The passing of the baton

Picture of Desikachar

Desikachar is the son of the legendary yogi T. Krishnamacharya and this is a story about how he picked up yoga as a career. Growing up in the Krishnamacharya household was not easy. Krishnamacharya was a strict disciplinarian and a demanding task master. Desikachar was therefore glad to get away and pursue his engineering studies away from home! Even though his father was a renowned yogi he had no interest in pursuing yoga as a career

This was 1950’s and 1960’s and Krishnamacharya himself was fighting an uphill battle in popularizing yoga. Due to his strict approach very few students would stick around. Most students left after a few sessions unable to meet his demands for rigor and perfection. Consequently the Krishnamacharya household constantly battled against poverty. There was therefore no pressing agenda by Krishnamacharya that his son take up yoga as a profession. All he wanted for his son is that he practice yoga for his own personal health and well-being which his rebellious teenage son showed no inclination to do!

The year was 1961 and Desikachar was visiting home during the summer break having just completed his engineering course at the top of his class. He already had a lucrative job in his hand and was looking forward to getting his career started and providing much needed financial support to his family. It was early morning and he was reading a newspaper in the balcony of his home. It was then he saw an expensive car pull-up in front of his home. A middle aged dignified looking Caucasian woman emerged from the car and ran out towards his home. He could hear her shouting, “Professor! Professor!” Before he could react he saw his father open the door and walk out to greet this lady. She immediately hugged him and exclaimed, “Thank you! Thank you very much!” Krishnamacharya smiled and led the woman inside leaving a perplexed Desikachar standing alone in the balcony of his home. Desikachar could not believe the scene he was witnessing. It was uncommon in those days to see men and women touch each other affectionately in public. No wonder Desikachar was taken aback to see a western women embrace his very conservative father!

Later when the woman had departed Desikachar asked his father who the woman was and why she had hugged him. “That was Mrs. Malvenan,” he replied. “She has been suffering from insomnia and I have been treating her for the past few months. Last night was the first night in many years when she had a restful sleep without a pill. She came to thank me. That is all.”

It was in that instant Desikachar understood the import of his father’s work. This was not about esoteric philosophy or dogmatic rituals. This was about transforming lives. He had heard about his father’s ability to heal people before but this was for the first time he was seeing the power of his father’s work in action. He later recalls about the incident, “I was amazed that this wealthy western woman, who could afford the best medical treatment, was finding a cure with my father who was such a simple man, who knew no English or modern medicine. This is when I realized how great my father was, and how great a teaching he had to share with people. It was at this moment that I decided to completely give up my career and become a yoga student.”

At first his father was reluctant to accept his son’s decision. But seeing his persistence and strong determination he relented. This started a new relationship between the two men. They were no longer father and son, but from now on they would be teacher and disciple. For the next 30 years Desikachar would study at his father’s feet and try to absorb as much as he could from the vast body of knowledge that his father had accumulated. Consequently this made him the most qualified person to preserve and carry on his father’s legacy when his father passed on. Mrs. Malvenan was from New Zealand and she had much to thank Krishnamacharya for. On the other hand we have much to thank Mrs. Malvenan for, as her interaction with Krishnamacharya resulted in the change of heart of Desikachar and has done much for the preservation and continuation of the legacy of Krishnamacharya!

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