Yet another New Year has dawned. It is time for me to exercise my tiny grey cells and fulfill my obligations to society by making a resolution. Ideally speaking, I should make one which does not get consigned to the dustbins of my pious intentions before the first week of January gets over.
I happen to be a self-proclaimed couch potato. When it comes to being a lazy bum, I am a leader amongst men. The resolution which has appealed to me since the past several years goes something like this:
‘I hereby resolve, like in all the previous years, to start doing some kind of exercise.’
Had one of the Master Wordsmiths of our times, P G Wodehouse, been around, he might have permitted me to express myself in the following manner.
A couple of decades back, I was content to crawl out of bed and undergo the daily ritual of performing the morning ablutions. I would then proceed to the breakfast table, all geared up to attack the deep-fried stuff on offer, accompanied by liberal helpings of milk, with dates, dry fruits and corn flakes thrown in for good measure. A glorious start to the proceedings of the day!
These days, life presents different challenges. A health-conscious spouse ensures that the breakfast table merely offers a slice of apple, a boiled egg sans yolk, and some oats, which, on my luckier days, come with a dash of soya milk. My digestive juices register a strong protest at the lack of attention being paid to them. My stomach grumbles, but to no avail. The day starts on a somber note.
The epidemic of strict dieting and supreme physical fitness pervades the collective conscience of the denizens of our country. If I am not a member of a gym, I am looked down upon. If I am not following exciting tips on achieving a life eternal on internet and social media, I am considered backward. Friends bandy about health-monitoring apps on their smart-phones, making me feel inadequate, unsuccessful and depressed.
I am continuously exhorted to follow a wide array of exercise regimen, ranging from complicated yogic postures to Larsen exercises popularized by Ashe Marson of ‘Something Fresh’ fame. Physicians of all kinds keep threatening me that if I fail to do so, I shall meet a fate worse than death. To help me achieve a healthier life, a mind-boggling variety of methods are on offer. Each of these is vying for my attention, promising salvation in the form of perfect physique and robust health.
Movies are full of the virtues of having six-pack abs. Heroes, oozing testosterone, routinely thrash villains by the dozen. After surviving all odds, they eventually end up in a tight embrace with a perfectly formed specimen of the delicately nurtured amongst us. Opening a magazine, I run into semi-nude demigods with stiff upper lips and finely chiseled bodies, eyeing me rather condescendingly. Their bulging muscles make me turn green with envy. Switching on a TV channel, I am apt to run into a Bollywood diva imparting lessons on all kinds of aerobic exercises. All this depresses me somewhat. Realization dawns that I have failed to live up to the exacting standards of physique in vogue these days.
The younger ones in the family keep prodding me in the ribs, exhorting me to join a gym of some kind or the other. A neighbor who fancies himself to be a friend keeps inviting me to join him in his daily morning 5-km walks. He is of the firm opinion that unless one bends, stretches and undergoes a rigorous regimen of gravity-defying yogic poses, one has no hope of being able to survive.
Exercising is not easy. There are insurmountable odds to be overcome. One, the weather often plays spoil sport. If it is too cold, I find it pretty demanding to get out of the warmth of my bedroom. If it is too hot, I shudder at the prospect of sweating profusely after having done the prescribed quota of jogging, push-ups or whatever. If it is raining, I have a perfect excuse to continue to laze around in bed, quietly sipping my morning dose of a tissue restorative. On some mornings, I am just not feeling energetic enough to start the day by troubling my body in any way. On others, the rush to work makes it feel like such a waste of time. Then there are several assignments to be completed even before one heads to office, making it well-nigh impossible to indulge in the luxury of an exercise of some sort or the other.
Then there is the handicap of living in cities. Cocooned in a concrete match-box, one’s endeavors to throw about one’s limbs end up upsetting a lot of stuff. This promptly starts a verbal World War III between me and my better half. If attempted in the small balcony, I am apt to be looked at with derision and amusement by all those enjoying their morning cup of tea in the balconies opposite. If some of them happen to belong to the tribe of the delicately nurtured, my fate is sealed.
Moreover, by their very nature, cities take a jaundiced view of any kind of physical exercise, unless undertaken with some practical object in view. I may run to catch a bus or a metro but no eyebrows would get raised. I may even chase a just-dislodged cap on a busy thoroughfare – without causing adverse comment. I may skip and jump so as to avoid either an auto rickshaw or a speeding car. But, if I run simply because I wish to strengthen my heart or jump because it improves my calf muscles, I merely invite sarcasm and ridicule.
The privacy of my own home is also illusory in nature. Before beginning an exercise routine, I have to ensure the maid is not around, lest my efforts are either greeted with some sly giggles or misconstrued as advances of an amorous kind. If the milk vendor comes in just when I am getting warmed up, an irritating break comes about.
Even if I am able to snatch some precious moments to take care of my body in the privacy of my own home, pretty soon it becomes highly monotonous. Anything done routinely becomes so very boring. If I were to invest in a stationary bicycle, the prospect of having to peddle it while watching a favorite movie on my TV/laptop is so very appalling. The bicycle would merely end up evolving into a frightfully expensive towel stand.
This philosophy – of body over mind – makes me pause and think if all this emphasis on physical improvement does not have an adverse effect on the soul.
If I were to become a very strong person physically, I would cease to be a peace-loving feather-weight crusader of sorts. Given my super size ego, I am sure to become a guy who could impart coaching on the subject of ‘How to Lose Friends and Win Enemies.’ I would give all my colleagues an inferiority complex. I would simply dominate all conversations I become a part of. To me, silence would cease to be golden. I shall go about with my chest expanded, a nuisance to all whom I encounter. All this would drive me further away from my own true self. Given my soft and delicate nature, my soul shall forever be in torment.
It would also affect my moral fiber. Rather than being modest, as at present, I would end up being proud of myself. When I run into a highly intelligent person not being able to touch his toes forty times without bending his knees, I would simply feel superior and look down upon him. The old reverence and the deferential attitude would simply evaporate. This would be morally corrupting.
After having brooded for some time over this predicament of Homo sapiens, I have realized that what humanity really needs is a system of spiritual exercises which shall develop the soul in a systematic manner. This way, the soul can keep pace with the muscles and the self-esteem.
By joining an organization which conducts group meditations, I have managed to be assured of at least two hours of sitting in a hard-backed chair in an upright posture every single day. During this time, spread over four sessions, I nudge my mind towards creative visualization. I imagine that I am doing all the yogic postures and pranayamas prescribed by the yogis of yore. In between, much like a commercial break on a TV channel, I allow my mind to hover over some pleasurable experience – a chat with the kids, an uproariously funny scene from a Bollywood flick, or a delicious meal enjoyed at a friend’s place recently. All this is done while sitting in my bedroom, or even while sipping my early morning restorative on the balcony.
An approach of this kind, when tried for a week recently, has worked wonders. It has helped me to overcome the deep feeling of guilt for not taking adequate care of my body. My moral fiber is intact. My soul is contented, having been given an opportunity to grow in tandem with my physical self.
To sum it up, my entire being feels happy and joyful. I am still my sober and delicate self. I continue with my humble frame of mind, admirably calculated to nullify the sinful pride generated by rigorous physical exercises.
My friends have already started asking me the secret of my youthfulness. I have no hesitation in spreading some cheer around by sharing with them the special exercise regimen I have developed for myself.
I do believe that I now have a New Year resolution which will not fade away into unsung glory, to be rediscovered only at the end of the year. Hope most of you have also been able to come up with ones which really get fulfilled.
Happy New Year!
(Dedicated to P G Wodehouse. Illustrations done by Tanya are gratefully acknowledged.)