The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Sudha Balagopal

       “Today, the theme of our class is truth.” Rama Das, the American yoga teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor, face serene, eyes closed, spine erect; the posture fit the yoga teacher well. “Focus on everything that the word means to you as you watch your breath. Remember, keep your inhalations and exhalations even.” With his lilting voice, he led the yoga class through breathing exercises—pranayama—to warm up, dispensing philosophic wisdom at the same time.
      Sonia wanted to ignore the philosophy and focus on his body. Through partially open eyes, she watched him. Lithe yet strong, pliant yet muscular, gentle yet powerful. She sighed. The class always began in this easy, innocuous fashion. Soon she’d be calling upon reserves of strength, endurance and flexibility buried deep inside. The teacher on the other hand would smile, remain calm, even as he demonstrated the most difficult poses.
      Attention, pay attention, she squeezed her eyes shut. Wished he would hurry, get to the poses—the asanas—before she began daydreaming again. Her mind switched off during the meditation phase. She added eggs to her grocery list, framed a birthday invitation, worried about the over-due library book.
      Now, he centered on truth, about the lure of deception and falsehoods, about finding the genuine. “Your real inner self is true,” he said in his soft voice.

       She lied to her mother as a five-year-old kindergartener in India. Every day her friend Mini’s mother came to school at lunchtime, brought her a warm lunch, sat with her at a separate table. Lunch arrived in a pretty lunchbox decorated with bright orange slices and red grapes. Sonia’s mother sent old Ayah to drop her and pick her up from school. Ayah, in her dirty old sari, and worn slippers stitched repeatedly by the corner cobbler. Mini’s mother carried an imported orange parasol, wore high heels and red lipstick that left a mouth stamp on Mini’s round cheek.
      A pain in Sonia’s tummy appeared close to lunch time. Her teacher hurried her to the Principal’s office. The Principal called her mother. Never mind that Mother took her home and put her to bed. Everyone in the class, especially Mini, saw she had a mother who was young and beautiful, who cared for her, who hugged and caressed her. The pain in her tummy came back twice more, until her mother sent Ayah to bring her back home. Then it disappeared forever. She was still five.

      “There are eight limbs to yoga: yama, niyama, pranayama . . .” Rama Das who studied yoga at an ashram in India, shared his knowledge of the 5,000-year-old tradition. She never remembered these tongue twisters. “Tanya,” he called out. He was talking to her! “Bend forward Tanya, allow the hamstrings to relax, no tension in the neck when you fold forward. Hold the pose. Breathe . . .”
      “Now, the first limb, yama, has to do with precepts for living. And truth is an important precept. It is called Satya in Sanskrit.”

      In fifth grade her friend Rita crowed about the ice-cream she got after her tonsils were removed. People visited her in the hospital. Sonia saw the cards, flowers and chocolates she received from everyone. Wished she could have her tonsils removed. She ate lots of ice, threw red pepper powder down her throat, coughed until mother rushed her to the doctor. Prayed it would be her tonsils.
      The doctor gave her cough syrup, sent her home. Tonsils were too visible, that was the problem. But the appendix was not. Once again she reverted to the old tummy-ache story. This time she gave the right answers. The doctor pressed into her abdomen on the bottom right. She squealed. He took his hand away and asked if it still hurt. “Yes! Yes!” she screamed. And the appendectomy was done. She’d found glamour in pain.

      “Be truthful in your practice, it is your class, after all, this is your hour,” he said. “First of all be true to yourself.” She let out a soft snort. She wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t true to herself, if she didn’t care enough to teach her body to get stronger, to stretch, and to relax. As if he read her mind, he intoned, “Yoga is more than an exercise form. The word yoga means union. The union of the mind, the body and the spirit.” How long did she have to hold the Triangle, what did he call it? Trikonasana. “Allow the pose to come to you,” he said. “When you force it, the muscles contract.”

      Fifth grade and her family moved to the United States from India. The girls in school talked about getting their menstrual periods. Hers did not arrive. Airily, she told her coterie, “I’ve had it since fourth grade.” A little fib, to belong. She wasn’t hurting anyone. No fun in being different. So she discussed cramping, bleeding, staining and related inconveniences with confidence.
       Then came high school. Friends shared experiences of nascent romances, first kisses. Burgeoning senses and raging hormones helped embroider their stories. Not to be outdone, Sonia made up an invisible boyfriend, from whom she received love letters. Painstakingly written by her, of course. “He kissed me after the movie last night, right outside our front door,” she concocted, untruths cascading. Her friends listened wide-eyed. Exchanging falsehoods for friends.

      “Be strong. Be rooted to the earth, just as you’d be rooted to your principles. The stronger your roots are the higher you can rise. Think about that.” The teacher stretched his feet, bent one knee and raised his arms. He lifted his gaze toward his fingers. Sonia’s quadriceps hurt; she prayed he’d switch poses. He did not get her silent message. “Stay here,” he said. “This is veerabhadrasana, warrior pose. Test your strength. What will make you sway? Nothing, if your foundation is strong. Think of a warrior, how strong he has to be.”
      “I’m not strong enough,” she muttered under her breath.

      College meant freedom, initiation to drinking, boyfriends, experimentation. A classmate named Tony, an engineering major, often slept through class. He’d show up an hour late for an exam; yet when she peeked at his paper, she’d see the nerdy yet cute Tony made an easy ninety three percent. She found his forgetfulness charming.
      She freely discussed details about her relationship with a fictional boyfriend but Tony she kept secret. In her twenties, her hopeful parents asked every time they called, or when she went home every few months, “Are you seeing anyone?” She moved in with Tony. Distanced herself from her parents. After a while, thanks to caller id, Tony and she did not pick up the phone, nor did she visit her parents quite as often. She shielded the relationship, protected it as a mother would a newborn. Evasion was not lying. Nor was obfuscation.

       “Adho Mukha Svanasana, or down dog, is a ubiquitous pose, a foundational pose in yoga practice. Look in the mirror, see if you’ve made the perfect inverted V with your body.” Rama Das walked over to a student, placed a firm hand between her shoulder blades. “Bring the shoulder blades together, press your hands firmly into your mat, don’t clench your teeth,” he said. “Try and get your heels down, see if you can touch the floor.” The student sighed above the soft instrumental music. “It’s my job to tell you the facts. Don’t be embarrassed,” he said with his trademark smile.

       She did love Tony. When shopping for their first car, she told him she didn’t like the more expensive car because she knew it would stretch their budget. When house hunting, she picked the smaller house closer to his work so he could be spared a longer drive. Such sacrifices could not count as deceptions.
      The first time she told Tony she had a headache to ward off intimacy, she felt wracked by guilt at his concern. It had been a long day at work. The new boss, dangerously attractive, their lunch hours stretching beyond professional limits. Her commitment to marriage almost betrayed by chemistry. Her husband was so kind, so generous, and she turned him away. Deceit and guilt would never occur to Tony.

      “Remember, it is the journey, not the destination that counts in yoga. Go in the direction of the pose.” The teacher sat on the floor in cobbler’s pose, bottoms of the feet together, bent knees almost down to the floor. “Challenge yourself, but be honest enough to recognize how far you can stretch without tearing your adductor muscles.” Then he lengthened his spine, leaned forward from the torso placed his forehead on his toes. Sonia’s thigh muscles screamed. Seated in front of her, an overachieving student, mirror image of the yoga teacher.

       Twice she tried to excuse herself from Thanksgiving and Christmas; the times when she found herself in the lap of her husband’s family. His sisters, painted bleach blondes with high-pitched voices and even higher heels, made her gag. She became physically ill around her showy parents-in-law with their perfect home and perfect conversation. How Tony could be a part of this family was beyond her.
      Tony, oblivious or gullible, hard to tell, did not see through her too bright answers. He would never notice the deliberate understatement in her clothing. She wore little makeup, a simple sweater and slacks, comfortable, sensible shoes. He smiled when she helped his mother in the kitchen or when she talked to his father about mutual funds.
      She kept her opinion to herself.

       “Twisting poses are excellent for the internal organs.” Somehow Rama Das made the seated twist look graceful, languid even. When she tried the twist her belly seemed to interfere, making her pose look incomplete. “Life comes with its own twists and turns, and we must deal with it.”

      Unpalatable surprises. Like her father’s illness. She took her father to the doctor for an unexplained abdominal pain that radiated to his back. The pain prevented him from eating; he lost a lot of weight. The doctor imparted the news, advanced pancreatic cancer at 62, perhaps only a few months to live. Perhaps this was punishment for all the times she’d pushed her father away in her youth.
      He must not know the truth. With effort she summoned cheerfulness, squeezed her mother’s hand hard as she told him he’d be fine, that he would make it to that cruise he’d booked for the family in early fall. Falsehood could become truth.

      By the time Rama Das called on the class to come into Shavasana or corpse pose to signal the end of class, she was exhausted, ready to melt into her mat. She lay supine on her mat, closed her eyes, noticed her heart beats and rapid breath. “Relax your muscles, let go of tension,” he directed. “Watch your breath slow down. Soften, soften everything. This is relaxation pose.”
      She didn’t realize she’d clenched her fists until she felt him hover over her, touch her hand. “Relax your fingers, Tanya,” he whispered, stroking her fingers perhaps a tad longer than necessary. Eyes closed, she released her fingers, one by one, didn’t bother to tell him her name was Sonia.

Sudha Balagopal was born and raised in India and has lived in the United States for over a quarter century. Her recent fiction has appeared in Chiron Review, Superstition Review, and Pax Americana among other literary journals. Her collection of short stories, There are Seven Notes, is forthcoming from Roman Books later this year.

COMMENT        HOME       BLOG


New Fiction

by Liam Connolly

by Karen Wodke

by Katie Lattari

by Eliza Snelling

by Rebecca Shepard

Ron Koppelberger


By accessing this site, you accept these Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2011 ™ — All rights reserved