Whether clad only in his modest Yoga briefs or the sheer white muslin Robes he affected in all weathers (accessorized with a white lady’s handbag), the yogi from Bihar was an eye-catching and familiar figure in the early 1980s. His weekly program on the state-run TV channel, Doordarshan, every Wednesday, made him India’s very first television guru and did much to popularize yoga, which Baba Ramdev would take forward decades later.
The first and most obvious question that springs to mind, considering the subject: did his physical beauty captivate Indira Gandhi? Certainly, She found him attractive, but to what extent, is in the realm of speculation. In a letter to her friend, the renowned American Photographer, Dorothy Norman, extensively quoted by her biographers, she wrote:
“I get up early these days to do a special set of exercises. It is a system (part of Yoga) that was taught to us by an excellent, good looking yogi. In fact, it was his looks, especially his magnificent body, which attracted everyone to his system which is easy and practical. He is, however exasperating to talk to- so full of superstition.“
She appeared to have gotten over the exasperation because the yoga guru went on to become a fixture in her household; conjecture over whether they shared an intimate relationship runs into reams, some of it sheer nonsense but some not quite unconvincing.
Through the 1960s, rumour was rife that she was besotted with her yoga teacher, with whom she spent an hour every morning. Katherine Frank in her Biography of Indira Gandhi, recounted gossip about her numerous affairs, including the alleged dalliance with Dhirendra. “Brahmachari was the only man to see Indira alone in her room while giving her yoga instruction and he was the only male with whom she could have had a relationship during this period.”
The late author and journalist, Khushwant Singh, who was at one time close to the Nehrus, commented with the characteristic irreverence, “Dhirendra Brahmachari was a tall, handsome Bihari who had an hour with Indira behind closed doors every morning. Yoga lessons may have ended up with lessons from the Kamasutra.” Gradually, Brahmachari’s proximity to Indira and his penchant for influence–peddling earned him the sobriquet of “Indian Rasputin”.
P.D.Tandon however, dismissed Katherine Frank’s version as salacious gossip and pointed out that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who asked the Brahmachari to teach his daughter yoga and even sat in on some of lessons.
[ Excerpted with permission from “Gurus : Stories of India's Leading Babas” by Bhavdeep Kang, Westland Books, June 2016. Views expressed are writer’s personal ]