Sunday, November 1, 1998
By Somnath Dhar
YOGA has emerged as an international buzz word and is practised practically all over the world in one form or the other. Clubs have been started, teachers appointed and classes are held for the more dedicated learners. Yet it was not always so. Not even in India. Those with a yearning for yoga were few and were generally treated as being out of step with the general style of life. So was the case with me until a chance assignment hooked me on to it. The interesting story goes back to my days as a staffer in Hindustan Times, in 1950. I had reviewed some books on yoga in the paper. Swami Sivananda read the reviews. He liked them and invited me to his ashram at Rishikesh. Staying in the idyllic surroundings of the famous ashram was to me the fulfilment of a dream.
Rising up early in the morning, I joined a group in doing Pranayama and prayer. This was followed by practising yoga asanas for about an hour. Then followed joint prayer and meditation. Instructions regarding both were given clearly and were easy to follow. The routine was all the more easy for me as I had read earlier Swamijis book on yoga asanas (This book went all over the world later via the Divine Life Society. Its branches were opened in the capitals of the East and West. These are still functioning under the same titles as vouchsafed by Swamiji).
In my own small way, I have carried on Swamijis mission. Whether I am in Delhi, or in some other city of the country, I see to it that I spread the message of Swamiji. I teach friends yoga asanas. Sometimes I go to their places or they come to my residence.
In the case of Giani Zail Singh, who was then President of India, I went to Rashtrapati Bhavan. He told me that he used to feel fagged out at the end of the day. I instructed him as to how to do the Shaiva asana (the death pose). This asana is more mental than physical. One has to use the mind, and begin the relaxation with the toes, then the calf muscles, then those of the upper and the lower arms, of the hand, of the neck and of the face. I asked him to take care that the organs of the abdomen, the heart and the thorax as well as the brain are also relaxed. "Also, Sardarji," I added, "meditate peacefully for 15 minutes, after closing the eyes". He did as he was told. Zail Singh felt completely relaxed.
Reverting to the main topic, I carried on this routine, rather, self-imposed mission when I was abroad, posted as a diplomat in Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, Ankara and Karachi. I have interesting reminiscences. I would get to know the people interested in yoga in cocktail and other receptions. During most of these occasions, they would find me, carrying on with a drink for an inordinately long time! They could tell that I was holding the drink, just for the sake of keeping their company.
Going down memory lane, I recall a reception at the Buckingham Palace when a tall bearer joined our group with a trayful of drinks. I asked him; "Where is the table, please?" I went there and took a small dose of whisky and mixed with it a lot of soda the one that had not been immersed in ice. It was a drink that I would show off for an hour or so. Wines, I did not mind, whether white or red: These went with respective dishes, and were, I think, good for health. While the dinner went on, I would look out for the ones interested in yoga, and fix appointments with them, at their or our residences. They would invariably drop in for yoga learning session. I found Americans very interested in learning and practising the asanas. One evening, an American, at a reception in San Francisco, offered me $ 20. "Whatever for?" To my surprised query, he replied; "Your fees, sir. You taught me so well and I and my wife have benefited a lot from the deal". I said smilingly: "Thanks a lot, my dear friend. My government pays me ample salary. I practice yoga as a hobby". He accepted my rejoinder happily. We parted on that note. A day or two later, he telephoned; "May I come and bring along my children?" I agreed. It was indeed a pleasure to teach the little youngsters, a boy and a girl.
In Karachi, an Indian colleague, a Muslim, was practised yoga, i.e., the asana part. We shared a garden. In the morning, he would offer his Nimaz, sitting on his knees on a prayer mat; Nimaz itself has some elementary yoga postures. He would do the yoga asanas after the Nimaz. Whatever asana he could not do quite well, I had taught him. It was all hunky dory until I got to know that the red flush on his face was not entirely due to his morning yoga routine. You know, even Caesars wife could not keep a secret! His wife told my wife that Nazir Hussain would consume a lot of hard liquor at an evening reception, or even when he was alone at his residence. I had to leave it at that, for when I tried to advise him, he brushed me aside, almost rudely. He was steadily going downhill. I got posted to San Francisco. There, after a year or so, we received the sad news that Nazir Sahib was no more. Well, well, yoga and Bacchus cant mix!
In Malaysia and Ankara, I
found quite a few Muslims genuinely interested in yoga,
i.e., the exercise part, not the meditation or Pranayama
part. Whatever the quantum of interest evinced by the
friends, I built on it. Retiring from Foreign Service, I
settled in Delhi, but kept on travelling off and on. I
became a vegetarian, after I visited the Brahma
Kumaris ashram at Mount Abu (Rajasthan) in
1971, this helped me as well as my disciples,
none too few. Ever since, I have converted carcass
eaters (Bernard Shaws characteristic term for
meat-eaters) by the score every year, to become
vegetarians. I keep a record of my successes, just as I
tabulate facts and figures about the good people whom I
persuaded to give up smoking. As for the new vegetarians,
I made them adopt the yoga asana routine, taking
on the intricate poses too, as well as meditation and Pranayama.
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