24 May 2024 06:18 PM




Live and Let Live !

Former Planning Commission Member Syeda Hameed places the controversy surrounding the celebration of Yoga Day in a perspective

NEW DELHI: In 1985 my house was the venue for Yoga classes. That was thirty years ago in Jamia Nagar adjacent to Jamia Millia Islamia campus. At 7 AM sharp our yoga instructor NK Jain arrived and proceeded to undress down to his shorts and vest. No matter at which stage of winter, this man never felt the biting cold. Then his students began arriving at varying stages of wakefulness.

In this class were the who's who of my literary and intellectual world. There was Anwar Jamal Kidwai, who had just completed his term as Vice Chancellor Jamia Univ and was Director and founder of the soon-to-be-famous Mass Communications Research Centre (MCRC). There was the toast of the literary world Gyanpeeth award winner, writer of the epic novel Aag Ka Darya, Quratulain Hyder lovingly called Annie Apa. From the house itself there was me, and my housemate Dr Bhashini Rao pioneer of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies) affectionately called The Brahmin Lady. There was Professor Mohammad Talib, now is now teaching history at Oxford, Dr Sughra Mehdi, professor, author and firebrand activist. Mrs Siddiqi, a senior neighbor we called ‘Aunty’. This was the core. Others flitted in and out.

Jain Sahib looked right to left, at all of us, some neatly dressed, others bleary eyed, disheveled, and regaled us with the meaning and outcomes of various asanas. He dwelt at length on ailments of the stomach. 'It is the root of all illnesses'; hence we did the pavan mukt asana to drive away the “gasses”. Some of us were just plain awkward, struggling with the asanas to put it mildly. The various ways in which we tackled Surya Namaskar provided endless comedy. Jalandhar Bandh meant different things to each one of us. Jain Sahib never gave up; all he said was “koshsish kariye. If I can do it why can't you?”

At the end of the session when he asked us to recite OM he also gave the option of saying Allah. But we were happy to say OM because it fitted the purpose better, it's sonorousness got us into calm breathing. No one gave a second thought to what we hear today is the 'Hindu' root of Surya Namaskar. Our foremost concern was to use all our limbs in a single asana and not lose balance.

It was a continuation of this interest that led me many years later, to go year after year for Ayurvedic treatment. I began in 2004 with Kottakkal. Having had the benefit of Jain Sahib's teaching I saw Ayurveda as a holistic treatment for inevitable aging. Being a Muslim and a woman was no reason for me to opt for Unani or Hikmat. As a fact, I have equal respect for all Indian systems of medicine but Ayurveda was my piece. The next year I landed in an Ayurvedic Chikitsalayam at Coimbatore. Then each year for ten years I spent two weeks in that spartan place subjecting myself to their medicines and massages. The place is built around a temple of Dhanwantri Devi, the goddess of health. Every evening the bells chime and devotees line up for Prasad. It is a pleasant sight and sound; we patients who are given the simplest and most bland food, look forward to a little payasam to supplement our meals.

These forays into Ayurveda and Yoga have stayed with me, I cherish them and look forward to them each and every day. In the same manner, I look forward to reciting my namaz and fasting during the month of Ramadan. My friends of all religions accept these facets of my life. They never fail to be intrigued when each year I tell them I am going for my Ayurveda treatment. They never fail to marvel when I announce my rozas, decline all lunches the whole month and maintain regular prayer times. They wait for my invitation for Iftar. There is no dichotomy either in my mind or in theirs.

The Hindu Muslim construct around Yoga is recent. I practice Yoga each day very early in the morning. I have never thought of a Muslim woman of my age doing Yoga in the context of Guinness Book of World Records. It is the daily practice of millions across the country. The spectacle at Rajpath has divested it of its simplicity and vitality. It has made me conscious of who I am. The names of the asanas taught by our simple yoga teacher have stayed with me thirty years, but now they are endorsed by stars and models. Headscarves and beards on yoga mats are cropping up everywhere to make a political point.

On World Yoga Day my friend Salima arrived from Lahore. She was on her way to the Yog Ashram of Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev in Coimbatore for Ayurvedic treatment, where she has gone for 3 weeks 3 years in a row. The power of Yoga flows across borders, it is a natural flow. There is no fanfare in this flow. In conjuring this spectacle, Prime Minister Modi, what are we trying to achieve except create fissures and cracks between communities.

These days I am observing Ramadan. So as I do every year, I have put Yoga on hold. Not at all because it bothers my religion but because asanas become tiring during roza. Come to think of it, Yoga is a kind of Ramadan and Ramadan a kind of Yoga. Both command discipline and alignment of the body and mind.

So let me do it my way. I have stopped now and will begin right after Eid. The sight of politicians practising pranayam on a multicolored Rajpath seems to me filled with sound and fury and really signifying nothing.