Bengali babu, English Mem
He may live in Beverly Hills, rub shoulders with the high and mighty, but he is a genuine babu moshai at heart.
By NITHYA SUBRAMANIAN
The rounded vowels of a rich Bengali accent are still intact, albeit with an American twang and Bhapa Ileesh is still his favourite even if he eats at the swankiest New York restaurants. He lives in Beverley Hills - Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. And why not? After all Bikram Choudhury owes his entire fame, fortune and life to India’s greatest gift to the world, Yoga.
From Baghbazar in Calcutta to Beverly Hills in California, this maveric yoga teacher has celebrities shedding their starry tantrums. So whether it is Material Girl Madonna or Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, they owe their svelte figures to Bikram Hot Yoga.
The rise to fame started in the 1970s when Choudhury, a gauche young newcomer to the land of plenty, literally helped President Nixon get back on his feet by curing a life-threatening knee problem. At that time, he was setting up yoga schools in Japan at the behest of his guru, Bishnu Charan Ghosh. An excited Choudhury says that he was airlifted by the Americans to Honolulu where President Nixon was consulting with military doctors who were suggesting amputation. “I gave the President six lessons in three days and prepared a special chart that he had to follow.” And Bingo! The President went on to live a healthy life for another 24 years.
Choudhury’s reward: Three yoga institutes in Honolulu, San Fransisco and California and a Green Card. His citizenship too was given in one day, when he was involved with the Democratic Party under President Clinton.
The Singapore connection
Hailing from a typical Zamindari Bengali Brahmin family, Choudhury’s grandfather had large land holdings in Faridpur, erstwhile East Bengal. His father, however, chose to join the British army at a very young age and reached Singapore via Rangoon. Subsequently he completed chartered accountancy and worked with a well-known firm in Calcutta. So childhood for Bikram was quite a comfortable one.
He studied yoga at Ghosh’s College of Physical Education where he practiced for at least four to six hours each day. At 13, he won the National India Yoga Championship and was the undisputed champion for three successive years. However, a knee injury at 17, during a weight lifting accident, changed his life. The European doctors had predicted that he would never be able to walk. But Choudhury’s faith in his teacher made him go back to school and six months later, he was back on his feet.
He then went on to set up schools, first in Japan, and then around the world and today he is a brand in himself.
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