Life of Balance: Dhan and Jehangir Palkhivala

Dhan Palkhivala, 86, & Jehangir Palkhivala, 50 South Mumbai’s most famous Iyengar yoga exponents, Dhan and Jehangir Palkhivala on how the ancient art helped them change lives

Article by Reema Gehi | Times of India

As she settles into a couch in the commodious living room of their Peddar Road apartment, yoga teacher Dhan Palkhivala slips into a reflective mood. The former advocate with the Bombay High Court has devoted 50 years to yoga, and touched many a life along the way. Throwing a loving gaze at son Jehangir, also a wellknown yoga practitioner, the 86-year-old says, “When humans are in difficulty, they reach out to sundry things to heal themselves. Some of these transform their lives forever.Yoga changed mine.“

19_10_2014_016_006_015As a young woman, Dhan was crippled by back and abdominal pain. “Allopathy proved useless,“ she says with a wave of her arm. And then there was more bad news. The position of her uterus, claimed the gynaecologists she consulted, would make it a struggle for her to conceive.

Although a man of medicine, gynaec Dr Burjor Dastur suggested she try yoga. She was in court with advocate friend, Burzo Taraporevala, when she whispered Dastur’s advice across to him. “He looked at me, and with great certainty said, `Who else but BKS Iyengar.’“ Dhan hadn’t heard of the Pune-based yoga legend, who passed away two months ago, but went up to him during a weekend class he was holding in Mumbai to narrate her woes.Surrendering to his expertise, she practised what she calls “strenuous“ yoga. In the late 1950s, when she was carrying her eldest son Aadil, although the gynaec warned her against continuing with yoga, BKS told her, “If you don’t do it, you’ll miscarry.“

Dhan continued the arduous practise for eight months under Iyengar’s watchful eye, and Aadil was born in 1959.Jehangir came five years later, again alongside intense yoga.No surprises then that Aadil is a well known instructor of Iyengar yoga in America.

Owing their lives to the ancient tradition, for Dhan’s three sons -Aadil, Jehangir and Phiroze -indulging in yoga was everyday since they were seven.“It’s possibly the best age to start yoga,“ says Jehangir. “It’s just that I didn’t enjoy waking up early, especially during winters.“

Jehangir’s learning was, as he defines it, “osmotic“. Dhan would take him along to her classes, and he’d watch as Iyengar practised. She breaks into a smile at the thought of a time the master lifted a fouryear-old Jehangir in the air and turned him around playfully.“He came down to the ground quietly, but following that episode, whenever Guruji visited our home, Jehangir was never to be found,“ she laughs.

Iyengar was a taskmaster, but loving. Little Aadil and Jehangir would petition for bathroom breaks every time they had to do the sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and shirshasana (headstand). “Guruji was known for his fiery temper,“ he says, “but he was affectionate towards me, perhaps because I was a child.“

Perhaps, it’s Iyengar’s influence that is responsible for his own strict method of teaching.“I would get furious with my students when they didn’t listen; not anymore,“ he says of participants at the chock-ablock classes he conducts at a studio in Chowpatty.

In 1972, after receiving blessings from the Mother (of Auroville), Dhan, and later Aadil, started teaching a small group of students at their apartment. One of them happened to express worry over her husband’s diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol problem. “I must have been 16 then,“ Jehangir recollects. “I showed him a few exercises he could try, and within a week, he had noticed a drop in his sugar and cholesterol levels. Eventually, he went off medicines. That surprised us.“

Like his parents (his father, Behram Palkhivala was an advocate too), Jehangir studied law nd worked as an assistant to the advocate at Crawford Bayley & Co. But after Dhan suffered a rib frac ture in the US in 1990, Jehangir decided he’d take charge of her classes. “I didn’t see myself being a lawyer all my life, anyway,“ says the nephew of legal luminary Nani Palkhivala. “Seeing people get well, especially when they were told, they never will, was a huge thrill.“

“It’s such a rewarding feeling when you see people’s lives improve through yoga,“ continues Dhan.

“His elder brother would keep on saying, `practising law is not our cup of tea’.“

In fact, Phiroze -who contested for the Mumbai North Central seat as an AAP candidate in the last general elections -is now the only practising lawyer in the family.

“There isn’t a single day when I’ve wished I’d continued with law,“ Jehangir chuckles.

For him, yoga is about unity.“And so, my personal and professional equation with my mother can’t be separated. It’s one life,“ he says.