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.

We Are Anonymous, We Are Legion, We Are Clueless

When it comes to public opinion, the kindest thing you could say about Indians is that we’re an emotional people. It’s like saying that nuclear explosions may cause a bit of smog. This emotional storm is most apparent when people discuss the biggest rivalry in Indian politics today – Manmohan Singh vs. Vocal Cords.

OK no, I meant Modi vs. Rahul Gandhi. This contest heated up this week when Modi got a standing ovation from 1800 students in Delhi – no mean feat, given that the only other Gujarati man capable of arousing such passion and fervour is Falguni Pathak. Not to be outdone, Rahul Gandhi got 1400 new ‘likes’ and ‘cho chweet’ on his FB page the same day.  Or as the Congress calls it, ‘Sarkari Gandhi-Putra Chick Magnet Yojana’.

This Delhi trip spurred Modi-Gandhi debates in college canteens, offices and yes, all over the internet. These debates were marked by logical arguments backed by data gathered from credible sources, after which everyone shook hands, wished each others’ female relatives well and drove off to Neverland in a Batmobile powered by unicorns.

I’m fascinated by how politics and other complex issues of national importance – such as the economy and defence – attract idiots whose confidence increases in proportion to their ignorance. They then go around peddling opinions that are based on knowledge and expertise in the same way that the Nazi party was based on sweet interracial love. Don’t get me wrong. Indians are capable of great things as individuals, but put enough of us together and our collective IQ crashes faster than Salman at a bakery.

Also, the more complex the issue, the stupider our beliefs. For example, just go out and ask people a simple question like, “What is the capital of Nagaland?” and then watch them struggle before they finally give up and answer, “Momos?” (The actual capital of Nagaland is Baichung Bhutia)

But ask the same people about Kashmir, and watch them assault your senses with full confidence: “NUKE PAKISTAN! I’m telling you na! War is the only way. Go to war. Problem solved. Enough is enough. Now or never. Do or die. Boom boom time. Chak de India. Melody hai choclatey. Cheetah bhi peeta hai.”

It’s like they think that if they’re moronic enough, they’ll be summoned to the President’s office. I’d pay to see that happen:

President: So we’re having some trouble with Kashmir. I’m told you have a solution.

Conviction Man: Yes, I do.

President: And what is your exact area of expertise? Diplomacy? Political affairs? Military strategy? Covert ops?

Conviction Man: No, but I’ve seen Gadar, like, 15 times.

The problem is exacerbated by news channels that insist on having a finger on the pulse of the nation, and in doing so, reduce the most complex problems of our generation to simplistic polls, such as, ‘Do you think the government should increase military spending? a) Yes b) No.’ Really now? I want to see Option C, the honest option, which says, “I have no clue. The only news items I read are celebrity horoscopes. I’m just a BA pass from a college that doubles up as a hosiery shop in the evenings. All I want from life is to own a 1BHK in Dombivli, and to convince my wife to do that thing I saw in an MMS once, while I lie there thinking about her sister. SO STOP ASKING ME ABOUT THINGS I WILL NEVER FULLY UNDERSTAND!”

What’s the point of seeking public opinion on matters that require specialised knowledge? You wouldn’t do that with other specialised fields like, say, medicine. That would make hospital visits awkward:

Doctor: You have lung cancer. We were going to operate but…

Patient: But what?

Doctor: But Bansi Lal from Jaunpur just wrote in to say that it is a clear case of ‘Mata Chadh Gayi Hai’.


Doctor: So we’re just going to whack away at your tumour with a bunch of peacock feathers.

It would be great if most people just accepted the fact that they know nothing about most issues. We could also do that thing where we just ask questions about unfamiliar subjects. Asking questions came naturally to us as three-year-olds, back when we still thought of pants as a valid poop destination, so really, it shouldn’t be that hard now. I’m pretty sure that public discourse will improve over time. In fact, I’d bet my unicorn on it.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 10th Feb 2013.)

(P.S. I’ve been informed by the good people at HT that as of this Sunday, the column is back to being a weekly. So here’s a massive thank you to everyone who wrote in a few months ago, asking HT to make it so. You guys are the best. Like sex deep-fried in chocolate. Or something. See you next week.)