(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 2nd May 2009)
One of my uncles, who has certified himself as the wisest of his parents’ offspring, often tells me life begins to turn a full circle when one turns forty. So you either begin to count backwards from the age of forty-one or you begin with the tabula rasa of a zero-year-old. Over the years, I have come to believe the aspect of life for which this axiom holds most true is fitness.
My own experiments with fitness have been varied, and have had equally eccentric results. There was a time when my grandmother considered me to be in the pink of health, and I used to struggle sideways through open doors. Then there was a time when my little brother would lift me high into the air and refuse to put me down till I gave him money. (At that time, my grandmother said concentration camps would have rejected me because their work was done anyway, and reminded me wistfully of the happy days when I used to struggle sideways through doors.) The epiphany about fitness came to me at some point in the middle of this journey.
Weighing close to eighty kilograms, I once went to a gym to see if I could bring myself to use the contraptions there to better myself. The members of the gym could be divided into two categories – women in their mid-fifties who made me feel like the sveltest creature to have hit the earth since Ginger Rogers, and teenagers who clearly weighed about twenty kilograms more than I did, and looked self-conscious enough to make me feel confident. My alliance with the gym was broken that day.
A woman I had once worked with told me recently that she and her sixteen-year-old daughter had joined belly-dancing classes. Her daughter had insisted they join different batches, and her husband kept his eyes averted every time the two of them walked in, afraid he would catch a glimpse of pink spandex in place of a cotton sari.“We never had all this when I was growing up, you know,” she said, “these kids are so lucky! I’m not going to miss out on this now!”
It was while I was pondering the question of what brought on this burst of fitness-consciousness in one’s middle age, when one would think one is entitled to sit back and attribute one’s lack of fitness to age, and wax poetic about how one had put tubelights to shame when one was younger, that I had my personal Revelation. The residential complex I stay in had an excuse for a park, with excuses for paved paths. It was on one of these excuses that I saw two women storming along in synthetic salwar-kameez with the dupatta tied around the waist, and white canvas shoes.
“Five rounds,” one of them said, as they passed me, “now I can have this pizza-shizza Sahil keeps ordering.”
“My tenant said they get tired of it by the time they’re in their twenties,” panted the other, “so we can stop all this in some four-five years.”