At the gym

‘Not surprising’ said the young & pretty family doctor of ours - when I started to have problems with my lipids & TG’s & Cholesterol, and a chubby little tummy was starting to manifest itself. ‘You have to get more exercise, though things are not so bad yet’ she said. And thus I started getting pushed and prodded by my better half to exercise and ensure some longevity to this life. A family membership was promptly taken and I decided to ‘work out’ at the gym.

I was at first subjected to a good amount of ridicule by my second son who started by remarking that my shorts were too small and that my old tennis T shirts were too loose to be displayed in the open. Then the comment was that my trainers (I continued to call them canvas shoes to start with – we used to have brown canvas & white canvas shoes for gym & sports at school and the name stuck) were not of the latest types. I refused to listen to that or change my 10 year old trainers, they were Adidas and good. My son insisted that I wear Nike, but I rebelled and eventually in desperation purchased a black pair (again a question – black? You should only wear white) – of a lesser brand called ‘New balance’. Of course mothers take the son’s side, so I had a two against one situation in all these arguments. My shorts were vintage types with a lot of associated memories and I continued to use them. For those wondering, they were not so bad or so short, I did not look like the McEnroe in the picture, or like the very long stuff that reach knees (that is another style now - to drop the shorts to the knees and show your boxers). I used to carry my water bottle (sipper in today’s terms) and other things in a haversack during the tennis days. That idea was also shot down as it was not the right gear to carry to a gym. My son stated that there is no such term as haversack or knapsack - it is backpack and backpacks are anyway not used for such purposes as going to the gym. So I decided to carry a duffel bag (our esteemed airbag! When I explained this my son guffawed – airbag indeed!!). I had a biggish towel that I took for tennis, but that was not obviously right for you are supposed to sweat & drip in a gym. The next attack was on my tennis socks. It was supposedly completely out of tune, here you wear invisible or low rise socks, not the ‘oldie’ stuff that can be seen some 6” above your ankles.

The final addition to the ensemble was an mp3 player. Now you can imagine, I do not have an Ipod, I had a small ‘Sandisk’ player where I had loaded some of my favorite Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada songs. My son was astonished - ‘you are going to listen to that ‘Yesudoss’ chap while working out? ’ He rolled his eyes and with that stopped doling out further advise to the un-cool ‘old pop’.
So thus equipped, I trudged gingerly to the gym with an airbag, wearing a not so short but short shorts, a tighter company T shirt (one that I got free after a company outing), my new ‘N’ trainers, a water bottle (I planned to fill it with water at the gym drinking fountains – this was also considered terribly wrong – one should take real bottled water & twist the sealed cap off with a flourish each day according to the little fellow) and my ‘Sandisk’ mp3 player.

The girl at the reception a nice, pretty and well endowed girl, made me wish I was twenty years younger. So I sucked my stomach in, deepened my voice to make it sound like Mamooty (only to remember quickly that she would not even know who that was) and went up to her desk like I was a professional ‘work outer’. She ran the bar code of my card on her swiping machine and waved me in without even giving this superb specimen of humanity a once over. My son who was with me was many steps behind; he acted like he had no idea who I was once we stepped through the gym doors.

That first day two years ago was soon forgotten.

Soon I became one among the community of work outers; I purchased one of those longer shorts, some tighter dark T shirts and low rise socks after merciless pressure at home and got rid of the perfectly useful but old Adidas vintage shoes with great remorse. Now I go to the gym often, and it is great fun to watch and observe people as you ‘do your thing’.

You see a whole new class of sweating humanity. Yes, that is what it is on the surface, but as you see these people more often you could attempt to look into their lives and minds, if you wanted to, without ever speaking to them. This is what I do as I work out and as others subject me to the same analysis.

There is this couple. He looks at least 60 plus years old and obviously one who has just had a major surgery. His wife looks slightly younger and accompanies him religiously with the sole purpose of getting him back into shape. You can see the love of their years together and the absolute commitment to improve their lives after the setback. They can be seen consulting the trainers and struggling through the regimen, always the wife in the machine next to her husband’s, softly egging him on. Many a time, my eyes went moist observing this marvelous couple. On some gloomy days, they were the ones who kept me going. But the others were all quite different, by and far most people look serious and contented, some have friends whom they chat with, between routines though, many are shy, intensely private and hardly meet your eyes or look up.

There is the big workout hall that I stay away from. It is mostly full of young & attractive women, and no men. They can be seen pirouetting to various forms of music, goaded on by a vigorous trainer, one who I guess belonged to a circus ring in her previous life. They do yogic poses and dances and various other things like stepping on and off a low stool or rolling on big rubber balls. Since there are glass walls all around, it is good exercise for my eyes, tracking these women and their enjoyable movements.

Sometimes I see marvelous specimens of youth, and naturally only the female kind catches my eye. You see the types that even Hugh Heffner would take notice of, and you naturally get distracted. There are always young and active groups – friends from school, sometime it is a group of cheerleaders trying out their moves. Then of course there are innocent newbie’s who have been snared by trainers. For them it is like they have joined the army, a series of compulsory routines and exercises have to be done in full view of keenly observing public. They (usually young & attractive girls who think they have some extra flesh somewhere – I myself have always believed them perfectly fit and having the right amounts of flesh at the right places, but alas! they do not think so) are surely hoping to be rid of the trainer as quickly as possible and cursing their stars for the decision taken to come to the gym and say ‘yes’ to that trainer.

The basketball room is full of towering male hulks, mostly wearing Lakers insignia and massive basketball shoes, screaming & running and sweating and dunking the ball with glee. My son can often be seen playing ball with them, competing hard though not as tall or hefty. When he gets into that room, his language changes and the slightly ‘English’ accent becomes the hard American accent, as used by other basketballer’s. I stay well away from this place – it is not for me.

I have however tried out the ‘racquet ball’ room where you beat the hell out of a squidgy rubber ball with puny racquets (somewhat like squash) – you smash the black ball mercilessly on the wall in front and realize that the protesting ball does not even want to come back to you or your hitting partner. So you run to meet it and hit it harder…the process goes on for a while. After a few minutes, your knees scream in pain, your lungs are about to burst and you realize that you need to get back into shape before you come again into this room with the glass doors. Especially, when you notice young kids outside, observing your comic antics.

The machines are ok; the girls are always running on the treadmills or using the skiing thing, or cycling. I spend a while on the bikes and the said machines and manage to work off about 100 calories in 15 minutes. A trainer comes by to ask if I need some help. I vehemently state in the negative, scaring him away, for they are on the prowl to find ‘bakhras’ who can be bilked for the next few months off a few hundred dollars (you see, I have been warned by other Gym veterans). The cleaning lady walks by dusting and wiping the machines now and then and you wonder about their lives. You notice some people who are so fastidious and use the alcohol based cleaning cream after each machine so that germs don’t get into their system. Now and then you see some serene cycler’s using the versions where you can lean back and read as you cycle. They are, I believe, the ones who go back and nibble on biscuits & cucumber sandwiches while sipping green tea.

There is this room where they have something like a race going on. A trainer lady screams her head off into a mike and exhorts the stationery cyclists in front to imagine that they are riding up the Alps. She asks them to put the gears down to the 1st or 2nd and pedal away till your ears pop and your eyes bulge. Then she feels bad and agrees to ‘up a gear’ and thus continues the session. The men and women look like they have seen hell already – man! that is indeed not for me. They call this spinning.
I decided to go to the rowing machine. Always I am reminded of visiting Oxford and Cambridge and the rowing competition between them. So I start to imagine that I am with the Oxford team as I pull the oars, the wind from the spinning machine fans my face and I watch the display in front counting off the calories and strokes. I can manage about 20 minutes of that and manage to shed 100 more calories.

As you do all this, you notice the bodies, the thin, the thick, the healthy, the unhealthy, the sallow, the robust, the tough ones and also the solid military types (There are a number of them here, being close to a few army bases). And you start to notice the tattoos. You see the nice ones, a small butterfly on the small of the back or on the stomach, snakes, all kinds of vague shapes all straight from the tattooer’s dreams, I guess. Some have whole hands or legs tattooed; some nice looking girls come in fully dressed and demure. Once out of the changing rooms, you see them in full flow with rearing tattoos and a fierce expression instead. You wonder – what are they trying to say with these tattoos – some kind of rebellion? In the old days it was meant to signify territorial kinship, caste or religious affiliations, but today it is cool.

There are many whom you see just once and there are many regulars. The Indians typically (we have one or two in our gym) ignore each other and even change timings so that they never meet you again. But my wife also met a great lady the other day who gave us the ‘starter’ for the yogurt (curds) process at home. Alas! She is missing these days. We have many TV’s facing us as we work out, showing Larry king and other news readers or some kind of sport. Close caption text which is usually reeling out gibberish at the wrong (or dare I say right) times tell us what comes from those lips unless one can tune his FM receiver to a set frequency for each channel (I can do that with my ‘Sandisk’ – I tell my son, your Ipod can’t do that, and he goes mum).

The weight guys are nuts – they are the most serious of the lot and have such humongous muscles after pumping all that iron, and I think their sole reason for existence on this planet is only to make you snivelingly shameful. I remember the time when I could convince my sons that I had some muscle on the biceps, now they snigger when I roll up my sleeves to show they are still there.

The changing rooms are a shock for most Indians going the first time, as many men strip off in front of you (I am told it is the same in the women’s section). Some days they have gala feasts with DJ’s playing loud rock music and all that, all kinds of great food is served and they always ensure that garlic bread & pasta is on. The divine smell wafts through the whole cavernous hall and everybody has rumbling stomachs and yearning eyes. I think this is actually meant to ensure that you gorge on all that free food and are induced to come back for even more work out. I for one don’t eat any of that stuff – I get fine cooked food at home, so I have absolutely no interest. Strangely they have at least 5 restaurants just outside the gym and a great big liquor store!!

Ah well…it is time to wind up this rambling note and head off to the gym – who knows what I am going to see there today? Today I have plans to try out a new machine. Even though I have seen others handle it and have read the very tiny set of instructions that hardly make sense, I am still a wee bit worried that the handle may fly off my hands and somebody will see. Worry not, I will give it a go anyway and let you all know. With SPB singing ‘Nilave Vaa’ in my ears, and only for me, in South California today, I don’t think I will do wrong.


harimohan said…
well this is a new maddy post indeed the satire is apt and excellent ,enjoyed it
the gym seems to have given you an extra muscle in your lterary department
I used to wear those long wollen songs to gym too!! I still don't get why they have to be so low. You do observe a lot about the place...I guess young girls here are more weight obsessed than I have seen anywhere else! Fussing over every single pound, they are. I feel weird in their company sometimes. Enjoyed reading your post. Excellent satire.
Indrani said…
Maddy in a new literary form!
The flow as good and it was a fun-tastic read.
Maddy, your new avataar? I love it.
Happy Kitten said…
Wow! that was a good one..

So Indrani gave us "Charcoals" and you "feast for one's eyes" as some secrets to weight loss.
Nanditha Prabhu said…
nalla satirical moodilaanallo.......
enjoyed reading the whole piece...i could picture the whole account .....
kallu said…
Stepping from the Past into the Present - nice read Maddy. And astonished by all that vastness and the different types of equipment and workouts. Here, a gym would mean about 5 machines of which one wouldn't be working. But can identify with the canvas shoes and socks and your son not knowing who you are in the gym. :-)
Pradeep said…
Enjoyed reading this... In this age of globalisation, things aren't very dissimilar here in India.
so are you now a sartorially elegant gymmer?
I never expected such kind of a stuff comong from you. Nevertheless enjoyed reading upto the last stop.
Maddy said…
So many interesting comments - i am flattered. Actually this was written off the cuff and very quickly & I am happy you all liked it. maybe i will pen some more of these personal observation types in future..So, hari, lakshmi, indrani, HK, raji...thank you all.

Nanditha - ee moodil ezhuthan eppozhum pattunnilla. chila nerangalil chila manushyar.. ennamathiriyanu..

Kallu - here this gym business is big & lucrative - in fact in Europe as well. the problem is that once you join it is very difficult to get out of as well or change to another.The contracts are difficult to break.

Thanks pradeep and thanks cynic - that was a good one 'satorially elegant'. I am going to use that to personify yours faithfully from now on..

Thanks gauri - no - i did not buy expensive attire, then it would have been a nike and an iphone and the such...but let us say am more in tune with the public....

Thanks PNS - I enjoyed writing this as well - such moods come only rarely. I hope i can do such articles again - for i will enjoy writing when readers enjoy reading it...
Gauri said…
Well getting the right (and expensive) attire does indeed have its advantages, doesn't it? Now you just *have* to go to the gym regularly, at least for the 'paisa vasool' factor, if not anything else ;)

amreekandesi said…
Good point about the changing first time in one was an unforgettable experience.

Never before then had i seen so many naked people. Actually none.