wore loose and low on his hips, and when he smiled, his front teeth had a soft gap that made him instantly endearing to Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan.

“Hi, I’m new, and you look like you come here every day.” He grinned again, settling down next to her in a comfortable slide. As she smiled back and thought of wonderfully witty things to say, she realized he had a lovely foreign accent, not Indian, not European, but some other place. Mexico? Spain (no, wait, that’s Europe)? Portugal (no, that’s Europe too)? Colombia (maybe…)?

His grin faded somewhat when all she did was smile, so she hurriedly replied, “Oh yes, every Thursday, ever since Michelle’s been teaching at Del Mar Yoga.” She hoped her accent was not too thick, and she wasn’t speaking too fast, since sometimes, when she was excited, her Indianness got the better of her. “And you? You practice yoga?” she tried to talk as she had heard the other yoga ladies make friends with each other, ignoring her completely.

He nodded. “Learning,” he said, making a face, like he was very bad at it, which made Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan giggle like a sixteen-year-old. “Can I place my mat next to you,” he whispered, even though there wasn’t anyone around, and Michelle was still in meditation.

She nodded vigorously, then tightened her scrunchie, so her hair would stay in and so would her ready-to-burst popping heart hidden beneath her trembling breasts.

The Del Mar socialites walked in—all white with speckles of age and sun spots, taut surgeried faces, wrinkly hands, and perky artificial breasts in PrAna yoga tops. They laughed, sashayed to take their designer sandals off, and laughed some more before slowly making their way to the back of the class, flopping their designer mats on the floor with sharp, decisive whacks to straighten them with one swift motion of their twiggy wrists. Some of them adjusted their yoga pants, while some touched their lips to check for lipstick slippage, but most of them settled down casually into their mats and showed off by standing on their heads in shish asana like that was their inherent state of being. They ignored Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan, but this afternoon, she did not mind, for this gorgeous god of a man was next to her.

Michelle opened her eyes, smiled beatifically, adjusted herself, then pushed at the remote. Om, the chant spread through the room, echoing off the pristine peaceful white walls, ricocheting off the Nataraj bronze statue of Shiva, heading to the door with the stick-figure of a woman (Michelle, likely) sketched in tandav pose, and everyone chanted Om along with the wafting music.

“Om! Om!” Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan shouted above the pencil-thin voices of the Del Mar socialites. That would show them to ignore a true yogi like her, a true Indian who had to come to this ridiculously expensive yoga studio because there weren’t very many Indians around with whom she could practice yoga. No, really, she may be ‘prosperous-looking’, rounded in a Hindu goddess kind of way, but she knew her asanas, her poses. She was good in holding her stances, she was good in kicking her legs high up in the air, holding her breath for three minutes straight, lifting her pelvis till it hit the ceiling and she knew she was a yogi, as yogis are supposed to be: calm, peaceful (sometimes), deeply meditative (that was debatable, but she was working on that), and celibate (only, not by choice).

The class was already silent, as was the voice in the CD player. Only soft music played. But Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan would have none of that. “Om!” she screamed again to the low grunts of the socialites. One of them in fact, hissed, “Sh!” toward her but when she opened one eye and saw Adonis (that was the name she decided for her god sitting next to her) smiling at her, she repeated Om a few more times, even after the music stopped and Michelle looked at her for a long moment, waiting for her to quiet down.

Adonis smiled again when Michelle asked every one to stretch, and Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan accidentally stretched in the wrong direction, her slightly chipped nails touching Adonis’ long artist-like fingers. “Sorry, I was only—” to which he smiled at her again, and Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan quivered with love. She imagined coming to yoga class every day, sitting next to him, and the one day he would get out of the restroom, and drop on one knee in front of her and say, “Vasanthi, you’re gorgeous. You’re the best yoga master I’ve ever met, let’s go for a coffee.” Which she knew to mean, to have a rollicking time in bed, and since she was a US citizen now, there was no one to stop her from that. Because once he found out what a tiger she was in the sex department (too bad her soon-to-be-ex-husband couldn’t appreciate that, even though she tried almost every pose from the Kama Sutra), he would fish out a ten-carat, no, twenty-carat ring from his gleaming white yoga pants and ask her to marry him.

The socialites giggled which made her realize she was still stretching when everyone had moved to the first downward dog pose, the adha mukha svanasana, the one where the bottoms rose high in the air and every one was on all fours breathing heavily, and stretching their spines. Adonis stretched like a big, white dog, softly breathing, winking at Michelle who smiled back. Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan smiled at him and whispered, “Do like this, yes, bottom higher, higher, like this!” and wiggled hers to show how high she could go, even though she was now out of breath and her arms were hurting abominably. Michelle walked around class, straightening the poses, pushing some backs down, lifting some stomachs up, then reaching Adonis, and playfully pushing at his feet. “Come on, Ogousto, straighten up, you can do it.” To which he grinned back and scrunched up his nose, but Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was incensed. That was not nice of Michelle to do that, torturing her poor Adonis (who was Ogousto, according to Michelle). “Don’t listen to her,” she whispered angrily at Ogousto, and he wiggled his eyebrows in surprise. “Why?” “Because I can teach you the right pose, yes, like that, bottom up, chest down, spine curved, yes, yes.” Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was on a roll. Michelle walked by and told her not to stretch so much, she would strain her back, and anyway, the pose was over, now do some cat-cow poses and then some sun-salutations in rapid succession.

Throughout the next hour, Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan huffed and perspired alongside Ogousto, who for a first-timer was quite a lithe athlete. He didn’t need her help, but always smiled when she offered (which was often), and when Michelle said, “Come on, partner up, and help your partner on their shoulder stand!” he readily offered his help, and Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was so honored, she stood with her shoulders closer to the mat, and her feet up in the air, admiring her upside-down god.

Michelle wandered closely around them, fixing Ogousto’s pose, telling Vasanthi to stop talking to him (because that turning of her head when she was in a head stand may just snap her neck, but Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan didn’t believe it one bit), and once in a while leaving her hand on Ogousto’s leg or shoulder or back a second longer than Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan would have liked.

Finally, after an hour and a half of backbends, reverse triangle poses, Warrior I and II, and then reverse Warrior, followed by eagle and pigeon, even dolphin, Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan was exhausted. But since this afternoon was a different one, she was energized because of Ogousto. Now would be the last downward dog, the downward dog spiral, and she could turn toward the man of her dreams and ask him for coffee, yes! That was exactly what she would do, she decided.

“Now, ladies, and gentleman,” Michelle’s low voice purred to the giggles of the Del Mar socialites, “let’s spiral before we go into deep meditation. The corpse pose. So, let’s go, downdog spiral!” she waved her thin arms and went on all fours and lifted her left leg high in the air in front of Ogousto. He did the same, with a grand sweep of his left foot, turning toward Michelle, he twisted himself so he faced her almost, on all threes, his left leg touching hers in an embrace that seemed very familiar, very natural. But Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan would have none of that. “Hey, Ogousto, you’re not supposed to do that! That’s the teacher, you’re supposed to respect the teacher, not touch her like that. Come on,” she waved at him and rolled onto her belly, trying to rise up on her tired arms, “Come, you can spiral toward me.”

Ogousto was not listening, and nor was Michelle. They looked at each other, soft smiles on their faces like they hadn’t seen each other for many months. The Del Mar socialites looked at them and sighed a collective “Aw” before settling down in comfortable downward dog positions. Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan shook in anger and pain because her arms hurt and the one man in her life had cheated on her, and how dare he? How dare he! One of the socialites looked at her, and shook her head, disapproving, “Leave him be, Va-san-tee! Ogousto joined Del Mar Yoga last week to teach Level 1 yoga. He knows what he’s doing, so, stop teaching him, will ya?”

A yogi doesn’t lie, and he did, the lying fellow, now pretending to be oh-so-graceful on his downward dog spiral, while he and Michelle looked at each other like lusty, lying canines! Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishan slipped on her sweat, her mat slid and she fell ungracefully on her soft bottom. She did not get up and pretended to go into the corpse pose, eyes closed, heart palpitating.

She remembered the days when she thought she would break down, cry, and return to India, a failure in life, love and marriage. But she didn’t. She became strong.She spiraled down, down and even further and thought, oh, no, you can’t do that, Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan, you are strong, capable and you need to show your soon-to-be-ex Mr. Srinath Venkata Gopalakrishnan you are American. Crying like an Indian movie actress just won’t do. Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan took deep yoga breaths, calmed down, and focused on the next step. She was not going to spiral, no matter what everyone else expected her to do.

Om, the music started again, this time soft, slow, and Michelle walked to the office to log people in. Ogousto got up and sat next to her as the rest of the class pretended to sleep. The Del Mar socialites turned and some of them let out soft snores of exhaustion. Vasanthi Kumari Gopalakrishnan lay on her back, her arms rigidly parallel to her body, and decided to buy a gallon of vanilla frozen yogurt with chocolate sprinkles from the Golden Spoon Yogurt shop next door and eat it all by herself. And then she remembered that there was a monthly film group that met at Horton Plaza and watched all American movies. Yes, she would sign up for that when she got back home with her yogurt.

Madhushree Ghosh has been a contest finalist or has been published in Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Cerebration, Construction, and others. She was also a finalist at the San Diego Book Awards 2011 and was the Oakley Hall Fiction Scholar at Squaw Valley Fiction Workshop 2009. She is currently the International Fiction editor of Del Sol Review.