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.
Ashish Shakya is a writer and a stand-up comic. He co-writes the TV satire, The Week That Wasn’t. Sometimes he’s even sober while doing so.