(7) The supremely diligent student

The Maharajah of Mysore still liked to send Krishnamacharya and a few of his star pupils to various locations around India to give lectures and demonstrations on yoga. Sometimes, however, those lecture-demonstrations were held at the Yogashala itself. After Iyengar had been with his guru for about a year or so, one such important demonstration, to be attended by some important dignitaries, was pending. As usual, Keshavamurthy was to be the star attraction.

BKS Iyengar’s new life was set firmly on its new path when, early one morning, Keshavamurthy simply disappeared off the face of the earth and could not be found anywhere. He was never to return. Being only days away from the Yogashala’s very important demonstration, Krishnamacharya grew desperate. He had little alternative but to turn his attention to his earnest new pupil. He quickly began teaching Iyengar some of the more advanced asanas that were to be the climax of the demonstration, and Iyengar could do nothing but make the best efforts he could. He practised diligently and surprised his teacher by performing exceptionally well at the demonstration.

If Krishnamacharya now realized that he had the stuff of gold in his hands, he did not show it in any way—except to begin instructing this exceptionally diligent pupil in earnest, and to impose upon him the toughest and most difficult of routines. Iyengar responded to this attention by making extremely rapid progress. He was soon assisting his guru in the classes at the Yogashala. He also took Keshavamurthy’s place and accompanied Krishnamacharya to a variety of yoga demonstrations around the country.

Although people were beginning to sing Iyengar’s praises both inside and outside the Yogashala, relations with his guru did not improve much. At one demonstration Krishnamacharya had indicated to Iyengar which poses he was to perform, and in what order. Iyengar had practised them, only for Krishnamcharya to suddenly change the content and order of the programme. Amongst other things, he was now to perform Hanumanasana (the full splits). Iyengar complained that he had never been taught this and so could not do it, and in any case his shorts were too tight. Krishnamacharya simply called for a pair of scissors, quietly cut a slit along each side of Iyengar’s shorts, and said “You can do it now”. Iyengar was forced to comply and tore his hamstrings in the process. Feeling hemmed in on every side, Iyengar was now praying that he would soon leave what he later came to call ‘this bondage’.