Manhattan – New York. The clock on my computer turned to 12.00 pm, just as my manager walked into my cubicle. ‘Joining us for lunch? We are going to Patang’, he said, pronouncingPatang in his typical American way. Patang is an Indian restaurant in mid town that boasts of an authentic Indian cuisine.

I turned around and saw him and five others. ‘Come on buddy’, said Gopal, another colleague from India, ‘take a break from your regular soup diet!!’ Well, who could refuse an invitation to a good time outside the office! I joined them.

The restaurant was crowded.Our group headed straight for the buffet. As I was returning with my plate to our table, I noticed an elderly lady staring at me. She was wearing a traditional Chinese robe. I noticed she was sipping from a cup of tea. Masala Chai!?!, I wondered. She had a very pleasing countenance.
I settled down to eat and even as our group was discussing everything, from baseball to biochemical warfare..I could not help feeling her non-wavering stare.
Finally, she finished her chai and got up to leave. ‘Should be around 4 or 4 ½ feet tall’, I told myself. Her walk was as graceful as her looks. Her table was at the corner of the hall, and I noticed how almost everyone paused eating or chatting for a second, to glance at her.
To my amazement, she came straight to me. She stopped for a brief second and touched my right shoulder ever so lightly with her fingers. ‘Yoga’, she said and mumbled something, I thought was Chinese. And then she was gone..Like a misty cloud vaporizing in the heat, she disappeared into the city crowd.
‘So you do Yoga. Is she your student? What did she say?’. My manager’s voice brought me back to the table. I shook my head and smiled.
‘What is this Yoga anyway?’, asked Bob. ‘I would prefer my tennis anytime to sitting in some twisted pose and staring somewhere’. Bob was another colleague, very athletic.
Even before I ventured to answer, Gopal was quick to reply. ‘Oh! Yoga is a great practice that unites the Atma with the Paramatma; Our individual soul with the cosmic soul.’ Gopal was always eager to please and be the first to answer.
‘That’s mumbo jumbo’, replied my boss. Gopal smiled sheepishly, ‘It is mumbo jumbo even to me, but this is what the Indian scriptures say. Don’t they, Sunder?’
‘No; it is not necessarily what they say’, I replied. ‘ It is what we have interpreted. As always, ancient sciences like Yoga, Ayurveda or Astrology have been interpreted by clever pundits, down the ages, to suit their religious and political whims.’
‘So, what did these scriptures truly mean?’, asked Gopal
‘Nobody really knows’, I replied.
‘That’s true everywhere’, said Bob. ‘What’s your story?’
And I think we have the time’, our manager quipped. It was Friday afternoon, so I guess nobody was in a rush.
This was not the first time I was confronted with questions on Yoga. In my forty years of studying and practicing this science, I have come across many such situations.
‘Yoga comes from the root word Yug, which means ‘to yoke or unite’. I looked for expressions. Some eyebrows were up!
I took a deep breath and continued, ‘Yoga, to me, is a state of union between the body, the breath and the mind. When your body, breath and mind is in a state of complete harmony, you are in a state of Yoga.’ A couple of heads began nodding in agreement. Maybe I made some sense!
‘Bob, remember your best and worst matches in tennis’, I continued. ‘Do you ever remember playing a good game with a stretched ligament, or with your thoughts elsewhere? When you have the ball in hand and are ready to serve, what do you think is happening? You attention is on your serve, your body arches back and as you breathe out, you let go. And if all these were in perfect harmony, you serve exactly the way you wanted to. That is Yoga!’.
‘Yoga is a state of perfect inner harmony. From that state whatever you do - be it cooking, games or programming, the end results are par excellence.’
‘That makes a lot of sense’, said Bob, as he added, ‘now I have to tell my friends that all these days we weren’t playing tennis, we were practicing Yoga!!’. Everybody laughed. I excused myself to get a helping of the dessert. A buffet doesn’t come to an end without a generous helping of those decadent dishes.
Zhuo, our programming genius, came up behind me. ‘Which dessert do you recommend?, he asked looking at the variety of Indian delicacies. I pointed to the pan with warm gulab jamuns (a popular Indian dessert) without hesitation. ‘Those are my favorite’, I said as I helped myself to two delicious jamuns. While helping himself, Zhuo asked, ‘about this Yoga thing. Is it like Zen, or are they different?’
‘I suppose they are basically the same. Just different names in different languages referring to the same state of being - Zen, Yoga or Tao’, I replied, as we made our way back to the table.
For the next hour or so, I explained to the group, how Yoga could positively affect one’s self, one’s relationships, productivity and perceptions of life in general.
‘You have a lot of things going on, other than database tuning’, my manager said, as we were walking back to our office. Bob nicknamed me ‘Buddha’ and has been calling me that ever since!!!
As I was leaving my office that evening, I couldn’t help thinking about the lady in the restaurant. Her benign face and the soft words she spoke had been at the back of my mind, the whole afternoon. Usually, wherever I am, I try and tune myself with the environment around me, be it the office or the supermarket. The practice of yogic discipline, down the years, has taught me this - to BE in the present moment.
My master often said, ‘If you are truly in the present then you are Omnipresent’. And in the moment, therefore, it is not uncommon to receive unspoken messages from somewhere or somebody …a child’s innocent smile, or a youngster’s incessant questions!!
Sometimes when you are surrounded by nature, the infinite intelligence could communicate to you through the wind or a passing cloud, the rhythms of the waves or the chirping of birds. The trick, I learnt, is to be in the moment, and not get caught up in the past or the future.
‘Be in the moment’, I chided myself. I was in the elevator, leaving for home, as my mind kept going back to the afternoon in the restaurant.
The elevator stopped. It was always a trip down from the 45th floor. I walked out into the street. Almost suddenly, colors, sounds and vibrations exploded into my senses. ‘Its New York’, I told myself, ‘You HAVE to be in the moment’.
It was then that I saw her. Standing outside Starbucks, it was unmistakably her. Only this time, she was handing some brochures to passersby. I had to go past her to walk to my train station. I reached out for one of those brochures. She smiled in recognition as she saw me. I opened my mouth to speak, but she beat me to it.
‘Your Yoga needs fine tuning’, she said, this time, in flawless English. I was taken aback hearing her speak English so well! She smiled. ‘And you don’t need that’, she added amused, pointing to the brochure in my hand. I looked down at the piece of paper and laughed. It was for a salon with special discounts for haircuts!!!
As I walked away, I thought about what she said. ‘Fine Tuning’... Why did it sound so familiar? And, then it hit me like a thunderbolt.
Years ago, these were the very words of my master. Almost every day he used to chide me. ‘Hello there, yoga master!! Your practice needs fine tuning. Practice first, teach later’, he would say, every time I thought I was doing fine.
My legs felt a little shaky, but I kept walking! I could not afford to miss the train. That’s New York for you. Things keep happening; life goes on…
It was 6.30 p.m. An ambulance shrieked by on 42nd street. I briskly made my way to the Grand Central station. People everywhere were rushing home. I entered the subway, zigzagged my way through the crowds and managed to catch my train – just in time! This was an everyday story – rush out of office, rush into a train!
As the train sped on, I took a deep breath. ‘Fine Tuning!!’. My master’s benevolent face came to my mind. I closed my eyes for a brief moment, and spoke to Him silently, ‘Ok you win. I’ll work on fine tuning!’
And that's one thing, that's always been a work-in-progress!!


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