The Hindu Sunday Magazine
The opportunities offered by Chinese cities have seen Indians take their place in the crush of fortune-seeking hopefuls.
MORE than 150 million Chinese continue to subsist on a dollar a day or less and tens of thousands are still willing to risk their lives attempting to smuggle themselves into the West. Nonetheless, in an ironic twist, a simultaneous reverse flow of peoples fighting to get into the country has also emerged.
In less than three decades, China has metamorphosed from a poor, agrarian society into the world's fourth largest economy. Its dramatic rise has sent ripples across the world, commanding global attention. Unsurprisingly then, the country has begun to exert a magnetic pull for foreigners who are flocking to Chinese shores like cats to cream.
All for better lives
These are people with hopes of finding better lives by hitching their futures to that of China's ascending star. Taking their place in this crush of fortune-seeking hopefuls is a handful of Indians: yoga teachers, restaurateurs, cooks, medical students, hotel doormen and anything-for-a-buck free-spirited adventurers.
Mohan Bhandari epitomises the China Dream that is beginning to seduce increasing numbers of Indians across the Great Wall. In just over three years, this yoga teacher from Rishikesh has gone on to establish a countrywide empire of yoga schools, numbering 51 centres at the last count.
Mohan was born in a small town in Garhwal and moved to Rishikesh as a teenager. After years of intensive yoga training, he started a moderately successful career as a yoga teacher, making between Rs, 10,000-15,000 a month. In the summer of 2003, his life took an unexpected turn when a stylish young Chinese woman swept into Rishikesh and signed up for his class.
This was Yin Yan, then China Editorial Director for the fashion magazine Elle who was spending an extended vacation travelling across India. Yin Yan proposed the idea of starting up a yoga boutique in Beijing to Mohan. She had already noticed that interest in yoga was steadily increasing among her social circle of wealthy, stressed-out friends.
These were people who exercised to keep fit and de-stress while simultaneously yearning for a vaguely defined spirituality; something to give their lives meaning beyond the materialism surrounding them.
Craze for yoga
Yin Yan decided that yoga was the perfect two-in-one fitness-cum-spirituality solution that China's new rich were looking for. She brought Mohan across to Beijing and together they established the first Yogi Yoga centre in the capital in late 2003.
The centre then had around a dozen or so regular students. Less then four years later, Yogi Yoga today has seven schools in Beijing boasting 3,500 students. Across China the number of people enrolled in Mohan's centres is well over 10,000. To meet the growing demand, Mohan has brought over 29 other yogis from India to join his staff and more are coming every month. "Rishikesh is empty now," he says smiling. "I am bringing people from Mumbai, Rajasthan, Jammu... everywhere."
Mohan pays these teachers between $750 and $2000 a month depending on th