Mindfulness: K.M. Chandrashekaran – PGP 1976, First Batch IIMB

All of us would agree that life is a path of continuous journey, of many learnings and experiences. KM Chandrashekaran is an example for many as he is truly living the mantra. After a long successful corporate-run, while many call it quits and retire, he went on to begin the next chapter of his life.

An interest triggered during his student days has now become a way of life. Inspired by Sri. Aurobindo and the Mother of Pondicherry, Yoga Alliance International was founded by Swami Vidyanand and Mr. Chandrasekaran. YAI aims to spread the message and practices of Yoga to the world. He is also the author of two books – Yogatma and Fat Cats & other stories.

Mr. Chandrasekaran also happens to be one among the 48 candidates who were the first batch pass out of IIMB. He fondly recalls his days at the institute and shares his memories and experiences giving us a glimpse of the golden days.

Could you please tell us something about yourself.

I am the youngest of four brothers, and as such, enjoyed the benefits that this position in the family brings! My father, (who worked for Binny’s, once a great name in the textile industry in India ), and my mother had strong family ties to the famous Krishna temple in Guruvayur, in Kerala, where we went regularly during the summer holidays.  I did my schooling at St. Joseph’s Indian High School in Bangalore and went on to complete my B.Tech from IIT, Madras in 1973, before joining IIM-B in the first batch of the PG program. 

I worked  with companies of the Sarabhai group for a couple of years in Baroda, before joining Engineers India Limited in New Delhi, where I worked for several years. I  was also an independent  software consultant for many years, and worked on  projects for a diverse group of clients in the aviation, education and oil sectors. My wife – the late Dr. Shanti Chandrashekaran – was Professor of Genetics in IARI, Pusa. Our daughter Sumathi is a lawyer, educated in Singapore and France, who works as an independent consultant.

I have always been fond of reading and could be frequently found browsing at libraries in Bangalore. Having grown up in a musical household, I have regularly attended Carnatic and Hindustani classical music concerts, and nowadays, during the off-season, I like listening to vintage recordings of the greats. 

Can you kindly tell us about Yoga Alliance International, a yogic foundation that you are the co-founder of?

Yoga Alliance International was set up by Swami Vidyanand and me about 15 years ago. The inspiration for setting up such an institution came from Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry. 

On Aug 15, 1947, when India became free, Sri Aurobindo talked about his dreams for the new India. Among other things, he said:

“…The third dream was a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind. That unification of the human world is under way; there is an imperfect initiation organised by struggling against tremendous difficulties……
But an outward basis is not enough; there must grow up an international spirit and outlook, international forms and institutions must appear, perhaps such developments, as dual or multilateral citizenship, willed interchange or voluntary fusion of cultures. ” 

Setting up Yoga Alliance International (YAI)  as one such institution, promoting authentic Yoga traditions, was one small step in this direction.  YAI was set up as a certifying agency for Yoga schools worldwide. We now have over 400 YAI-certified schools from around the world as our members. Over 5000 students have obtained YAI certification and are teaching Yoga across the world. For additional information, you can check our website yogaalliance.in

How did you develop an interest in yoga and why did you decide to associate yourself with YAI.

The traditional answer to your question regarding my interest in Yoga would be that it is purva Janma phalam, or the result of good karma in a previous life! 

But to offer a more acceptable answer would be to say that my interest began when I was a student in IIM-B. There were Yoga classes being offered by the late Swami Poornananda, who advertised a short program of “remote-controlled pranayama”. He lived in Basavanagudi, in those days, close to our house in Jayanagar. I found the classes very interesting and easy to practice. I already had an interest in Indian philosophy and was a regular visitor to the Indian Institute of World Culture library where I also had the unforgettable pleasure of listening to great scholar-teachers like the late Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao in his home and at the World Culture library.

I met Swami Vidyanand – who has studied Yoga with the famous Swami Satyanand, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, and many others – around 2005 when he had just returned from Hong Kong, where he had been running a Yoga school for many years. I began attending his classes in the Sri Aurobindo Society in New Delhi, and when he talked to me about his idea for setting up an institution for Yoga, I was happy to join him in the effort. 

Can you please tell us more about your authored books – YOGATMA – The Spirit of Yoga & Fat Cats and other Stories.

About “YOGATMA – the Spirit of Yoga”:

The Vedic approach to learning any new subject involves three actions : first, there is sravana –  the act of listening to a teacher. Second, there is manana  or  the act of reflecting on what has been taught on the basis of one’s own knowledge. Third, there is nididhyasana – or the act of actually experiencing what has been understood. 

This book of short essays –  written for laypersons and not scholars –  attempts to follow this schema in the context of Yoga, (which like Love, is a ‘many-splendored thing’ ) and puts together my understanding of Yoga and its philosophical foundations, as exemplified in the Advaita of the sages of the Upanishads. 

About “FAT Cats and other stories”:

This collection of short stories, set mostly in the final decades of the last millennium, offer a glimpse into an earlier, gentler time, before the arrival of the ubiquitous smart phone, and before the Internet and 24-hour TV began to dominate our lives. 

Through an assortment of characters and a variety of locales, whether it is a gardener in Bangalore, or a gambler in Kathmandu, or a civil servant in Sierra Leone, or a salaryman in Delhi, this set of short stories opens up new worlds and gives new context to old, familiar places and things, evoking a panoply of emotions, ranging from shock to surprise to curiosity to sadness to joy. Readers seeking an escape from their hectic lifestyles will find these stories a pleasure to read and will re-discover the magic of words written to entertain.

As alumni of the first batch of IIMB, you would know the institute like very few others. Can you please share your experiences and memories of the days?

Prof N S Ramaswamy – of bullock-cart fame- was the Director of the Institute, but we did not see too much of him, as he was perennially busy getting the Institute going. Classes were held in the old St.Joseph’s College of Commerce, just off Richmond Road. We were living in politically fevered days, with Indira Gandhi’s emergency in place, and everyone, teachers and students alike were circumspect. I remember that the dinner organized for students and teachers after the convocation was boycotted by the students, as a gesture of political protest. 

Classes were held in the old St.Joseph’s College of Commerce, just off Richmond Road. We were living in politically fevered days, with Indira Gandhi’s emergency in place, and everyone, teachers and students alike were circumspect. I remember that the dinner organized for students and teachers after the convocation was boycotted by the students, as a gesture of political protest. 

The main hostel was in the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha building close to the Ashoka pillar in Jayanagar. Additional rooms were set up in the grounds to accommodate the students. An additional house had been hired, just behind our house,  for some students as well. I lived just behind the Sabha building, so getting to meet friends was easy. There was nothing much available by way of sports equipment – no gym or anything, so far as I can recall. But I seem to remember a trip to Mysore, where we played a cricket match at CFTRI – good fun! And I remember my mother hosting an Onam lunch for the Malayali students! 

Some of my classmates distinguished themselves in their careers. I remember  Radhakrishnan – who went on to become ISRO chief, and still wears many official hats – coming home one day, along with  C R Narayanaswamy (with whom I have been friends for a very long time)  – who is now a professor in the USA – to enquire about teachers for Carnatic music from my mother.  I remember tall Arun Balakrishnan – who went on to become head honcho in Hindustan Petroleum – working away to get the first magazine of the Institute out. Then, there was short Abhishek Mukherjee – who went on to become chairman of Compaq – sporting a pipe, and holding forth ! There was N. Vishwanathan – who went on to study at Stanford, and lived in a room down the corridor from Vikram Seth – with whom I had discussions on Vedanta and the like in Lalbagh. There was the other Vishwanathan, the flute player, who once accosted me on the street many years later, saying that he recognised the way I walked! There was Brahmachari, the only other Civil Engineer in our batch – I remember talking with him about the floods in Varanasi – he was from BHU – and about someone in his family who had become an Osho follower. And, there was energetic Venkatramaniah, from Andhra, who had decidedly firm views on many things, and had no hesitation in expressing them in his loud voice! There was talented Zahed – perhaps among the older ones in our class – who went on to become head of HMT, but who was well-known in our class in those days for having successfully wooed his boss’s daughter! Zahed was an excellent caricaturist and I think he created a small booklet with his drawings of all of us. As I used to drive a ‘Luna’ moped those days, I used to be called ‘moped’. There was Bala Bhaskaran, who also went on to become an academic in Gujarat, I think. There was Ramanan – who also now teaches in the US – and Sekhar – who is pretty active on Linked In, these days. And George Verghese – the piano player, and Yoga enthusiast – I saw him doing the head-stand one day – whom I knew from my hostel days in IIT. Many of us attended his wedding reception in the Lalbagh Glass House, I think. Many of us also attended the wedding of his friend from his Metallurgy days in IIT, and our classmate, the late  R.Venkatesh, who had a distinguished career as a consultant to various government sectors. Then, there were Arvind Hanumantgad , Poornachandra – who was much older to most of us, I think – and Aswathanarayana, and Kant, who were the Kannadigas in our batch. There were others whose names have faded in my memory, but we all had an enjoyable time in the Institute, I think, without all the stress and tensions that bedevil academia these days.

The professors were an interesting bunch of people.  Some of the teachers – just a few years older to us, but newly returned from the US –  held very strong political opinions of the ’socialist’ variety, and were disinclined to listen to others with contrary views! But there were  enjoyable no-hold barred discussions between the teachers and the students.

I remember the play that we put up – in which I had a silent role, holding up a newspaper! We had, of course, the local theatre luminary, and our Professor, Vijay Padaki helping things along on that effort. I think Prof MNV Nair was the Dean, and he tried to teach us some sociology. There were young and outspoken Economics teachers –   Prof. Bharat Jhunjhunwala, whose byline I still notice sometimes, and Prof. Vinod Vyasulu, whose first book I think, was published around the time that we were students. There was soft-spoken Gopal Valecha, who taught us Psychology, and Prof. VTD Balaraman, whose fondness for a quick one was well-known! And enthusiastic Prof Singhal, whose classes were well-presented and Prof P V Ganesan, who taught Materials Management. There was Prof Warrier, who was very systematic in his presentations on Law and Industrial Relations – of which most of us were clueless! And there was Prof Hirlekar, who taught us Statistics, classes that I enjoyed.

I think I have gone far enough down memory lane.. I will stop now! 🙂

Any key learnings from IIMB that you would like to share.

I think the most important take-away for me from the Institute – thanks to the enthusiastic faculty and my outspoken classmates – was that it fostered in one the ability to respect diversity without having to compromise on one’s own values. 

Any advice for younger alums.

To young people moving out of the Institute, I would say this: “There’s more to life than tech and finance and marketing and all the other subjects that one finds out about. To realize this and  to be able to balance all our interests, and to give energy and passion to  the discovery of the true nature of oneself, is perhaps the best thing that one can do.” 

A favourite quote.

In Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary view of Life, we are all moving towards an inevitable transformation, and his four-word aphorism “All Life is Yoga”, encapsulates this movement and is among my favorite quotations.