For an enthusiastic observer of human nature and eater of cakes like me, the gymnasium is a very useful place to be. There's one just next door to my house, so I go there quite regularly. And I always see all sorts of people - regulars, late comers, irregular-yet-oh-so-sincere types, 'freshers' and even the pumped up good for nothings who exist only to lower your morale. How is a gym a centre of observation you might ask me. Suppose you do.
When I walk into the gym, I look around me and I see all the different kinds of people there are in the world. No one type is left unrepresented. We are all different people from different backgrounds, with different problems in different lives, different professions, different workout schedules, different objectives and different differences. But what brings us together under the same roof, binds us together as one tribe, is our own hatred of and dissatisfaction with our shapes. We hate our paunch, we hate our spindly legs, we hate the flabby arms, and we hate the 40" inch waistlines. [Note: For the record, I have none of these. With the grace of my squash racquet, I'm quite alright physically. Just need some touching up. Hence.]
So what brought the wealthy businessman to the gym? What brought the "busy busy" housewife out from the kitchen? What made the teenage boy finally get off his PlayStation? What made the reed-thin girl get into her trackpants? The answer to these question is our look into human nature.
The rich, and well-fed businessman might offer several counterfeit causes for why he is here - the wife was nagging him, he always wanted to regain his former trim shape and now he had the time, his doctors were threatening to send him to a vet if he didnt. Tsk tsk...what are these if not excuses offered to push you off his case, and to help him laugh off his worries over himself.
Probe but a little into his life, and you see the truth he's hiding. The shame that reddens his face when he finds his laptop isnt ever on his lap, but more often on his belly. That is a reason. Ask him how long its been since he really saw his feet, and watch him lower his eyes abashed. That is another reason. Talk to him, and he will tell you how his 5 year old son bounced off his belly and fell down (injuring his elbow), when he tried to hug him yesterday. That is the reason.
He is here to regain his pride in himself, so that he can hug his son without endangering his life, so that he can shop at a regular mall instead of having a tailor design customized. May he succeed in his noble quest - the quest for size 36!
Why are so many hard-working housewives (or homemakers, if you must) seen at gyms nowadays? Are we finally breaking free of traditional bondages? Has it to do with upliftment of females in society? Is Bollywood a catalyst somehow? Really, what is it? This one took me a long time to figure out. Its a perplexing situation. I would not say that all the housewives are breaking away from traditions, that insist that they be one with their homes at all times or anything like that. Its not that.
A direct correlation can however be traced with Ekta Kapoor. More particularly, the rise of Ekta Kapoor as an assembly-line serial-maker (or killer you may say) can be correlated in a high and positive direction with the rise in number of housewives exercising at gyms per year. Look at the housewives on her shows. Each one of them in full bridal makeup at all times, and every single one with a perfect figure.
So, when the show takes a 20 year jump, they are seen on the screen as 50+ women who not only take good care of the resident Ba and the forever straying kids, but also seem to find time to do their daily push ups and stomach crunches. Won't that lead to extreme physical insecurity? The result is in front of us: Housewives are coming out in droves to the gyms, doing all the necessary exercises they can. They walk, they stretch, they lie down, they sit up again - the whole set. Then they rush back home to watch their idols take up arms to shoot their errant sons, back from mass-exile in Australia. Another bitter lesson learnt.
Just in case you don't believe me, here is some proof I'll toss in your face, dont mind. However much she works out, the exercising housewife will never take off her mangalsutra, because Tulsi never does. Or wear anything other than a salwar, because only the vamps dress like that. Never mind what common sense dictates. I keep expecting to see one of them in a sari one day, the pallu (like a hood) pulled up and all, a plate of puja ki samagri in her hands, keeping pace on the treadmill.
Similarly, the teenage boy and the 2-D girl have their own reasons to be at the gym. Everyone comes to the gym now. Its a bonhomous feeling inside - the mutual sharing of troubles, the silent confession of waist-sizes, the cheerful tales of not being able to reduce "this damned behind of mine". Its like the bar in Cheers - where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.
Overweight ladies share their troubles about their hips, the male hippopotamuses (is it hippopotamii?) laze around in the backwaters discussing their backache - its a peaceful, tranquil atmosphere. These are the real gym-users I realize, as I look upon them. The ones who are here every day with renewed hope, with fresh enthusiasm. They are the people who have to fight their bodies every day in the belief that it will be worth it one day. They share excitedly the news when they lose a kilo (giving out of sweets is strictly forbidden), and offer a listening ear and gentle encouragement whenever someone seems to be losing the faith. They cheer each other on to do a couple more minutes on the stepper, and try another round of stomach crunches.
They might reach their goals or they may not. Most of them don't. But that's not the point. Thats not why they are really here. The point of life is not in reaching the destination, its the journey. Its the time spent with fellow travellers, enjoying the road, doing the push ups and learning the lessons that really makes our life.
Once in a while, someone with a chiselled physique and rippling muscles walks in. The ice-cold stares send him packing within a week. Peace is fragile. One cannot allow it to be shattered thus.