In part 2 of our ‘Stories from Pune’ series, teachers Kirsten and Richard Agar Ward share their experiences.
Kirsten Agar Ward
My first proper visit to Pune was in 1998 to attend Guruji’s 80th birthday celebration. I had arrived in Pune rather frazzled from my stressful job, and with the beginning of what turned out to be a chronic medical condition. To top it all I had forgotten to bring a mat (and you couldn’t get them in Pune in those days)! Of course none of this mattered and the event was very special and wonderful. I don’t mean that in the way it has become commonplace these days to use overly exuberant language to describe everything, it truly was very special and wonderful; it was a privilege to be there and there seemed to be magic in the air. We were given superb yoga classes by Guruji, engaging lectures by Prashantj. I remember Geetaji looking radiantly happy as Guruji got the love and recognition he so richly deserved. I was enchanted and delighted and so thankful to have taken the leap and been there.
However the most significant thing for me personally occurred after the celebrations. Richard took me to meet Guruji personally. There was some LOYA (Light on Yoga Association) admin. to discuss, and we wanted to tell him we were getting married. My diary entry describing it commences “Today was very lovely”. Guruji was in jovial mood and very pleased about our news. I was in awe and couldn’t quite believe I was here in the library actually meeting this great man! It was rather disconcerting as Guruji was so clear in his perception that he had you weighed up immediately, there was no hiding, but that is also a relief because he was 100% trustworthy. There is that saying your friends are those who know all about you and like you anyway, well Guruji knew all about us pupils and loved us as his spiritual children and helped us anyway! On that special occasion Guruji gave us advice, blessed us and told me Richard is “a very nice man, a good man” and that he has “great clarity of mind”. He was, of course, right!
Since that time I have been to Pune 15 or sixteen times I think. All of them special and I can’t imagine how I might be now if I hadn’t had that wonderful opportunity and had the good sense to take it. Of course classes are the major thing but one of my favourite places to be would be the library where I had that first meeting with Guruji. I liked to go to just be near to him, that was always inspiring, though I always remained in awe of him. He would tell us anecdotes, stories from scripture, whoever was there could listen and learn. As Prashantji has pointed out that is where much of the real yoga teaching went on.
Richard Agar Ward
My first trip to Pune was a very long time ago when I was but 21. This year marks the 40th anniversary. Of course my memories of that time have faded. Recently sharing some photos of the 1977 July intensive, under B.K.S. Iyengar’s teaching, on Facebook I could not recall anything about most of the other faces in our group. I have some recollections which may in time stir others. Here are some of them.
Our flight was Air Egypt from Heathrow via Cairo. It cost £270 return, a huge sum in 1977. I was amongst a few vegetarian companions on the flight. We vegetarians were treated with a contempt of the kind usually reserved for suspected war criminals but we had plenty of bread and peanut butter to keep us going until we landed at Santa Cruz in Bombay.
We saw the utmost poverty. For the first two or three days we were in a state of shock. I will never forget miles of encampments of families with small children living along the central reservation of busy highways in Bombay who had made their homes with scraps of canvas, cloth, boxes and anything they could lay their hands on.
We stayed in rooms at RIMYI in small bunk beds at the mercy of hordes of mosquitos, bathing each morning from buckets of cold water before the class. Who could envy Guruji, a great master of yoga in his prime, enthusiastically teaching a bunch of students from the UK and America for three weeks? Except that it was as Guruji announced one morning to a stunned and exhausted group (words we could scarcely believe) extended to four weeks as he “was enjoying it so much.” He was a force of nature, a very strict disciplinarian and hard taskmaster to us. He taught us many things I still remember today despite the passage of time. I spent the last four weeks in the “cripples corner,” as we cheerfully dubbed it (long before the days such insensitive epithets fell out of usage), with chronic back pain from months of over ambitious and faulty practice but what he taught during our course gave me the confidence and capability to cure myself over the next few years.
Richard and Kirsten teach at Bath Iyengar Yoga Centre