On May 18th 2009 K. Pattabhi Jois passed away at the age of 93. When this time of the year rolls around I find myself feeling very nostalgic about Guruji, thinking back on all of the memorable times we spent together over 30 years. There are enough memories to fill a book (which I will finish writing some day), but for now I will share just a couple of my favorites.
Although I had studied with Guruji on his trips to the states in 1978 and 1980, we were still getting to know each other when I made my first pilgrimage to Mysore in 1982. By the end of my first month in Mysore, Guruji had learned my name and recognized that I was a sincere and dedicated student. Somehow he also figured out that I was on a very tight budget and offered to let me stay in his home, rent free, for the remainder of my time in Mysore. I gratefully accepted his offer, and from that time onward felt like I was accepted as an unofficial member of the Jois family. Guruji’s wife, Amma, began to refer to me as her “American son” and introduced me to the finest in South Indian cuisine, which she prepared lovingly with her own hands. Guruji would light a fire to heat the water in the cistern every morning so I could have a warm bucket bath before practice. For much of my stay in Mysore that first trip I was the only foreign student so I was very sore from getting lots of very deep adjustments, and very appreciative of the hot water. After practice Guruji and I would sit and talk and drink Amma’s coffee. It was a very magical time for me. A couple of days before I left for home I asked Guruji if he would be willing to give me his official certification to teach. He hemmed and hawed a bit and finally agreed, but added that it would be a “little costly--$25.” I told him it was worth it and gladly paid him the money.
Over the next 22 years I made 15 trips to Mysore and also hosted and assisted Guruji 10 times in Encinitas. In the process we developed a strong bond of love and mutual respect. In 2004 Guruji was teaching in New York with his grandson Sharath when Sharath’s father, Rangaswamy, passed away suddenly. Guruji and Sharath had to return immediately to Mysore and cancelled their subsequent engagements in San Francisco and Encinitas. One of Guruji’s teaching commitments in San Francisco was to co-teach a tribute to his teacher, T. Krishnamacharya, with T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son. Around this time I received a call from Kausthub Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s grandson, who was organizing the tribute. Kausthub said he had talked to Guruji and asked who might be a suitable replacement for him. Guruji said, “Call Tim Miller.” Under the circumstances I didn’t feel like I could say no to this offer, even though I felt woefully inadequate to replace Guruji. On the first morning of the event, Kausthub took me to meet his father, T.K.V. Desikachar. I was feeling very nervous about the impending event. Perhaps sensing my anxiety, Mr. Desikachar picked up his cell phone and called Guruji. They spoke for a few minutes in Kannada, then Mr. Desikachar handed me the phone, saying, “Would you like to talk to Guruji?” I nodded, grabbed the phone and said, “Guruji?” He answered, “Yes Tim, what news?” I replied, “I’m here in San Francisco representing you at this event. Is there anything you’d like me to say on your behalf?” Guruji chuckled and said, “Ashtanga yoga method you know very well—you teach, no problem. When you coming Mysore?” In the space of just a few words Guruji had both given me a vote of confidence and told me that he loved me. It was just what I needed to hear.