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#BKSIyengar: Meet the man who brought Yoga to the west

Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away in the southern Indian city of Pune on Tuesday aged 95, counted a veritable galaxy of stars among his international clientele.

From cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar through Bollywood beauty Kareena Kapoor to Hollywood star Annette Bening, fashion designer Donna Karan and even Queen Elisabeth of Belgium who, at the grand old age of 85, was taught by Iyengar to stand on her head.

The New York Times once said that Iyengar had done more than anyone else to bring yoga to the western world, long before this ancient practice became a multi-billion dollar industry.

However, well before Iyengar brought a form of enlightenment to millions around the world, yoga had saved his life.

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was born to crippling poverty, the 11th of 13 children of a poor family in Bellur, rural Karnataka, in 1918.

At the time of his birth the region was gripped by a severe influenza epidemic, as a result of which Iyengar suffered from a string of illnesses in childhood including malaria, tuberculosis typhoid and general malnutrition.

In his mid-teens, the poorly young boy was introduced to yoga by his Mysore-based brother-in-law, the well-known yogi Sri Tirumalai  Krishnamacharya, who convinced Iyengar that the practice would help improve his health.

Writing in his autobiography in later years, Iyengar recalled that it had taken a full six years for him to get better but the recovery instilled a determination to never give up yoga.

"I found emotional stability, intellectual clarity, spiritual delight", he wrote.

Iyengar would later travel throughout Mysore demonstrating yoga asanas and once even performed at the court of the Maharajah of Mysore.

He also taught yoga to his wife Ramamani who he described as "my only friend, my sharer, my partner, my guide, my philosopher".

Weeks before he opened his first teaching institute in India in 1973, Ramamani passed away.  Iyengar never remarried and created the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute, which continues to teach his unique approach to yoga.

Iyengar's step to the west came about some two decades before Ramamani's death and after a chance encounter with Yehudi Menuhin, the gifted violinist and composer and early yoga devotee. 

Menuhin had heard about Iyengar during a visit to Bombay and asked for an audience with the young guru.  What was supposed to be a five-minute session turned into a three-hour tete-a-tete and a lifelong friendship began. 

Impressed by Iyengar, Menuhin arranged for his new friend to conduct yoga workshops in Britain, France and Switzerland.  The musician even credited Iyengar with helping to improve his conducting skills.

Iyengar would eventually go on to establish yoga centres on six continents.

“I set off in yoga 70 years ago when ridicule, rejection and outright condemnation were the lot of a seeker through yoga even in its native land of India,” he wrote.

“Indeed, if I had become a sadhu, a mendicant holy man, wandering the great trunk roads of British India, begging bowl in hand, I would have met with less derision and won more respect.”

Iyengar paved the way for other - invariably far more flamboyant - yogis who would cater to everyone from supermodels to reality TV stars.

But when Iyengar first arrived in New York, 1956, his teachings and work were considered an abomination.  No one was interested in yoga.

Unruffled, Iyengar continued to teach to an ever expanding following. By the time he returned to America, in 1973, he found hundreds of students waiting.

The yoga 'industry' that has followed in Iyengar's wake is a hugely successful 'enterprise' but lacked in the holistic approach that he practiced and preached: Iyengar was renowned for his earthy, practical approach to spreading knowledge about yoga, once famously demanding that students gain a deep understanding of what they were doing with their bodies before embarking on the spiritual journey.

"Stand on your feet.  FEEL your feet.  How can you know God if you don't know your big toe?", he once quipped.

The news about the passing of 'Guruji' - as many referred to him - touched those at the very highest echelons of power. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was "deeply saddened" by the guru's death. 

His granddaughter Abhijata Sridhar-Iyengar said her grandfather recognized early on that yoga, up until then viewed as a mystical pursuit, “had something for everybody, not just the intellectually or spiritually inclined.”

“He felt satisfied,” she said. “Even at the end, even a few weeks before, he said, ‘I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.’ He took yoga to the world. He knew that.”

Iyengar is survived by his son Prashant and five daughters, Geeta, Vinita, Suchita, Sunita and Savitha.

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#MrBIG: Meet the 7′ 5″ Punjabi boy who has become the first Indian to sign to an NBA team

A 7' 5" Punjabi-Canadian university student has become the first Indian-origin player to sign to a National Basketball Association (NBA) team in the United States.

Sim Bhullar, 21, signed a summer contract with the California side Sacramento Kings on Monday in a move that could potentially pave the way to him signing to the team's full roster for the 2014-15 NBA season.

Born and raised in Toronto, where his Punjabi parents settled in the 1980's, Bhullar attends New Mexico State University on a basketball scholarship.

At 360 lbs, Bhullar was the biggest player in the recent NBA draft.

Despite some impressive performances for his University side the youngster was not awarded a full team contract as some experts were of the view that Bhullar is too "raw" and lacked the confidence required for the world's biggest, most lucrative Basketball league.

Nevertheless, experts believe that Bhullar can do for Basketball in India what former Chinese-origin NBA legend Yao Ming did for the sport in his country.

And Bhullar is thankful to get his foot on the extraordinarily competitive NBA ladder.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not everybody gets to do it…so it's an honour and a blessing and I just thank God every day for putting me in this situation."

Before he signed with the King's, Bhullar decided to drop out of university to concentrate on developing his professional career and is said to be working at a specialist Basketball academy in Las Vegas.

Bhullar says he is immensely proud to be representing India and the Indian Diaspora community around the world.

"Ultimately, the goal is to be one of the pioneers in Indian Basketball. Hopefully I want to lead the way for a lot of young Indians growing up to take up Basketball.

"With my career, I definitely want to look back and know that I've made an impact on the NBA and hopefully Basketball around the world".

Tall genes run in Bhullar's family. Father Avtar is 6' 5" while mom Varinder is 5' 10".

Sim's younger brother Tanveer stands 7' 3" tall and is also a promising basketball player.

Incidentally, the Sacramento Kings franchise is co-owned by Vivek Ranadive, a multi-millionaire technology tycoon who became the first man of Indian origin to own an NBA franchise when he bought the Golden State Warriors side in 2010.

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#RajeevSuri: Meet the new India-born CEO of Nokia

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia on Tuesday announced the appointment of India-born Rajeev Suri as its new CEO. The 46-year-old had been the leading candidate for the top job at the company which was bought over by Microsoft earlier this year. “I am honored to have been asked to take …

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#MarkInglis: Meet the double-amputee mountaineer inspiring a new generation of Indian leaders

The rain's lashing down virtually horizontally in London and the temperature is hovering just above freezing but Mark Inglis is clad in shorts and an alarmingly light shirt.

He's strutting around the lobby of an East London hotel, apparently showing off his high-tech, carbon-fibre prosthetic legs like a peacock displaying its feathers during mating season.

I'm slightly bemused and - having lived in London for too long - cynical about such overt displays of "different ability", especially in a world where the gap between the abilities of the able-bodied and those that are disabled is being bridged faster than you can say Oscar Pistorius.

But, it seems, there's a sound reason for waltzing around in shorts on a cold, wet February day in London.

The 53-year-old double amputee explains - as he's been forced to do a number of times while in London - that the shorts make it easier for him to adjust the receptacles of his prosthetic limbs, an adjustment that is frequently required as both his legs were amputated below the knee.

New Zealand-born Inglis has been battling my kind of cynicism since first losing his limbs more than 30 years ago.

An accomplished climber from a young age, Inglis had been working as a search-and-rescue mountaineer since the late 1970's.

In 1982, Inglis and his climbing partner became stranded on Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak, after a blizzard. The pair took shelter in a snow cave for 13 freezing days with both men suffering extensive frostbite. Inglis lost both his legs.

It was a devastating blow for a man for whom mountaineering and the great outdoors represented everything.

Undaunted by his disability however, Inglis went away to work on other things, becoming a Leukaemia researcher after earning a degree in Human Biochemistry and later applying his scientific knowledge to becoming an expert winemaker.

He also became a Paralympian, winning a cycling silver medal for New Zealand at the 2000 Sydney Games.

The mountains however, kept calling and in 2002, twenty long years after his accident, Inglis once again conquered Mount Cook.

And he kept climbing.

Four years later at the grand old age of 47, Inglis became the first ever double amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest, an extraordinary feat of physical and mental endurance that - despite being overshadowed by a controversy over the fate of British climber David Sharp - Sir Edmund Hillary described as "remarkable".

Since his ascent of Everest, Inglis has used his achievements to inspire others, travelling the world as a motivational speaker and leadership guru: arguably one of the most qualified in a world chock-full of motivational speakers and leadership gurus.

He is particularly sought after in India, a country on a constant search for leaders to shepherd in the right direction its seemingly infinite human and natural resources.

I caught up with Mark Inglis for a chat about climbing, India, the difference between leadership and management and Rahul Dravid.

(With apologies to accountants and the poor video quality owing to an overzealous lighting engineer).

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