Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Tribute to Freny Motivala


Iyengar yoga fraternity has lost yet another stalwart Mrs. Freny Motivala. She passed away in the morning of 8th April' 2016. Freny was born on 14th of June 1930. She was the third child to Mr. Meherji K. Palia and Mrs. Tehmi Meherji Palia with two elder brothers Fali Palia and Kali Palia. She was born and brought up in Mumbai. 

Freny got married to Sam Motivala on 6th March' 1952. She was survived with three daughters Tina, Anita and Diana who are excellent yoga teachers.

Sam and Freny Motivala were both the senior practitioners of Iyengar yoga and one of the earliest pupils of Guruji in Mumbai. Both of them worked as trustees of the 'Light on Yoga Research Trust.'  Having a steady and faithful group of students, she continued to teach yoga at her residence in Dadar till a year ago even at the age of 85.

She was the darling of Iyengar Yoga Community in Mumbai. The Iyengar Yoga community in Mumbai groomed and blossomed under the warmth of Freny and Sam. Many Iyengar yogis from Mumbai expressed their grief and conveyed condolences and shared their experiences with Freny Motivala on her demise; some of which are quoted below:-

"Freny was the senior most Iyengar yoga teacher in Mumbai. She has been teaching since 40 years in Mumbai. She has always been a mother figure for the LOYRT, always encouraging the junior teachers with positive thought and motivation. Beautiful within and without, she has been an inspiration to all who met her." - Firooza Ali Razvi, Mumbai. 


"She was a very warm, friendly and dignified personality. She approached Guruji on her father's advice who was staying in Pune who impressed upon her to try yoga with B.K.S. Iyengar to recover from a back injury that occurred on a fall in 1958 which led to arthritic changes with disc degeneration and doctors have said that surgery is the only cure. Her sincere and dedicated practice of yoga under the guidance of Guruji cured her completely in a span of two years. Since then she has continued with her practice, teaching and guiding to all who approached her." - Zarna Mohan, Hyderabad.


"Freny was truly one of the most ardent students of Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar. Together with her beloved husband, the Motivalas held the fort whenever Guruji was not able to come to Bombay in the 1960's. They conducted the weekend classes together with tremendous devotion to Guruji and his teaching. If one would weigh student's fidelity to Guruji she and Sam would score the highest. So often they would invite me to join them after class for a "high Tea" on their terrace. We have been together even at intensives in places like Mahabaleshwar, Panchagani and Matheran.

They together with Barjo Taraporewalla prepared me to be oriented to Guruji in the month of August 1968. We felt like one family and all her daughters and granddaughter have become part of my life. In 1995, Sam, Freny and Barjo brought Guruji to Vasai to inaugurate the 'Kripa Foundation Yoga Hall'. It was a weekend program and Guruji conducted a Pranayama class as well as he was felicitated at the Town hall in Vasai.

Her main quality was to absorb people's pain and offer understanding. It was not easy for students to take the teaching of Guruji which appeared very harsh and demanding. Freny would make us understand the Man and make us feel loved as Guruji's specially elected students. The Motivalas and specially Freny never sought any kind of limelight. They worked hard for the institute keeping themselves behind the scenes, never taking credit of their hard work. Sometimes I felt deeply touched by her humility and even at times being bypassed! In the growing atmosphere of sycophancy she moved away and perhaps has not been even known to the teaming millions who flocked around the stage of Guruji. Her nobility shown even more by her fidelity to teaching. All this reflected her inner spirituality. She was an angel amidst us and now we have an angel in heaven!" from her close admirer and friend. - Fr. Joe H. Pereira, Mumbai.


Everlasting memories of Freny Aunty - Rajvi Mehta, Mumbai

Freny Aunty holds a very special place in the hearts of the Iyengar Yoga fraternity, especially the students of Mumbai. There are innumerable adjectives that can be used to describe this soul -  Charming, beautiful, warm, kind, loving, positive, smart and chic.

Freny aunty was indeed a beautiful and charming lady. Even at the age of 85, if you saw her at any function – she was immaculately dressed and looked smart and chic in today’s parlance. Many women would often question her on how she had ‘maintained’ herself’! This visual splendor was also accompanied by a very warm and kind interior. She treated all her guests as ‘incarnation of God  - attithi devo bhava’. We will never forget the tasty sev puris and refreshing coffees among the many dishes that she has served us. Even if we landed up at her place at very short notice – we were ‘fed’ and the food being so tasty - we overfed ourselves. Even a few days before she passed away, when she was literally on her death-bed with not much energy, she insisted that we have the cold-drinks.

They have been hosts to Guruji’ family, the world famed Yehudi Menuhin and many international students of Iyengar Yoga have been hosted at their house, especially during various events. She brimmed of positivity, always game to do anything. A few days before the diagnosis of the ‘dreaded disease’, the news agency CNN-IBN wanted to do a show on yoga for the international day of yoga.. A few of us were to drive down to Pune and that included Freny aunty.. She had some knee and back pain.. signs of impending disease which was not known to anybody then. There was a concern about her make a day trip to Pune.  .. but not once did she complain. In fact, the camera men and the anchor were so ‘fascinated’ by her that she became the main ‘model’ at the age of 85. She was enthusiastically demonstrating so many asanas on the platform in the main hall of RIMYI. The back pain, the knee pain were all a thing of the past…Her energy levels were daunting.. It is here that she showed her devotion to Guruji and yoga.

There was another unique feature of both Sam and Freny and that was their humility. Despite all the closeness to THE yoga family, their decades of experience, their practice – they were very very humble. Both had no qualms about attending a class by the younger teachers and sometimes by the very junior ones. They were excellent mentors who silently would guide the budding teachers. Their concern was not only for the teacher at the current moment but also their future. I cannot but remember the tens of times that Sam uncle would tell us how to help optimally rather than burn ourselves out.

I feel that she had conquered the fear of death. She knew the end was not too far. A few days before she left us when she was invited to a program scheduled in June  - she mentioned “I will come if I am still here.” There was no melancholy but just a factual statement.  She left so gracefully…

Although we will miss her eternally; her smile, her memories, her voice, her photographs, her book will eternally remain with us.


Recollecting his memories Birjoo Mehta, Mumbai said,

"Freny Motiwala became a student of Guruji when he was in his forties. This was the period when he was demanding the most from his students. The classes at that time were intensely intense and it required a strong character, dedication and hard work just to cope. Being just about a decade younger, they had traveled with Guruji around India, spend their evenings together with him whenever he came to Mumbai and also hosted Lord Menuhin when he came to Mumbai at the invitation of Guruji. Being so close to him, they imbibed many impeccable qualities of Guruji. 

Freny was a warm and affectionate person always ready to take on something new, travel to new places, generous in everything including praise and with extremely positive outlook. She took the news of her illness with unbelievable composure. She was certainly not in denial when she she said that she had lived her life in full and in abundance and such an eventuality was certain. 

A few weeks before her passing, I was with her when some of her students dropped by to wish her. The affection that they had was evident. Then she remarked that Guruji has given us so much and what I have given to them is a fraction of what I have received from him and yet I am being given such respect and adoration for the little I have done for them. She felt saddened that she was not able to give back all that she had received. Such was her generosity and humility.

Being a trustee of the Light on Yoga Research Trust for many years, she was always supportive. She rarely missed any meeting of the trustees and at times when the meeting was held in her house, we never left without being fed her exquisite preparations.

She was friendly in  happy times, compassionate when times were not so happy, joyful in our virtues and overlooked our defects. A personification of Yoga Sutra 1.33."


I do not remember every leaving empty handed or on an empty stomach from the Motivala residence, Palia Mansion! Such was the hospitality we experienced even for a short visit. No one was sent without a cup or two of filter coffee if one resisted a meal!

Both Freny and Sam were fond of their rooftop garden. It was impossible not to notice how beautifully it bloomed. The piƩce de resistance was the Brahma kamal which bloomed once every few years and lasted a few hours. This was always photographed and the picture handed over to newspapers to publish.

The main connection was Iyengar Yoga. Here was one of the premier families of Iyengar Yoga where all the children along with the parents trooped into class unfailingly every weekend.

Though I was a newcomer to the group, (my family had already joined earlier while I was finishing boarding school) I felt welcome as though I always belonged. As youngsters, (at 18 I being the oldest of the children) we were given the vigorous treatment of balancing and back bending asana. One realizes now how they maintained the pulse of the young entrants as opposed to the "adults"! So there was never a dull moment. We eagerly looked forward to the Saturday/Sunday sessions during Guruji's absence. Here I must confess that my introduction to the subject was not through Guruji, but through his stalwart students during his absence. When Guruji returned from his visits abroad, I was formally admitted to the class and have never looked back since. I must also acknowledge the contribution of Burzo Taraporewala, Dhun Palkhiwala and Rati Unwala. They formed the backbone of the Mumbai students in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. 

I will forever miss the familiar goodbyes with the sentence that was their hallmark....'kai hoi to mane kayje' (If I can be of any help do let me know!). That was the byline with which they lived and they meant every word of it.

One must also acknowledge their stellar roles in building up/encouraging teachers and the LOYRT from its inception to very recently when Freny resigned from Trusteeship. They will always live in our hearts!  

Long live Sam and Freny! Recalls, Jawahar Bangera, Mumbai.


In Remembrance - By Zubin Zarthostimanesh, Mumbai
Today, it is difficult to imagine, but there was a time in India, when Iyengar Yoga had only one fixed address (even our Pune institute was born in 1973):
Palia Mansion, Near Five Gardens, Dadar. That place belonged to Freny And Sam Motiwala, started in the 60s.
With Freny’s passing on April 8, 2016, an era comes to an end. The era of relatively small but intense classes, where learning yoga was like a personal experience; where Yehudi Menuhin came for dinner; where one of their daughters, Anita, did a one-hour shirsasana in her Guru’s presence; where generations of yoga students and teachers came to be inducted into the wider Iyengar Yoga community.
 Yoga classes at their old-world-charm terrace-residence will never be the same again. Because Freny Motiwala was that last direct link with her Guru’s ethos. It was Guruji who made her do hanumanasana amongst other things after an accident incapacitated her and doctors told her she would never walk again. Her life thereafter became a walking example of the efficacy of her Guru’s touch and subject. She practiced and taught Iyengar Yoga until she slipped away quietly into the night in an effortless shavasana.

"She was a remarkable woman. A Friend and inspiration to so many of us." - Rita and Manouso, USA 


I would like to thank one and all who contributed in shaping up this blog. It all started with Firooza ma'am asking to write up something on facebook group of Iyengar yoga Hyderabad as a tribute to Freny. Thank you Firooza ji.

Special thanks to Rajvi ma'am who did rest of the job by communicating with all these people to get their comments. I was constantly engaged with Rajvi Ji over emails asking various information about Freny and she did reply me patiently without any hesitation in spite of her busy schedule. Thank you for bearing me.

Final thanks to Father Joe Pariera, Jawahar sir, Birjoo sir and Zarna Ma'am for sharing their thoughts. Without your support this blog wouldn't have become possible.

                                                                                                             - Ram Godar
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