10-Nov-2006

Fit and Fat

The buzz word in my office these days is fitness. The first person to wake up to the ever increasing layers of lard a sedate job provides was P. She promptly signed up for a membership at a neighbourhood gym. She has also now been inducted into a competition where the gym members form groups of three and see which group has managed to lose the most weight overall. I am glad to report that I gave some good advice viz pair up with really fat people. It will be easier for them to lose 5 kgs as opposed to a thin person. P also took this advice but has now discovered that fat people are fat because they don’t like going to the gym. Consequently she has not seen her groupies at the gym and now glares at me any time we discuss the gym.


The next person forced into the bandwagon is my senior colleague. His wife gave him a six-month membership to a gym and the sunk cost motivated him to get started. The first day was an eye opening experience for a man who had not seen the inside of a gym in a long time. There was an impressive array of instruments to tell him his scores on BMI, fat %, energy levels etc. At the end of it, his muscular instructor balefully informed him that he had failed on every count and it was time to hit the treadmill running. Feeling a bit like an under-performing school child, my colleague nodded and went to the first available machine. This involved sitting down and pedaling with his hands – an activity designed to discourage even the most hardcore gym enthusiasts with the utter monotony of the action. This also gave plenty of time for my colleague to observe other members and that is when he realized that if he was ever going to fit into this gym, he would not be able to afford an inheritance for atleast one of this children. The average gym-goer was outfitted in branded track pants, t-shirts, head bands and shoes (totaling around INR 12000). Some of them even had bands wrapped around their knees or elbows that had a discrete Swoosh. My colleague had worn a pair of tracks and t-shirt he had got as a part of our last office offsite. The gym-goer also moved about with an array of accessories including latest version of an ipod (around INR 24000) and a sipper (around INR 2000) containing Gatorade (INR 200. Remember this stuff is imported here). My colleague seemed to be the only person listening to the piped music playing overhead and drinking water from the water dispenser. All this has not had a great effect on his overall enthusiasm levels. However, the fee will have to written off unless he is willing to throw in the time. And he is.

I took a cue from all this and signed up for fitness classes. After listening to my colleagues’ gym experiences, I decided to stick to aerobics. Aerobics in India is the stronghold of middle aged women making meek attempts at shedding half a lifetime’s worth of fat. If you look from above, the effect is usually like watching a herd of hippos, clothed in pink, jiggling limbs and being a bit short on breadth. Of course as an exception to this rule, there is always one woman who will be very enthusiastic, jumping while others walk, lifting 5 kgs when others fumble over 1 kg weights and overall, inviting the wrath of everyone else. My class followed the stereotype to the T. The only exception was a single male member, looking like an intruder in a harem. The class began and I got into the groove while closely observing the enthusiastic member of our class. For some reason, she had decided to come to class with plenty of make up. As the class progressed, I watched fascinated, as her make up also began to slowly run down. At the end of half an hour there were streaks of mascara running down her cheeks joining the rivulets of foundation, beginning to merge with the island of red lipstick At the end of the class, they had all successfully become one single Picasso-esque picture worth a half million dollars at Sotheby. I was curious to see if she achieved this effect day after day. Sadly I have not gone back to class due to a string of excuses. But clearly there is some motivation for me to go back.


The champion of all exercising however continues to be my colleague. Claiming to have absolutely no time to reign in his expanding waistline, he finally did only what the really living-in-denial would do. He bought a Morning Walker. This is a piece of equipment on which you place your legs and lie down. Then you turn it on using a remote. The machine simulates walking and apparently you lose the same amount of weight that you would have had you gone for a walk instead. If this was not incredulous enough to hear, my colleague also added with much melancholy that he did not even find the time to use the Morning Walker.

Hmmm. Atleast I have signed up for the aerobics classes even if I have not gone more than once.
p.s. The title of this post is inspired by an award winning slogan my sis once wrote for a competition. It went something like 'I like Kellogs because it helps me stay slim and fit and not round and fat'. Simple, to the point and very powerful. Also she was still in school when she wrote this.

07-Nov-2006

Cochin Chronicle

I must perhaps be the last person in my circle of friends to have visited Cochin. Everyone person to whom I have talked after my trip has had his/her share of Cochin stories and just writing about it seems a bit pointless. However, as the wise men would say, everyone makes a different journey (Ah, I made up that quote actually..)


Thanks to our local newspaper, which actually gives news about things other than movies, I had had a chance to read about the Cochin Jews. So like everyone else I flocked to the Jew Town to see the Synagogue as also catch a glimpse of the fast dwindling race. I must admit doing the latter made me feel quite pathetic since it is an invasion of people’s privacy to say the least. I did not have worried. Jew Town was filled with Malayalis selling antiques and Delhites selling silver jewellery and shawls. The Synagogue was closed and I had no option but to browse through the shops. They turned out to contain some fairly interesting curios. Of course, the natives had even managed to put on sale the black and white photographs from two generations ago – neat rows of people in their Sunday best pasted onto a big fraying brownish cardboard. I mentally decided that if I actually saw anyone buy it, I would go and raid my grandmother’s house for some snaps and put it up on E-bay with some fancy title such as ‘Young girl in traditional Tamil dress, circa 1920’. Just when I was leaving the place, I managed to see a couple of Jews. Atleast I think they were Jews. There was something Parsi-like about them – the same white and withering skin symbolizing the lack of sufficient people in the younger generation and signaling the end of an era. Most Cochin Jews have already migrated to Israel and other places and the rest would probably have to make a choice about maintaining ethnicity and dying single or marrying outside and changing the gene pool.

The next stop was at the Dutch Palace. A signboard informed me that the Dutch had given it to the then reigning king of Kerela from the Varma dynasty. Hence the palace was filled with Hindu murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana. The murals were pretty colourful and only if you looked carefully and read the instructions given below you could understand what stories were depicted. After some careful looking and reading the instructions, I finally figured out what the drawings were and my eyes grew wider, to say the least. The murals definitely did not toe the line of today’s moral brigade. The palace also contained other interesting trivia such as Dutch and English coins, maps of Cochin, dresses worn by Royalty (some pretty nifty handwork). Being a lone traveler I could wander about at my own pace and felt glad about not following the mandatory tourist-on-a-tour-bus route of giving the place a quick run through.


From there it was to the singularly unimpressive looking St Francis Basilica. The place would not have been so popular but for its ‘history’. It started off as Portuguese Catholic Church, passed through Dutch hands, moved on to become English Anglican and is now under the Protestant care of the Church of South India. In the middle of all these changes, it had been razed down, built again, and been a Cathedral and then a Basilica. And this interesting background was gleaned from a Cox and Kings Brochure, which an enterprising native was selling for ten rupees. I just hoped that the money went towards maintenance of the Church. The Church had indecipherable Portuguese and Dutch tombstones on the walls. It was interesting to see dates from the 16th century though. The original discoverer of India, Vasco Da Gama had also been buried there at one point. A non-descript stone marked this spot. However, in line with promoting tourism, the Government had thought to adorn the place with a small half-foot high fence of golden coloured chains in burgundy jacket. My personal guess is most people in charge of monuments, center their idea of what constitutes ‘grand’ from childhood viewings of ‘Mahabaratha’ and ‘Ramayana’ which used to come on DD.

The final stop was at Fort Cochi. I went for a long walk on the promenade watching the sun stream from behind the clouds onto the sea. I also browsed through the nearby shops. Before I could examine the stores selling antiques or visit one of the gloriously ancient looking hotels for a spot of tea, it began to rain. I decided to press on to the Bolgatty Palace but halfway through ended the venture when the rain began to come down harder. Instead, I decided to wait out the time till my flight at Cochin’s new wonder – the Bay Pride Mall. Apart from the ubiquitous Metro Shoes, Fab India and Barista, the place also had a lovely food court from where you could watch the backwaters as you munched your food. I did exactly that, accompanied by a nice book while a bunch of kids nearby strummed simple melodies on a guitar. It is nice to do the Tourist rounds. It is nicer to find a good place to rest your tired feet.
Perfect day.

05-Nov-2006

All creatures great and small


I was visiting Cochin on some official business and after a long meeting, my colleague and myself headed to a highly recommended up-market restaurant to catch some lunch. We were seated and the waiter got us a bottle of drinking water and served it in nice glasses. I reached out for my glass to take a sip. In the water was a tiny little worm, the colour of filter-coffee, wriggling about acrobatically, either trying to get out or enjoying a little swim. Appalled, I got the waiter’s attention and pointed out the worm to him. The waiter was puzzled because the water bottle had definitely been sealed and he assured me so. I could have been almost convinced by his earnestness into believing that I was hallucinating but for the fact the tiny creature was still present in the water and my colleague could also see it. Having established this fact irrevocably, the waiter gave me a resigned ‘Now what shall we do?’ look. Then looking pleased with himself for coming up with a clever pause-breaker, asked ‘Should I change the water?’ ‘I presume so’, I replied coldly trying to pack in as much indignation as possible. With that, he whisked away my glass and then seeing my cold glare, whisked away the offending bottle of water. After a while he came back with a fresh bottle of water, a fresh glass and a triumphant smile. While pouring me the water, he explained that he had discovered the source of the worm. Apparently the roof of that section had just been changed and the roof had been lined with dry, brown straw to look traditional. ‘So the worm must be from there’, he concluded. This of course caused greater terror than before. The menace had not been confined to a single bottle of water. It was there all over the place, ready to drop into your food, your clothes, your hair at any point of time. However by now my colleague had assumed a pose of supreme indifference to the problem. He is vegetarian and if he could be alright with tiny worms creeping all over his lasagna, I realised that perhaps I should stop being paranoid. I chose to ignore the problem and consoled myself with the fact that worms were proteins and not carbohydrates. This is not to say that I did not throw furtive glances at my food, water and the ceiling from time to time.

Finally it was time to go and I am glad to report that my acquaintance with wildlife ended there.