Weighty Matter

December 12, 2006
This weight thing is something I just don’t get. See, I’m one of those people that are born fat and spend their entire lives trying to change that. For very few, very short periods in my life, I have been what I considered to be slim; slim, mind you, never thin, because in my book, thin is thinner than slim. In any case, it was a rare period that I had the good fortune to consider the matter of thin versus slim with regard to myself. Most of my life, I have been fighting a losing battle with jeans, trousers, sari-blouses, weighing scale, and – in the worst battles – even with shirts and bras and (horror of horrors) nighties.

All said and done, now is the fattest I have ever been. The needle on that wretched, accursed weighing machine never stops on the right side (that is, the left side) of 60. Add to that my age, which is only going in one direction, and the result is anatomical chaos.

There are parts of my anatomy that are frequently in contact with other parts of my anatomy that they have no business being in contact with.

There are parts of my anatomy that used to be visible to me without a mirror, that have suddenly and completely disappeared from my direct line of sight.

There are parts of my anatomy where bone and muscle are completely impossible to find even after the most diligent search; but blubber can be had by the fistful.

There are parts of my anatomy, in fact, that I don’t remember ever having been in existence before.

What I don’t get is why it should matter. I can still play tennis for upward of two hours on any given day. I can still go for a Himalayan trek at 15000 ft and walk upwards of 20 km a day at that altitude – and enjoy it. My annual health check-up shows that my HDL/LDL cholesterols are on very cordial terms with each other; and heart-rate, pulse, and blood pressure are all fine.

So, in short, I’m healthy. I’m fit. Why should it worry me if I wear 32-inch waist jeans instead of 26-inch? Why do I keep waiting to fit into clothes that have become impossibly tight, instead of just going out and buying new clothes?

I don’t know. But, like millions of other women, I worry about my hips, my tummy, my bust, my thighs – and, of course, my hair, not that that has anything to do with anything. I keep trying to diet, and never succeed. I keep stepping on the weighing machine, and get off it hurriedly. I keep promising myself that I’ll be “good” for two months – I’ll avoid all things sinful, specially cakes and ice creams, and I’ll certainly start tomorrow/on the weekend/next week/next month.

But, even though I so very much want to be slim (or even thin), something inside me keeps asking: “Why? Why does it matter?”

I just don’t get it.


June 1, 2006
7 a.m. on the tennis court. Sweat in my eyes. I’m gasping for breath, but I don’t realize it. My arm feels heavy; it’s tired of swinging. My legs are tired of running. The crisp “tuk-tuk” of balls hitting the centre of other people’s rackets fills the air, but I am not aware of it. My mind is entirely focused on my ball. It swings tantalizingly in front of my hungry eyes, just inches from the tip of my searching racket. My body despairs, but my spirit won’t give up; goaded on by shouts of, “You can. You can!” from across the net.

The sun is just up, rubbing its eyes and yawning as it peeks into the crowded courts. There’s a cool, fresh breeze, pushing the grey monsoon clouds away and revealing patches of cerulean blue sky. Despite the sweat, the breeze takes my breath away as I stand by the sidelines, trying desperately to recover from the past five minutes’ exertion and prepare for the next round.

Most days, it’s not this… well, thrilling, for want of a better word. Most days, I get to rally with a marker, or with another player. If I’m lucky my opponent will be much better than me and will mostly be able to return my wild shots, so that I can concentrate on trying to improve my stroke.

But if I’m really lucky, I get to play with Tennis Sir. Sir is a master of his craft. When I watch him play with others, I can see sheer rhythm, sheer music in his movements. I’ve never seen him make an effort – every stroke is effortless, smooth as silk, gentle as a breeze. Of course he sometimes sends the ball into the net; of course he sometimes (rare though it may be) has to exert himself to reach a ball; of course he sometimes stands and watches a winner sail past him. But all said and done, he’s a master of his craft, and, to a beginner like me (and I’m not the only one), he’s practically god.

Sir must at some point have had a real opportunity to pursue competitive tennis. He must, I’m sure, have dreamt big – and perhaps he might have been able to make it to a certain level of recognition. But, for whatever reason, he never did make it. Now he coaches at a tennis court, teaching the basics to slow, lazy, middle-aged people like me.

What would you expect: Bitterness? Frustration? Remorse, at least? As far as the naked eye can see, Sir has no time for any of these. Of course, I cannot vouch for how he feels deep inside, but to all appearances he is the most comfortable, easy-going, cheerful self-assured and genuinely nice person you could ever have the good luck to run across, on a tennis court or off it.

Does he feel threatened by players who could potentially pose a challenge to him? I must say that I have not seen any such player, so I can’t say. But that does tell you a thing or two about his mastery over the game. Does he, perhaps, actively ensure that there’s nobody on his courts who can threaten his superiority? Not as far as I can see. He makes every effort to help Amit, who’s the best player on the court, to improve his game. And though I’ve never seen them play competitively, Amit tells me that Sir could defeat him 6-1 or 6-2 if he put his mind to it.

And yet, when he plays against me, or some of the other women and kids whom he coaches, he’s as gentle and considerate as can be. When he wants to be, that is. Other times, he’s merciless: he’ll make you sprint from end to end of the court like a ping-pong ball for five minutes at a stretch and never allow you to give up till you’re ready to drop – all the while shouting encouragement or throwing out good-natured challenges at you. He’s a naturally good teacher: offering encouragement, constructive criticism, and best of all, praise only when it is truly earned.

On one of our multiple public holidays earlier this year, the courts remained open. I asked Sir if he didn’t mind that there was no holiday for him when the rest of the city – or country – was on holiday. No, he said. When it rains, it is holiday for practically three months.

And yet, when the first showers came, even when parts of the court were water logged, he was there, doing what he could to provide dry courts to all who came. One weekend the courts were to be closed to players due to a tournament being held there later in the day. At the last moment, Sir declared that courts would remain open. Why? Well, he felt bad because we had all missed out on tennis for three days that week due to rain.

I have admired, even idolized Sir ever since the day I met him. But only today did something about him strike me more consciously than ever before: he’s happy because he’s doing what he loves, this much is obvious. But he’s also happy because he’s helping people do what they love. He’s not working with people at work; he’s working with people at play. He’s working with people who’re there because they want to be. He’s working with people who pay money to be there. He’s working with people who groan when it rains, because it means no tennis the next day; it means they can sleep late the next morning, instead of getting up at 5 a.m. to be at the courts at the crack of dawn. He may not be at Wimbledon, and he may not train anyone who makes it to Wimbledon either, but when his “team” brings that kind of commitment, enthusiasm, devotion to the court, when every single person is striving every single day to do the best they can, wouldn’t any boss be happy?

Come to think of it, I don’t know about that. But the point is, he’s not any boss – he’s Tennis Sir and he’s the best!

A Walk in the Park

February 22, 2006
Last Friday, I worked from home. On Sunday, I developed a mild cold. On Monday night it turned into an extremely painful ear infection. By Wednesday evening, the infection was under control and I had been on sick leave for three days, and away from office almost an entire week. I was feeling apathetic and distinctly un-energetic, but I decided to go to the neighborhood park just to get out of the house. So off I went at the blissful hour of 5.30 pm.

The park was full of children of all ages, playing and running around. It is a large park, neatly divided into two parts. One part is full of manicured lawn with lush green grass and well-kept borders. The other part is a large, sandy playing field. Between the two parts, dividing them, is a set of high steps running the width of the park. After I had strolled around the park lazily a few times, I went up the steps and sat close to the top with leafy ferns brushing my hair.

From this vantage point, I could see three parallel games of cricket in progress and one football practice session. The cricket pitch closest to me had two small boys and two bigger boys comprising four teams (one per head, as is the way in such neighborhood games). One small boy was bowling and after a couple of balls, he decided (unilaterally) that the innings was up for the big boy at the crease. A certain amount of bargaining ensued at the end of which it was decided that the big boy at the crease was entitled to bat two more balls, and then he must retire (whether he was out or not).

After which, the two small boys started negotiations for the next batsman at the crease. Negotiations involved a variety of methods such as the old paper/stone/scissor method and the even older I’m-bigger-than-you method. Eventually the other big boy intervened (not the previous batsman), and (probably by dint of being bigger) was sent in to bat. The other big boy bowled, and at the first ball, bowled him out. This was hotly contested by the big boy at the crease, though it looked pretty indisputable to me. All sorts of fancy phrases thickened the air, from No Ball, through Dead Ball, to Wide. (Bowled out on a wide???)

Finally, the batsman cajoled the bowler to bowl again. This time he whacked the ball over the head of one of the little boys, standing at forward short leg (or long on, or long off, or gully or something; it’s all the same to me). The little fellow, seeing the ball coming at him with the speed of a bullet (actually, more like a punctured cycle), ducked his head, did something with his feet, and promptly fell down. Meanwhile, the cricket ball sailed well over where the little boy’s head had been and went and got entangled with the football.

Once it had been retrieved, the bowler bowled again and promptly bowled out the batsman. Again. The decision was contested this time too, but by now the batsman’s varied arguments distinctly lacked conviction.

One of the little boys took the bat, and the other little fellow bowled to him. Soon enough, he was bowled out too. But not before the batsman had taken a few swipes at the football which every so often wandered across the pitch.

In fact, the footballers didn’t seem very successful at keeping their ball in their arena – they mostly sent it across one of the three cricket pitches and had to wait for the cricketers to return it. At least they managed to keep it in the field – which is huge. The other day, when Chris and I had gone for a walk to the park (yes, we had; even if it sounds very Jane Austen-ish; we even carried apple juice and wafers and we picniced on the grass!) a football came shooting out of nowhere and hit her hard on the leg. And it really is a large field, I tell you.  

Based on all of which, I came to the conclusion that:

  • There is hope for the next generation of Indian bowlers,
  • But not so much for the batsmen,
  • And practically none at all for the footballers.
  • And, that a walk in the park is a better cure for an ear infection than antibiotics.

The Joys of Exercising

October 19, 2005

Imagine snuggling in bed, curling up with someone under a cozy blanket at 6 o’clock on a slightly chilly, rainy morning. Isn’t it the most wonderful thing in the world?

Now imagine the wretched alarm going off. First at 6, then at 6.15, then at 6.30! I feel like just destroying the miserable thing, the instrument of destruction of warmth, and sleep, and dreams, and love.

And why, pray, should I torment myself by setting the alarm for 6 a.m. in the first place, you may well ask. To get up and go for a morning walk? To give up snoozing and mooching under a blanket for vigorous exercise on a drizzly early morning? Wha..? Do I look stupid to you?

But that’s exactly what this stupid husband of mine has been persuading me to do. Sadist. Masochist. Considering that he’s the one I’m busy curling up with. What an idiot.

And all in the name of good health. Fitness. Weight loss. Humph!

So anyway, for the past few days I have been stumbling groggily around the neighborhood, sleep oozing out of my eyes. I even looked right through my next door neighbor as though she were a dream – and not of the nicest kind, either. I had to go and knock on her door and apologise to her later. I mean, one can’t afford to give offense to one’s default letter box, can one? She collects our post and couriers for us most of the time. Sometimes, when she hands it to us, she has this puzzled expression which Amit interprets to mean, “Why do you buy a flat if you never live in it?”

So anyway, off I go on my morning walk, unwashed, unbrushed, and only half dressed. One day, as I trotted around the park, I found that my socks were misbehaving. Sock, to be precise. It kept slipping under my heel and bunching up between the sole of my foot and the inside of my shoe. This was so irritating that I decided it was a sufficient reason to shorten my customary 40 minute-walk to a mere 20 minutes. Thereafter, I started wearing that sock much more often, until it finally got worn to shreds (it wasn’t in any great shape to start with) and Amit threw it out.

And then, today, he had a new trick up his sleeve. When I came back from my walk, I found him performing various masochistic contortions on the living room carpet, as is his wont (in the name of exercise). I didn’t bother to ask him what on earth he thought he was trying to do, and went about getting myself coffee, breakfast, and a hot shower. Somewhere in the midst of these activities, he appeared in front of me and said that he was trying to touch his head to his knee, which was quite impossible. “Like how,” I asked, falling into the trap promptly.

At once he got me to raise my leg above shoulder level, prop it on a handy piece of furniture, and bend over it till my head touched my knee. This, much to his irritation, I could do without major trouble. Then he got me to sit on the cold floor and try various other impossible positions, most of which I could do with varying degrees of success. Not bad!

At last, I realized that it was all a trick to get me to do some bending and stretching exercises! I don’t know what devious motives lie behind it…

And after all that, the blasted weighing scale doesn’t work properly either. It refuses to budge below 58! Useless machine.

Well, after so much strenuous exertion, I think I deserve a treat. Let me see what delicious item I can find for lunch. In fact, why wait that long, I’m even entitled to a pre-lunch snack. (I’m staying away from cup-cakes though.)

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