Friday, 17 September 2010

Fighting the Flab

I'm no fitness freak, though I begin each month with the decision to diet and exercise. Then we'd either get invited to a meal somewhere, or we'd try out a new restaurant in the vicinity. Sometimes even the weather plays fiend, when it rains, making my morning walks impossible. Nonetheless, I tried for a while. Ro was instructed to wake me up in the morning (rudely if required) and pay no heed to my protests. I'd eventually wake up, put on my shoes, hook myself onto the walkman, and walk around the building. When this routine got boring, I ventured out. I was welcomed to the sight of cows grazing illegally on a vacant plot, and tea shops bustling with activity. Little grocery shops were ministering to a tiny trickle of customers, while the only barber shop on that road, pulled up its shutters. IT professionals drove past or walked towards the bus stop, while I walked by enjoying the sights. However, after a while, even this proved to be monotonous. And, with the onset of the rains, I had another excuse to stay home.

Then, when Adiv began school I suddenly found myself free for two hours. I dropped him off at school and waited in the car with two crossword puzzles, a book, my breakfast, and a phone. I enjoyed this alone time, but I also began nursing the possibility using this time to go exercise. I just needed to find a gym close to the school.

I took along Ro and Adiv to a gym I'd seen not too far away from school. The board that read "Fitness Studio", pointed to an old dilapidated building. Hesitantly, we walked up the narrow staircase that was caked with layers of dust and the remnants of notices that had once been plastered along its side. Careful not to touch the railing, we continued walking, ignoring the paan marks, the hand prints, and the handwritten proclamations of love on the wall. Eventually, two flights later, we got to the gym that was filled with equipment that looked unused and abandoned. On one side, two muscle men got up and give us their chairs.

"Please sit", said one, while rummaging through the contents of a drawer. Eventually he fished out a worn on price list.

One Month: 1000 Rs

Three Months: 2500 Rs


I feigned some enthusiasm, while Ro asked a few questions. Then we left. This wasn't the place for me. By then we'd spotted another gym on one of the bylanes. So we decided to try that out. Conviniently located beside a sweet stall, the staircase to this gym was a lot cleaner. On either side were pictures of very fit people exercising. Notices about the next kickboxing class, the aerobics class, and the dance classes filled the walls. Right on top, we were welcomed to the sight of a spacious, airy gym. A few women who'd just finished their workout were leaving, while we got in. A few still ran tirelessly on threadmills, while a few men lifted weights and stood around chatting. A friendly instructor came forward, this time bringing me a fancier price list. Deciding I like this place better, I paid up immediately and promised to return the following Monday.

Then I rushed out, bought some appropriate gym wear, and indulged in some calories. Afterall, I was going to begin gyming from Monday.
My first day was eventful. I walked in happily, after fighting the sweet odours emnating from the sweet shop next door. After warming up, I was led to a treadmill that I walked on cautiously, gradually increasing the speed. This was followed by ten minutes on the stepper, and another ten on the cycle. I was largely oblivious to the people around me, paying full attention to my reflection. I was going to shed some weight at get clothes. Perhaps I could work on shedding some weight before the next gettogether. Could I work on the treadmill and also go for walks? As I sweated, my weight loss ambitions grew bigger.
After a month in this gym, I noticed a nicer gym that had opened up right next to Adiv's school. If I got a membership there, I'd just have to drop Adiv and walk to the gym. So without wasting any time, I went to check out the place. This time, I was welcomed to the sight of newly bought equipment and 5 eager trainers. I was one of the first few people to get a membership and they were excited. They filled me in on their plans.
"We're going to start aerobics."
"We'll give everyone personalized training."
Excitement of this kind is often contagious. So I paid up immediately, and promised to return the next morning.
The next morning, I was led to the treadmill, where I walked for a few minutes before the trainer urged me to run. I did, only to stop few minutes later, huffing and panting. Then I was led into another room to carry weights, and do various exercises for the belly and feet. The enthusiastic trainer who needed to be reminded that it was time for me to to pick up Adiv, also urged me to diet and cut out the junk. I promised to try.
It's been a month in this place now, and I quite like it. Now I run comfortably on the treadmill and enjoy the strenuous exercises. I haven't been the most regular, but I look forward to staying fit and healthy. Since I began, more people have joined the fitness center, and I've even made a new friend in the process.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Teachers; a trip down memory lane

This teacher's day, I drove Adiv to several florists, before finding flowers that he liked. He gathered them in his arms (one for each teacher) and marched into school wearing a very pleased smile. The teachers gave him encouraging yelps of surprise, thereby doubling his pleasure. "Happy Teacher Day", he said carefully. Two minutes earlier, he'd said, "Happy Birthday Teacher day?"! However, this time he got it right.
I have distant memories of my first teacher, who tirelessly taught us rhymes in the most comical fashion. My father had been transferred to a little district in Assam, Cachar, where we endured several terrifying cyclones, and acquired numerous friends. There were few schools in the vicinity, and the only one that showed any promise had a very enthusiastic teacher who multi-tasked. She sang her rhymes loudly and clearly, while spelling every letter in the song.
"H-I-C-K, Hick, O-R-Y, Hickory...D-I-C-K, Dick, O-R-Y, Dickory....."
While I sat by the window, looking for any sign of my mom, this teacher sang to a class full of toddlers who would begin to spell before they began to talk.
After a four-year long stint in Assam, we moved to a dusty and dry township in Tamil Nadu. After the hills of Assam, the rains that ravaged rooftops, and the gardens that often had sightings of wild animals, Neyveli was a drastic change. This peaceful little township with the ageing bunglows and the barren gardens, had one popular CBSE school. It was run by a principal who was greatly feared. His morning assemblies notoriously went on for hours, when he would read out marks and humiliate students who hadn't done as well. He even had a special team of teachers who made sudden appearances in homes to check on students who were in their 12th. We were given tons of homework, that we finished, for fear of being dragged out in assembly. From that era, I only remember a teacher who taught Social studies (very well) with a pronounced tamilian accent, and a sullen Math teacher who scribbled furiously on the board and let it be known that she hated Christians.
A year in Kerala after Neyveli was a wonderful change. My new school was friendlier, and less intimidating. I found my voice and joined the choir. I even took small parts in an Independance Day play where I only had to drop dead. I made several friends, and began enjoying myself. Here again, it was my History teacher that I loved the most. She brought every character to life, making every war exciting. I joined the music class, and made futile attempts at stitching embroidery at the Arts and Craft class. After this year, I moved to the southern tip of India. Nagercoil (close to Kanyakumari) was what I needed to rejuvenate my soul. Despite rebelling about the frequent transfers, I loved it here. The only CBSE school there was run by a dreamer who wanted to make huge changes. He encouraged Shakespeare, music, drama, inter-school competitions, and a whole lot of fun. For classrooms we had little hut like buildings. For teachers, who had people who shared the principal's vision of how he wanted to bring change. Many of us thrived in this environment. It was here that I was encouraged to sing, attempt bigger parts in plays, read, and learn. Sadly, by the end of the year, my Dad had to move again.
This time we were moving to a bigger city. Chennai was bustling and crowded after quaint, peaceful Nagercoil where everyone knew almost everyone else. Nonetheless, I took to this city almost immediately. I liked the pace with which it moved, and I still had access to music teachers and libraries. School however was another nightmare. As we were always on the move, looked for CBSE schools. The one we joined did wonders for my brother, but did quite the opposite for me. From enjoying music and literature, I was suddenly thrust in an enviroment that was fiercely competitive. The class was divided into two sections. You were either working towards finding a seat in IIT or a university in the US, or you were well aquainted with the latest trends and fashions. As I fit into neither, I remained the outsider till I finished school. Here, the kids used their play time to finish up homework. Sadistic Math teachers gave up to 400 problems a day as homework. I struggled with homework, the frequent tests, the pressure. Students walked around saying they wanted to be brain surgeons and cardiologists, while I merely wanted to write and read. However, in the midst of that nightmare I found my silver lining. She was my classteacher and a strict one at that. She tolerated no nonsense, and had at some point made us all cry. Nonetheless, she transformed into a completely different being, when she explained poetry. If she seemed heartless and tough normally, she was mellow, gentle, and full of empathy, where she discussed poetry. It was then that I began to understand that her tough exterior was probably just a facade. Beneath the layers lived a gentle soul, who was never going to let her guard down. Thanks to her, I realized i wanted to study literature. I enjoyed it, and that was all that mattered.
In college, I finally met the teacher who'd teach me the biggest lesson of all. She insisted it was okay to be different, and not fit in. She encouraged us to read, make our own interpretations, and be brave enough to voice them. Then there was another, who taught us feminist literature. She repeatedly told us that we didn't need to fit into socially accepted, stereotypical moulds. She insisted we could lead complete, wholesome, successful lives, even without a man. We just had to be independant, strong, and confident.
While several teachers had given us the skills required to get to college, only these two had imparted life skills. They didn't feign interest in the sciences and seem apologetic about their fondness for literature. They didn't measure success by the the amount of money one would make, or colleges people went to. If you were happy doing what you did, you were just as successful. With that knowledge came a certain confidence that has stayed on for years after that.
Now that Adiv has started school, I'm pleased he has a nice trio of teachers who are kind, gentle, and funny. They seem to understand that every child is difference, and that difference is what is celebrated with the opportunities that are given to the kids. Nonetheless, as there is a long road ahead, I can only hope Adiv will have teachers who will be positive influences, imparting the life skills that he will require to a successful human being, and not just a successful professional.