Keep Calm And Do Yoga For Non-Political Reasons

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st June 2015.)

Today is International Yoga Day, so I assume you’re reading this while standing on your head and inhaling deeply through your toes. As you know, yoga is an ancient discipline that we’ve loved and respected ever since we learnt that Madonna was doing it. It seems to work great for her too – she doesn’t look a day over dead.

But yoga just got bigger thanks to Narendra Modi, whose 2014 address at the UN general assembly led to June 21 being declared as International Soft Power Day. The main event involves 37500 people performing yoga at Rajpath, which, on Republic Day, is used to showcase our deadliest weapons like nukes and BMWs piloted by Delhi boys. In addition to this, Indian missions are conducting yoga sessions in 192 countries, in a bid to create a world record on Most Number Of People Cramping Because Of Too Much Pizza In Life Day.

At this point, I’d like to add that I’m a yoga expert, having gone through an intensive training period of four sessions. No, seriously. I just took up yoga, and while I’d love to credit Mr. Modi for this, the truth is that much like Pepsi or Chandrachur Singh, it was never a first choice. A little injury I suffered last year prohibits me from taking up the fitness regime that I really like, which is to run and lift and look in the mirror every six seconds to see if my biceps have grown.

I needed something that didn’t look like it would kill me, and yoga was it. The fact that the instructor comes home, thus requiring minimal effort on my part, has nothing to do with my choice. (And now, if the government’s reading this, here’s a timely reminder that I’m really enjoying Ayush Spam Day.)

I have to admit that before I started yoga, I was wary of the pseudo-spiritual hook that’s sometimes used to peddle it. If someone tells me to breathe and stretch a certain way in order to build strength, it makes sense. But if someone tells me that they can see a glowing aura around my head, then I’ve probably been in a radioactive accident and will be turning into a superhero real soon. (This would be a good time to mention that I’m really enjoying the amazing rhetoric around Religious People Missing The Point Day.)

I was also hesitant because from the outside, yoga looks – and how do I say this politely – deathly boring. I mean where is the glamour in sitting in one place and pretending to be a human rubber band? I’m used to moving and grunting to the beat of ‘Aunty Pullss Bula Legi’ in a room that smells of socks and farts. That was real exercise, or so I thought, until I found myself on my back, trying to hold a leg raise and realised that I have the core strength of a grape. And this is just the easy bit – I can’t wait to turn into a hardcore yoga evangelist, at which point people will stop inviting me to parties.

The problem is that yoga doesn’t really have cool brand ambassadors that young people can look up to. There’s Baba Ramdev, who is cool if you are my grandmother, and Shilpa Shetty, who’s cool if you are Shamita Shetty. But other fitness regimes are always drawing new recruits. For example, you can’t walk ten steps without running into some CrossFit guy. You know he does CrossFit because this is how the conversation goes:

Me: Hello.

Guy: I’m great. Life is great when you CrossFit!

Me: Okay…

Guy: You wanna see a burpee? *does 200 burpees in two seconds*

Me: Dude, we’re at your grandfather’s funeral.


I’ve already started seeing the benefits of yoga. For example, I now have rock-hard abs and have been cured of my tendency to exaggerate. The asana I most enjoy is the shavasana, which is where you lie down, shut your eyes and zone out, pretty much like the BMC. And on that note, I’d like to say that I’m absolutely thrilled to have witnessed yet another The Government Tells You What To Do Day.

On Your Marks, Get Set, Pizza!

If you’re reading this in the morning, then congratulations on being one of the four people not running the Mumbai Marathon today. Seriously, the last time I saw thousands of Mumbaikars run in one direction, it was for a local train seat.

But what I like about the marathon is that every year, it gives so many people a chance to wake up and seize the day by vowing to run next year pakka I swear boss this year was full hectic with job and baby and winning Nobel prize and licking schezwan off my chin and all.

The Mumbai Marathon has grown spectacularly since its inception in 2004, mostly because new generations of women kept discovering Milind Soman and his short shorts. The fandom is completely understandable. For starters, Soman is a friggin’ Greek god whose idea of light cardio is jogging from Mumbai to Pune. And the heartless monster that he is, he probably doesn’t even stop at the Panvel McDonalds. Also, when it comes to sexy studful studly stud-type men, Milind Soman is pretty much the only Maharashtrian option on the table. The only other hot Maharashtrian is Chicken Kolhapuri.

The reason the marathon is so popular is because it’s accessible to everyone who’s not lazy. It features categories like the Senior Citizens’ Run aka You Can’t Say Anything Mean About This Because You’ll Look Like A Sociopath, the Champions With Disability Run aka This Will Make You Feel Small and of course, the Dream Run, which supports the most important charity of them all i.e. the I Just Wanted A New FB Display Picture Foundation.

I don’t know how this happens, but at some point in your late 20s, a bunch of your friends – people whose idea of exercise was picking up the phone to call the wine shop – will start running seriously. This is a good thing because when done right, running develops the most important muscle of all – your credit card. Because you can’t just go out and run anymore. What are you – a caveman? First, you need the right shoes, something with basic features like “AdiBok Nano-engineered Oxyrich air granules embedded in a lightweight sole made entirely from the burps of god.”

The clothes that you wear need to have been designed at NASA, because if they aren’t high-tech enough, your body will put on fat in protest. And of course, you’re a real runner only if you strap on some sort of activity tracker bracelet that connects to sixteen social networks to let everyone know about your vital signs, the distance you covered, your deepest and darkest fears, which Sex and the City character you are and so on. I wish these devices and apps would broadcast more honest updates, like these:

“Champak just checked into Potholed Running Surface Buzzing With Kamikaze Autowallahs.”

“Champak just slipped on dog poo. Impossible is nothing ki mother-sister, he says.”

“Champak just spotted a cute girl up ahead. He quickens his pace because girls like nothing more than a guy racing at them from behind.”

“ABORT ABORT ABORT! Girl is wearing trackpants that has the word JUICY emblazoned in bling across her butt.”

“Champak’s lungs are screaming for mercy. It has only been one kilometre. Screw this, he says.”

“Champak just updated his FB: Ran 5 kilometres today! Feeling alive! <Protein Shake Selfie.jpg> #Motivated #BornToRun #JeSuisPistorius”

The marathon is also a giant fancy dress party – it’s like Halloween for people who’re off candy. But when it comes to fantastical costumes, nobody can beat Anil Ambani, who turns up dressed like he’s one of us. I imagine him running across the city thinking, “Yeah, I own that… and that… and this bridge over here and all the slum-dwellers over there… and that white building at Nariman with the flag on top” until he spots Antilla, at which point he wishes it were the monsoon, because nobody can see his tears in the rain.

But my favourite marathon moment has to be the one where I wake up after it’s all over and everyone has gone home. It’s not like you need to watch it to know how it ends. Two things will happen: an African guy will win, and Rahul Bose will become relevant again.

Jokes aside, the marathon fosters a sense of community and bonding that this angry, overworked city so desperately needs. That is reason enough to run. I’ll do it next year pakka.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 18th Jan 2015.)

If You’re Fit And You Know It, Wiggle Your Pecs

Like most people, I can honestly say that fitness has always been my number one priority, unless I have to deal with more pressing concerns during the day, such as my job, my sleep, a new book, a new TV show, a new movie, a new bar, an old bar, discovering a cure for stupidity, or scratching my left armpit while imagining what I’d do if I were Edward Scissorhands (Step 1: Stop scratching.) Because, y’know, if it weren’t for these distractions, I’d totally have sixteen-pack abs and a chest so massive, builders would be scrambling to build malls on it.

But after a while, you get tired of the excuses and decide it’s time to get back to not being a water buffalo. This happens a few times a year, which is when I join, or rather, rejoin the gym. These places have changed over the years. Earlier, they offered features like ‘heavy stuff to lift’, ‘heavier stuff to lift’ and ‘an enclosed space flavoured with the essence of sweat and failure’.

Things are a bit more upmarket now, with the average gym trying to sell you sauna packages, spa treatments, massage services, aromatherapy, nutrition counselling (“If it tastes good, spit it out and whip yourself”) and new-age meditation sessions where they get Deepak Chopra to breathe heavily around your neck. But on the bright side, you lose weight the minute you join, because the staff takes away both your kidneys as payment.

My gym usually has more personal trainers than customers, and they’re always nice and friendly, probably because they know they can destroy me with a handshake. Not everyone goes in for the personal trainer option though, which is a shame, because it’s great for people who’ve forgotten how to count to 15 and need to be reminded by either Yogesh, Mahesh, Ganesh, or for variety, Irfan. (It’s interesting how certain names lend themselves to certain professions. I’d have a hard time trusting a trainer called, say, Rituparno, and if my neurosurgeon was called Santosh, he probably wouldn’t even let me into the operation theatre because “stags not allowed”.)

This return to the gym was extra special, because I underwent something called a BFA, aka Brutal Fat Analysis, which is where they make you stand on a machine and then point and laugh at you for an hour. Think of it this way: a weighing scale telling you that you’re fat is kinda like a tweet – short and succinct. The BFA machine does the same thing, but gives you the War and Peace version, minus the dragons. (OK fine, so I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure it would’ve been better with dragons.)

Trying to stay in shape is also a community activity, given that most people you know are also working out. This means that most people you know will also give you advice on fitness, which tends to be along the lines of “Don’t eat carbs after sunset, except on dates that are Pythagorean triplets, and even then, make sure to pair it with a high-protein dish such as the still-beating heart of a cheetah that you ripped out with your bare hands. Also, blahblahblah green tea.”

The best part is that you don’t even have to be fit to give advice. I get cocky and judgemental after about two days of exercise. The other day, I found myself saying, “Dude, you really shouldn’t eat that vada-pav. It’s full of calories, plus the oil they use is filthy. Why don’t you just order a nice grilled fish salad or something?” which is kind of an obnoxious thing to say to a homeless guy.

It’s going to be challenging, but I’m sure that if I keep at it, I will eventually get the body that I want, with just the right amount of fat and muscle. That’s also the thought that kept Hannibal Lecter going. That, and green tea.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st Apr 2013. Cross-posted from here.)