“Lady Gaga listens to me. Her mantra is only one word — Bikram — because Bikram makes her what she is today.” – Bikram Chowdhury
Recently, Vanity Fair Confidential, the popular true crime series ripped from the pages of Vanity Fair magazine, ran an exposé on Calcutta-born, Bikram Chowdhury, making infamous the man already famed for inventing Bikram Yoga – a grueling set of Hatha Yoga postures, set to baking 105°F heat.
The program headlined a seven million dollar pay-out ordered by a California judge to Chowdhury’s former legal advisor, Minakshi (Miki) Jaffa Bodden for wrongful termination and sexual harassment. Despite owning several dozen luxury cars including 13 Rolls Royces and a Daimler that belonged to reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes (complete with a toilet in the back seat), not to mention owning an 8000 sq. ft. mansion, the oft-braggadocios ‘yoga guru’ meekly claimed that he was all but bankrupt. His claims run in the face of estimates that his empire could be worth as much as US$ 75 million.
For California Superior Court Judge, Mark A. Borenstein, the solution was simple: put the assets into receivership to hedge against claims of Choudhury’s poverty.
“He tried to make himself judgment-proof,” said TGC Legal Analyst, Ela Sanyal. “But you can’t have it both ways – possess assets worth tens of millions of dollars, only to claim you can’t pay. Any decent judge will see through that smokescreen.”
By the time the judgment was handed down, Choudhury had fled the United States and his counsel had not appeared for him in court. Borenstein ordered proceeds from book sales and revenues from studios to be paid to a receiver, essentially resting control of the empire from the diminutive Bengali know for making larger-than-life claims. He also vested ownership interest in Bikram Yoga College of India Jaffa-Bodden via a ‘charging order’. Jaffa-Bodden said she was “elated” at the judgment, and her lawyer, Joseph Chora concluded that the decision was the first real step in enforcing the judgment.
Jaffa Bodden’s experience with Choudhury was a rollercoaster ride. She claimed that when Choudhury hired her – a result of his litigiousness in shutting down those whom he felt were copying his particular formula of twenty-six yoga postures and breathing exercises – it was her “dream job.”
In fact, she found herself developing a bond with him on a personal level.
“When I first arrived at Bikram Yoga in 2011, Bikram was quite charming.
Things changed fairly quickly, according to Jaffa-Boddenn.
” It wasn’t long until I saw his dark side. He would engage in inappropriate, cruel, harassing and sexist behaviour towards others, including the constant use of abusive and profane language and sexual gestures,”
The Indian-born Jaffa Bodden claimed Choudhury’s comportment was unprofessional, citing as an exampling his proclivity to conduct business in bed while being massaged beneath the covers by female devotees. On at least one occasion, he invited Jaffa-Bodden to join him on the mattress but she declined.
She claims that Choudhury started to retaliate against her when she started to investigate sexual assault allegations against him, which she felt fell under the purview of her job as his primary legal advisor. Thinking that she would gain some support from Choudhury’s wife, Rajashree (known as the ‘first lady’ of yoga un the USA) she found Mrs. Choudhury’s tone to be ominous as she counseled the Oxford-educated lawyer that she ws behaving in a way that was putting her and her daughter in jeopardy.
Rajashree Choudhury has since filed for divorce from Bikram, citing irreconcilable differences.
Jaffa-Bodden’s lawsuit also notes that Choudhury regularly created a “hypersexualized” and “degrading” environment for and “degrading” environment for women, and that he regularly used language such as “fat bitches,” “stupid bitches” and “fucking bitches” to talk about the women in his classes and training courses.
JAFFA BODDEN’S CREDIBILITY UNQUESTIONED , THOUGH SHE IS A FUGITIVE FROM JUSTICE, HERSELF
When She failed to appear in Court and a warrant of arrest was issued by the Cayman Islands Summary Court on the 2nd August 2004. While it is not clear whether she has returned the Cayman Islands since, the warrant as far as this publication is aware, still stands as outstanding, and she risks imminent arrest if she does return to that offshore tax haven.
A simple Google search on her name reveals the facts above. Why Choudhury’s lawyers and did not impugn her credibility on the above remains a mystery.
Moreover, the media has done little to find out more about Choudhury’s most successful litigant. Jafa-Bodden is listed in news reports as an Oxford educated lawyer and yet she got her LLB from the University of Birmingham. While she took it upon herself to investigate criminal allegations against her boss, criminal law is not listed among her areas of specialization. What is listed among the mainly business areas of law in which she claimed expertise in the Cayman Islands are trusts and restructuring. Interestingly, a trust ordered to restructure Chowdhury’s yoga empire happens to be the very vehicle by which she will claim her windfall.
While she claims, she herself suffered no actual sexual molestation, she has been awarded more than any other alleged victim – none of whom have her legal expertise in trusts and restructuring.
A FAMILY THING
By the time the judgment had been handed down, Chowdhury had already left the USA, and neither officials from his yoga college nor family members purported to know where he was.
By then, too, Bikram Chowdhury’s divorce from wife Rajashree had been finalized. She’d filed amidst the rape allegations and Jaffa-Boden’s investigation citing irreconcilable differences. While Chowdhury had referred to his wife as ‘a bitch’, and complained that she’d made their marriage sexless, the divorce was surprisingly amicable.
Rajashree and Bikram quickly came to terms in a settlement inked almost a year ago that saw her get two of the couples homes in Beverly Hills and Las Angeles and a property in Hawaii as well as a Ferrari, Mercedes 550 and Bentley. Bikram also agreed to her spousal support terms.
The couple have two adult children, and their daughter, Laju, is continuing the tradition of teaching yoga. Rather than distancing herself from her father as her mother has done, post-scandals, Laju authored an article for Women’s Health, defending her father’s legacy.
Bikram has since showed up at a state of the art luxury yoga training (apparently not financed by him but bearing his name) in Pune, India, and has taught yoga alongside Laju.
Both the timing and terms of the divorce as well as the apparent amicability within the family, has led many to question whether the Bikram-Rajashree divorce was one of convenience as it shielded the assets she received in the settlement from any suit brought against Bikram.
The loss of financial control of his empire and shuttering of Bikram Yoga Centres worldwide in certain cities has, apparently, not impacted the ability of Bikram and his family to travel, teach, and live a luxurious lifestyle.
Someone who knew him Calcutta has told TGC that he isn’t surprised when hearing of Bikram’s problems.
“He didn’t have a childhood,” said Yoga Guru Ritesh Maheswari. “He was plucked from his parents, and at age three; he learned the poses to perfection, winning competitions in India repeatedly. Absent the philosophical teaching, Bikram rendered the physical side of yoga as the star.”
Chowdhury apparently helped Richard Nixon get over his phlebitis. The US President had toured India long before ascending to high office, and had been aware of its therapeutic value. It was he who arranged for Chowdhury’s visa. Before long, Chowdhury came to understand that name-dropping could get clients. Former students Shirley Maclaine and Karim Abdul Jaffar helped grow his following. He would cultivate star power in the hopes that the shine would brighten his future. It did.
Yoga schools, franchising and teacher training followed, amalgamating to a multi-million dollar enterprise.
A young Chowdhury on his own in the US, who essentially grew up without his parents under the watchful eye of guru Bishnu Ghosh who’d mentored him and been a father figure, fell under the influence of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who had developed a large following when Chowdhury’s star was rising. Mahesh Yogi believed desired should be satiated before an individual can overcome them, so he advocated the acquiring of material wealth, and unrestrained sex with multiple partners (he became famous for holding orgies on his compound in Alabama). Mahesh Yogi wad driven around in a fleet of luxury cars including many Rolls Royce. Interestingly, Bikram would come to emulate his new mentor.
Essentially, Chowdhury was abandoned as a child, left to the charge of a teacher rather than true guardian, one who would have had his best interests in mind. He was a show dog from an early age, trained to perform on command.
Parental abandonment coupled with the rigors of being a child athlete, tend to leave the individual in question suffering from low self-esteem, depression, loneliness. Such patients often develop mood disorders like a borderline personality – bonding excessively with an individual and then when spurned, hating that same person. Impulse control and promiscuity are symptomatic of this, and delusions of grandeur to compensate for a deep-seated insecurity often accompany such conditions.
Chowdhury appears to exhibit all of these. While it doesn’t excuse rape, it seems a pity that, he didn’t face up to his problems – go to rehab for abandonment issues, find a deeper meaning in his morass. In the crisis, Chowdhury was given a chance for acknowledgement, making amends, catharsis. He chose to deny and run.
It’s no wonder that the yoga centres opened in his name in Pune are now shuttered with over a dozen police complaints having been made that people had paid large sums of money to learn, teach even, and weren’t even informed that the centres were closing, not to mention what would happen after in terms of offering restitution.
Bikram Chowdhury has again done his vanishing act. Where will he turn up next? Which version of himself will appear. These are the questions that echo through the walls of the now empty Bikram ‘Hot’ yoga studios.
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