If you thought yesterday’s post sounded bizarre, today it gets even better. I like to call this one “Begging, Bargaining and Bullying in India” because… well, there’s a little bit of all of that.
As I walked down those stairs my legs were shaking and my heart was racing. I hate- hate- hate disappointing people. I mean I really, really hate it. I obsess over it and worry about it, sometimes for years. But I knew I had made the right choice for me. I knew I’d been true to what I really wanted, not let what other people wanted influence me. I’d made a decision that was financially and emotionally draining- but the decision had been made, I’d acted on it. I spoke my truth.
I thought it was over. I was wrong.
It was February 18, at 11 am. (Everything from this moment forward I wrote down exactly with dates and times, bc stuff got weird, and I felt it would be good to have a record.)
He came to the top of the steps to ask me if I was going to be coming back. “No,” I told him. “I hope you will change your mind about the money and that we can find a way to meet in the middle, but one way or another, I will not be coming back to class.” He said he and ‘the boss’ would talk to the investors and let me know later that night, if I came back around 7.
Joining Kranti’s classes was awkward. You do a lot of bonding over the first few days of a new yoga school, so it did not go unnoticed that some new girl had just plopped herself down during anatomy and physiology class and started taking notes (and a picture). I wasn’t sure if I was going to make any new friends, and I was already missing the ones I’d made at Yoga School A. You did what was right for you, I kept telling myself.
At 7 p.m. I went to my meeting with my fingers crossed that I would be getting some of the money back. “We are operated by an NGO,” ‘the boss’ explained to me. “If it was up to me, I’d give you a hug and your money and wish you the best in your yoga journey, but it is not up to me. We’ve spoken with the investors and they said there is no way that we can give you the money back just because you found some school you like better.”
“We have, however, come up with a different solution,” he informed me. “Since you said your issue was that we weren’t on the beach, we have decided to have Stephanie (an assistant who I really liked, and who had just finished her 200 ytt the month before) take you to the beach every day for one on one yoga time.”
“You said it was because it wasn’t on the beach, and now it will be,” he said matter-of-factly.
“You don’t have a good reason. You promised that if we could move it to the beach you would stay.”
“Please,” he begged. “If you walk away we are going to have to explain to our investors why you left and we might have to shut down the whole yoga school.” Now he was playing on my emotions and guilt.
“Okay here’s another idea, why don’t you just spend the month on the beach and then at the end you can come back and we will still give you your certificate?”
“That is a party school. If you ever want to become a good yoga student you will stay here. I am a doctor. I have hired all of the best teachers and experts. If you go there they are only going to focus on getting students in and out. You will get hurt because you will never learn the proper technique.”
“I will never respect you as a yogi if you leave. ”
“Okay, fine!” he said taking my hands. I wanted to pull them away, but I didn’t. “Here’s my last offer. You go to Kranti Yoga School, but tell him that at the end, we will still issue you your certificate.”
At this point ‘the Assistant’ finally spoke up and said, “We can’t do that.” And ‘The Boss’ raised him palm to him and said, “I decide what we can and can’t do.”
“That is none of your business” he said standing and walking toward me so that I had to back up for him not to bump into me (power move- nice.)
At this point I was pretty sure there was no NGO, but I decided to press a little further.
He puffed out his chest and shouted at me “I AM THE DECISION MAKER. I REFUSE TO GIVE YOU YOUR MONEY BACK. I TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY.”
And I thought it was over. (Again). And I was wrong. (Again).
Feburary 19, 1:45 p.m.
I was at Kranti, sipping on a coconut, minding my own business, when two students from Yoga School A materialized, waving me over. One was my roommate, the cute 23 year old trance d.j. the other was an older man who had been clearly unhappy at Yoga School A as well.
(Sidenote 1: I was not the only one who wanted to leave, I was just the only who had so far. The night before, 6 students -of 12- had been talking at dinner about whether or not they should all walk out and threaten going to the police if they didn’t get their money back. I had not organized this, but I said that I would happily sign the letter if they wrote one. Sidenote 2: I didn’t have a chance to read the letter before my name was added to it. Four of them backed out and the other two (who were now waving me over) had written it over breakfast and signed my name for me. Half of the letter I agreed with, the other half, including a dig at my sparkly yoga soulmate, would have been enough for me to not want to get involved)
“We’re getting our money back!” Sarah squealed jumping up and down. Well that was fast. A little letter threatening the police and POOF, I guess the “board” had agreed. “We just have to meet them at Capital Grille at 3:00 and they will give us everything we paid upon arrival.”
I would have been happy with just 700 euro, so to find out I was going to be getting 1400 back was more than a little exciting.
At 3 p.m. I showed up to the grille. About 15 minutes later ‘The Boss’ and ‘The Assistant’ came with papers in their hands, but no money. ‘The Boss’ looked at me with eyes full of contempt and said, “Just this morning I had your money in my hand, ready to pay you, but now I no longer trust or respect you.” Yeah yeah. A) I don’t believe he was going to give me my money back. B) The night before he had screamed me out of his office that I was never going to see that money again. C) He’d already used the line that he no longer respected me, so whatever.
I was, however, a little bit curious what exactly the letter said that the other students had submitted.
They handed us letters of their own. They read:
“Against this backdrop, in reference to your email/letter dated 19th February, may it be submitted that Yoga School A outrightly rejects the allegations with the contempt it deserves.
At this juncture, be it mentioned that Yoga School A is inexorably pained and shell shocked at the fulcrum of allegations unwarrantedly set out by yourself. Our organization has unanimously decided to disassociate with you to uphold the peace, tranquility, and integrity strongly propounded by ourselves, even otherwise we do not intend to keep money of any student who do not intend to associate with the school’s name and program.
May it be submitted again at the cost of repetition that Yoga School A categorically and specifically deny each and every content of the aforesaid letter. Nevertheless, for the reasons cited above as also taking the assertions in your letter at its face to the effect that, reproduced verbatim:
“By refunding the program tuition to the students signed below, they, in turn, will consent to refrain from expressing negative reviews about Yoga School A” we are ready to refund part of the fees where you categorically and specifically yourselves acknowledge the refund of 1400 Euro.
In view of the conspectus of facts and circumstances stated above we are constrained to hold that after refund in case you were to deviate from your assertions set forth, viz, by expressing any negative reviews about Yoga School A in print or e-media or taking any legal action, then out organization shall be found forced to avail appropriately and you shall be liable for both criminal and civil liabilities.”
I found the letter a bit dramatic. The wording seemed a bit formal and forced and well… odd. The focus on reviews seemed a bit desperate. And the overall demeanor when they walked in seemed more than a bit aggressive.
“Whatever. Keep your broken legalese document and leave me the hell alone,” is what I wanted to say. “Where do I sign?” is what I did say.
“Well, I was going to have you sign this, but now I have decided that I think we need a lawyer and our lawyer is not available until 5 pm,” the boss told us.
I rolled my eyes. Of course. So why were we supposed to meet here at 3 pm? I started to ask- but I never got the chance, because the third student slammed his hands on the table and stood up.
“It’s simple then,” he informed ‘The Boss’. “We are going to the police. The agreement was that you would have our money at 3 p.m. and if you don’t have it, we are leaving.”
And from there things got crazy. I don’t remember who said what but there was shouting between the two. The begging and the bargaining was gone. It was straight up bullying in India. Everyone at the grille was staring. I was over it. It seemed that every move was a power play. I doubted that I would ever see the money. I had class in 15 minutes and it just didn’t seem worth the emotional exhaustion they had put me through over the last 48 hours to fight anymore. I stood and said, “Keep the money, this isn’t worth it.” They were still shouting behind me when ‘the assistant’ caught up to me. He’s not the hot head that his boss is, and it’s probably lucky for both of them. He also knew that if I didn’t take the money back, I wasn’t going to be signing anything, and that meant that I was likely to write a bad review.
I’ll meet you here with the money at 7 p.m. he told me, offering his hand as a sign of his word. I wanted to like him. I really did. His boss was the problem. I even wanted to like his boss though. And I think I could have- if his ego hadn’t gotten in the way so often and so significantly. A decrease in shouting would have been nice too. I wondered what time he’d finished his “surgery rotation” that day, and then almost felt full of sadness for him.
“You told me you were run by an NGO and they had the money,” I said.
“No I told you we donated to a number of NGO’s,” he said, still defending the lie.
I looked at him and said, “There have been too many lies already. I don’t believe that you will bring me money.”
For the first time his face seemed to recognize what I was saying. “I’ll have your money,” he said, shaking my hand.
I came back at 7 p.m. and he gave me the exact bills (I know because I counted them so many times after I got robbed upon arrival) that I had given them three days earlier.
And I thought it was over. (Again). And I was wrong. (Again).
The next afternoon I got a text from my 23 year old roommate that said, “We have to be out of our house in 15 minutes.” <Sigh.> I skipped lunch so I could go back and deal with yet another issue. We had not been reimbursed for our house and the understanding was that we could keep it. I got on the phone and explained this to ‘The Boss’.
I told him if he wanted me to leave the house he needed to have the police explain why, since I had already paid for the room. (I wasn’t really going to get the police involved but it seemed to be the key word to getting him to do anything.) He said he refused to talk to me on the phone and wanted me to meet him at Capital Grille. Again. Good heavens!!! He wanted to meet at 3, I said it was now or never. I wasn’t about to miss another class. He agreed. We met.
“Oh Sarah must have must have misunderstood me. She’s so young she misunderstands thing easily,” he said. “Of course you can keep the house.” He had a look in his eye that made me immediately uncomfortable, but I thanked him and got up to leave, understanding why he had wanted to say something so simple in person. Before I left he said, “She’s so young and easy to influence. You know, that’s why she left. Because you left, and influenced her too.”
I wasn’t going to engage with this man. I was late for yoga. I left but started thinking about ways I could secure our house.
That night I came home to a stench.
“I didn’t want to bother you again,” Sarah told me, “But they turned off our water about 4 hours ago.”
This forced us to call them again. “I said you could stay in the house, but you are no longer a student here so I will no longer go between you and the landlord,” he told me over the phone. I asked how to get in touch with the landlord. “He lives in Canada. Best of luck to you,” he said before hanging up.
A teacher at my new yoga school had a room in the same house on a lower level so I asked him about his landlord. He gave me the address. Ironically, I walked back to the same man who had waved me up the stairs, shirtless, cigarette in hand on my first day at Yoga School A. He was my landlord. Canada. Ha.
I talked to the man, he explained that ‘the boss’ told him to turn off the utilities because the students had left.
I showed him the key, explained that we were still there and asked him kindly to please turn the water back on. It might take 8-12 hours he told me. Fine.
I’d been looking at little bungalows on the beach to relocate to that evening, so I knew this might be what I needed to do. My roommate had already decided to move on to Rishikesh because she couldn’t stomach running into him all the time. But at this point, I was keeping that key on principle.
The water was back on when I woke up that morning. The following day it was off again and I was over it. Besides, if they couldn’t get to me with the water, I wasn’t sure what they’d do next. I’d been keeping all my valuables at Kranti, because I was pretty sure he had a second key and I wouldn’t put anything past him at that point, but I still didn’t want to have to deal with ants in my bed or a dead bunny on the stove, so I packed my bags and moved to the beach.
I gave the key to my teacher whose room was downstairs and instructed him to keep an eye on the place and to use the patio for yoga any time he wanted to, and I never went back.
And finally… it was over.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.
You handled that awful situation with such grace and integrity. So proud of you, my beautiful friend!!
You are just the loveliest!