Some people genuinely go to the gym for the sole purpose of attaining fitness. But most, I suspect, are like me. I make sure that I go to the gym at least 5 days in a week. But I never push myself beyond my comfort levels. I will not do weights because of my doctor's advice; In 1985 when I had severe neck and back pain I had been advised not to lift any weights. And to this day I don't! I walk on the tread mill for about 20 minutes carefully ensuring that I don't ever increase the speed beyond 6. One has to be slow and steady to win the race, remember? On days I am in a good mood I use the cross trainer for about 10 minutes - that is on a couple of days a week. This is enough to assuage the pangs of my conscience and to nonchalantly tell the doctor during my periodic check-up that I am 'pretty regular at the gym' eliciting a nod of approval from her. In fact last time she even said that she admired my perseverance at my age while she herself rarely exercised. And I gave a very smug smile acknowledging the compliment. Well, it wasn't like I was lying to her. It is true that I am regular at the gym and she never asked me what I did there.

Since it is that time of the year when you begin to think of new year resolutions I was trying to make a list of areas where I needed to improve so I could choose the least difficult to work on in the coming year. That is when I had to admit that this is an aspect I could easily work on - one gram at a time. So I decided to observe my co-gymmers and see what I can learn from them.

This morning, by the time I reached the gym, two members were already there on the treadmill loudly arguing in Bengali about something. It was only after 5 minutes when they laughed together that I understood that they were having a cordial conversation. They always come together and throughout the time they are in the gym they have a conversation in Bengali. I suspect they are colleagues from the same department and this is an official meeting. Taking multi-tasking to new levels!

Then there is this other gentleman who walks into the gym, grabs the remote and sets the television to a news channel. E.v.e.r.y. morning - as though he is worried that during his one hour in the gym the world will change in ways he wont recognize when he steps out. I cannot believe that he cannot stay away from news even for the duration of his exercise. Or may be it is the news that helps him sweat more than the jog on the treadmill. He seems to suffer from a pain in the back as the trainer has to massage his back every morning at the end of his session. I can understand. When I watch news channels regularly I suffer from such ailments myself.

Some days I go there in the evening and that's the time the younger boys come. It warms the 'cockles of my heart' to see a few high school kids who prefer to spend time in the gym rather than on the internet. Observing them for a few days, I noticed that they did not progress beyond holding 3 kg dumbbells and moving their arms up and down while spending over 90 minutes in the gym; which is when I noticed the television again. Glamorously (un)dressed girls crooning love songs in a sexy voice - this would certainly not be a channel their parents might be happy to let them watch in their houses. It is even possible that the cable has been disconnected in their houses during their board exam years. Here they are - working out to their preferred music; Happy parents, happy kids, win -win!

Finally there are those who come to the gym, work out on every possible machine losing about 500 calories per session, hang from bars, pump with weights, top it with 5 minutes of skipping and 10 minutes of stretching and finally leave the gym dissatisfied that there are no more machines left to work on. This type scares me but mercifully they are very few in number.

At the end of these observations I have decided to increase my time at the Gym by 10 minutes from next month onwards. I have also identified the equipment on which I will spend these extra minutes - the foot-massager!
It is one thing to be sensitive about the implied violence or hurt to people in usage of certain terms and refraining from such usage and another about simply trying to be 'correct' and sweeping the underlying issue under the carpets. With most people I meet it is the latter. For example when people try to describe my complexion as dusky I do get irritated - why not call it dark and what is wrong with being dark anyway? That is the complexion of our race in the south of Vindhyas. It is genetic, it has to do with our ethnicity and I have no problem being that. So don't invent nicer names to describe it and make me feel bad. It is the same with a nice, plump figure - I suppose ethnically we are not an anorexic, thin race. Look at our statues on the temples. They are nicely plump and curvy and it was considered beautiful. I think there will be a lot less implied judgement if we freely used the words, 'fat', 'dark', 'old' etc rather than hushing them as if they were some kind of bad words. It is when you people try to go to great lengths to avoid using a term that you begin to get a feeling that it is not an acceptable state. I am pretty sure that people felt nice and beautiful in the dark and plump glory until some fair -skinned people came and started using 'dusky' and 'rounded' in hushed terms.

I noticed another dimension of the same kind of this 'correctness' violence in some American shows. Any reference to the ethnicity of people is considered incorrect - for example this white couple meet a doctor of South-Asian descent and one of them tries to make references to Asian culture and cuisine in the conversation much to the embarrassment of his white companion. The doctor herself coldly responds that she is not familiar with the Asian dishes he mentions as she is from Denver and NOT South Asia. To me the South Asian's refusal to acknowledge her ancestry seems more embarrassing than the White man's reference to her culture. Unless she feels that 'being American' is superior to 'being South Asian', why would she be upset by the man's South Asian references? And what is wrong with acknowledging your ethnicity/ ancestry/ origins?

Say it like it is and it is just a plain name for it. Try to tone it down, wrap it in semantics, used hushed tones and correct terminology - I know that you have contempt, pity or simply don't think it is alright to be that way. The term Devar adiyal were used for the temple dancers who were supposed to be servants of God. They were married to the temple deity and had some privileges during temple festivals.
Writer V. Sriram in his biography of a famous devdasi bangalore Nagaratnamma titled The devadasi and the saint writes:
The concept of dedicating women to temples, a common feature of most ancient civilisations, was well-known in South India. Devadasis, the handmaidens of God, were dedicated to the arts outside the temple precincts too, attached to kings and rich patrons and entertaining masses with music and dance. Many of them were literate, learned and enjoyed absolute right over all properties bequeathed to them by the temple, protected by a matriarchal system which ensured property went from mother to daughter. Girls were the preferred progeny here. "Chastity' was redefined by these women and they were never seen as common prostitutes.

It wasn't a bad word - it just meant handmaiden of God. When royal patronage stopped and their sources of income dwindled, girls of these families had to seek the patronage of wealthy men who expected favors from them and soon the term began to have a contemptuous connotation in society. Growing up I only knew of this as a bad swear word and never knew the origin of the word until I read about the devdasi tradition in South Indian temples. So when Nagarathnamma renovated the samadhi of the saint poet Thyagaraja in Tiruvaiyaru and had a function to open it to public she thundered into the microphone: I am a devar adiyal! She was one and she clearly felt no embarrassment being one. Oh, I would have given an arm and leg to see the faces of the judgmental people who were in the audience that day.

Thin, tall and fair are not universally normal.People come in all shapes, colors and sizes - just see the animal kingdom. If you want to feel good about how sensitive and humane you are , start by accepting diversity rather than hushing issues that you consider are not normal or not so good. Just let people be without making them feel bad about the way they are.

P.S.:Just read this myself. It seems almost like an extension of the topic of previous post! Well may be I am just a little too obsessed by this topic. Might as well publish and get it off my system!

A few days ago there was outrage over a Supreme court judge's use of the word 'keep" to describe the relationship between a man and a woman in a relationship the contract of marriage. An upset additional Solicitor general Ms.Indira Jaisingh condemned the usage and asked:
"How can the Supreme Court of India use the word 'kept' in the 21st century against a woman. Can a woman say that she has kept a man?"
It is true that the usage would shock the educated and independent women of today as they are not dependent on a man to 'keep' them or provide for them.. If they enter into a live-in relationship with a man it is for reasons other than needing a man to provide for them financially. In fact, it is only women with a high sense of independence who seem to prefer this kind of an arrangement over a married relationship.These people probably do not care to define their relationship in any terms - partnership or live-in or cohabitation.

On the other hand there is this vast other India which is totally patriarchal where the malice of men 'keeping' a woman been in practice overtly and covertly and we have all come across instances of the same. Inexperienced, helpless women taken by wealthy, influential men under their wings gradually settling into a relationship with these men . They are well provided for and protected and even enjoy a degree of respectability because of their association with the influential man but still they are not their wives. They are “andha veedu’ or ‘chinna veedu’. or simply WOH. Many temple dancers of South India have had wealthy patrons with whom they have been involved emotionally and physically without being married to them. It was probably necessary to get into this kind of arrangements for several reasons. In some cases it was not possible for the man to marry the woman because of distinctions of caste, class etc. In some cases it was also because the man was already married and could not legally marry another woman without divorcing the first. In most other cases it was because the man wanted both the women and this arrangement was convenient. In these cases both women were dependent on the man for their respectability; ironically their respect depended on a philanderer who by this very act should have been deprived of any respectability.But in a patriarchy, men get away with a lot.

Such arrangements are not uncommon even today especially among the disadvantaged sections of our society and the women involved in these relationships are entirely dependent on the man who ‘keeps’ them. These women lack education or self confidence and are not capable of fending for themselves. They do not have a family whose support they can count on. And because they do not have any property rights these women have sometimes been known to manipulate their men into transferring financial benefits to them depriving their wives and children. These relationships have been held in contempt by a society that holds marriage as a sacred institution. Since they want to secure the interests of the wife and children from a married relationship, they have refused to grant any recognition to these add-on relationships and the disrespectful and contemptible term ‘keep’ is just a reflection of the status that our society accords to these arrangements. So if we agree that it is not right for a man to cheat on his wife or use his power to exploit women, why do we want to dignify the ‘other’ relationship or sugar coat it with semantics? The contemptible term ‘keep’ simply symbolizes the contempt that society has for such relationships and perhaps will only act as a deterrent for women who may be tempted to get into such a relationship with a man? These are not’ significant others’ as they would probably not even find a mention if the man was interviewed, they are definitely not’ live-ins’ as the man lives elsewhere with his wife. The ‘other’ woman, 'Woh' , Chinna veedu, andha veedu –these terms are here to stay whether they are expunged from official documents are not. We can hope for them to disappear only when our women are educated and acquire financial independence and can tell the man to take a walk if they don't behave.

Until then I have no problem with the term ’keep’ to call a woman in such a vulnerable situation my only grouse is that the man who is at the bottom of all this problem gets away without any pejorative label – the CAD!