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In The Last Of My 50s, Exorcising Exercise Demons

I have experienced surges of the need to stay fit all through my 30s and 40s. A grim reminder of my inability to sustain this, however, is evident in the last piece of costly home-gym equipment I insisted on buying a decade ago. It eventually remained in a corner of my walk-in closets in residences over various postings – as an expensive but useful duster-cum-umbrella-holder.

BSIP VIA GETTY IMAGESReportage in the Institut Pasteur’s sports medicine centre in Lille, France. Sports medicine workshop for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Various exercises are recommended to tone the body and get the participants used to physical activity. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

Is walking on our streets an option for the elderly? Well, I am not as fit as I should be. I ought to exercise regularly or walk around more than I usually do. This is not easy on our overcrowded streets, especially in the area in which I live. The pavements are cracked by the roots of ancient trees, there is garbage strewn everywhere by scavengers (not by their choice, but as their only option) and surly stray dogs, overfed by an overzealous public trying to earn some good karma, lie in wait to chase passersby. I have been warned that these lanes where I have often walked in the past are now beset by chain-snatchers, mobile-snatchers, who disappear as quickly as they appear, into our teeming masses. I worry about my aging bones and teeth being broken.

No, I do not want my family and friends to feel sorry for my aches and pains, my knees buckling with arthritis, the sudden shooting pain through my fingers, oedema (none of my rings fit anymore)… I am just aging, a natural phenomenon. It’s just that I am not cut out for “exercise”. A lame excuse for someone who underscores her intellect and practicality.

I have experienced surges of the need to stay fit all through my 30s and 40s. A grim reminder of my inability to sustain this, however, is evident in the last piece of costly home-gym equipment I insisted on buying a decade ago. It eventually remained in a corner of my walk-in closets in residences over various postings – as an expensive but useful duster-cum-umbrella-holder.

I have joined gyms, now and then, valuing the group activity, the friendly atmosphere and general bonhomie. It was rejuvenating for a while, until I let other issues of life take over.

In this New Year, I need to exorcise my lazy demons, if I am to stay fit in my 60s. It is never too late to change one’s ways.

Stress is no excuse. It is far too common these days and we should not allow it to become a disease. Wellness is a term being bandied around and it is a positive word, with a nice ring to it. It may even induce a smile. We all know that a smile exercises our facial muscles, though the actual number is still being debated (17 or 26?) and that it takes more muscles to frown! Perhaps I shall begin my exercise regime by smiling more, as I think I am now beginning to feel insecure about aging and being ill and a burden on those around me. Banish such negative thoughts – they only lead to despair, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, sleep disorders, stomach ailments, overeating or not eating well…

As I tentatively step into the senior-citizen category in the New Year, I am aware I must still be wary of sudden movements. Therefore, I will exercise with caution, given my state of health. It is imperative to see the family doctor or go for a routine check-up and diagnostic tests. Then I shall form a daily pattern of exercise… to keep on smiling and walking!

Commuting In The NCR: A Microcosm Of Our Misery

HINDUSTAN TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES
NEW DELHI, INDIA – JANUARY 1: Traffic jam on the first day of New Year eve at Connaught Place, on January 1, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Pubs, restaurants, markets, malls and other popular hotspots in the city were all decked up for New Year celebrations even as security was beefed up and restrictions put in place to thwart any untoward incident. (Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

There is no respect. Commuters do not respect each other. It’s as if everyone is issuing a challenge – catch me if you can. Everyone is in a hurry. They are all angry, aggressive and annoyed. Is it any wonder then India has been ranked as an unhappy country to be in? We are placed 117 out of 158 countries rated, but then do we care? Why should we be happy people?

Weaving in and out of car lanes is a harrowing experience on these roads. The taxi driver deftly out-manoeuvres a car that suddenly overtakes him from the left, screeching to a halt onto the zebra crossing. People waiting to cross the road stare hesitantly –this too, right in front of Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. I watch them clutching their prescriptions, fearful of whether the cars may speed into them before the lights turn green. We swerve and then crawl at a snail’s pace, past Shri Aurobindo Ashram, towards Shanthi Sthal — but there is no peace. I fear for the traffic policeman with no armour, a solitary figure at odds with the vehicles aggressively driving past him, some barely missing him.

There is no respect. Commuters do not respect each other. It’s as if everyone is issuing a challenge – catch me if you can. Everyone is in a hurry. They are all angry, aggressive and annoyed.

“I fear for the traffic policeman with no armour, a solitary figure at odds with the vehicles aggressively driving past him, some barely missing him.”

Is it any wonder then India has been ranked as an unhappy country to be in? We are placed 117 out of 158 countries rated, but then do we care? Why should we be happy people?

Literacy rates are improving, but most children under five cannot read simple sentences nor do simple maths, even in the posh international schools that have mushroomed across the land.

Poverty is underrated. Bedraggled little urchins lurk on the sides of the roads, waiting to hard-sell roses or ballpoint pens. Some turn somersaults through metal hoops on the car-infested road at the traffic lights. It’s enough to make your stomach churn in fear.

The taxi driver sees my grim expression in his front-view mirror and says “Madamji….yey bachhe jante hain, bachpan se….bhaag jayenge thik samay par (Madam, they’ve known how to do this since childhood… they’ll run off at the right moment)”. Since childhood? Are they adults now? They are still small children.

My destination is still an hour away, so I settle back into the seat. Its towel-covers wick away the summer sweat, advises my taxi-driver.

Now the trees become less shady and the bulls look bewildered and out of place, even as they saunter onto the crowded streets where they had once roamed free. I watch in wonder as a cow stands still, with a calf by her side, in the midst of all the cacophony. Stoic. An old bull has decided to sit under one of the Metro Bridges, and as we Indians of a certain faith are “like that only”, most cars keep a safe distance. This makes me smile, but I have to traverse another 30 minutes through this once- green agricultural land, now home to behemoth companies and multi-storeyed buildings, some precariously perched in small-plots of land and dust, with over-worked men and women, their implacable faces reminiscent of the stone friezes some of the old temples that dot our ancient land.

Where is the dignity in labour? Yes, some workers at the proposed Metros do have safety helmets and fluorescent jackets on, but the hands-on labourers nearby on the sites do not.

“The farmers have sold all their lands for a few crores,” says the taxi driver. “They buy cars.” Words not at odds with a Jaguar that softly cruises by. I see the Skodas, the Not-Made-In-India brands that still have to wait patiently as a herd of cattle decides to cross lanes. Shades of T S Eliot’s words flit through my mind. Written 93 years ago, they remain relevant in this provocative landscape. Yes, our temples and the pyramids did get built centuries ago.

There are still a few diversions and potholes to drive by or over before I reach my destination. Over 80 minutes of some dread, some cheer– then I have to go back. Not a happy thought. No wonder we rank 117 out of 158.

Unpacking For The Last Time: Reflections In Retirement

AMANDA ROHDE VIA GETTY IMAGES

This year will be different for me, even special. It will be my husband’s first year in retirement, and thus, by extension, mine too. I wonder at it all, this coming home, to retirement — this is the ultimate ‘coming of age’. It is not easy. It takes longer to get things done. It is tiring. It gets a bit boring, all this unpacking, but it’s for the last time.

This year will be different for me, even special. It will be my husband’s first year in retirement, and thus, by extension, mine too. His retirement comes at the age of sixty, after 35 years of service in government. The age of retirement seems odd, when politicians are voted to work well into their 80s. Judges of the high courts retire at 62 while those on the bench of the Supreme Court remain until they are 65. Many foreign diplomats work into their 70s.

Anyway, here I am with him, trying to finish unpacking hundreds of dusty cartons, collected over the past decades and stored in anticipation of this time in our lives. Bubble-packaging takes up most of the space in the cartons. As I unroll each carefully sealed sticky-tape, it evokes images of a childhood game, ‘Pass around the Parcel’, only here, I need to remember where I bought the item or the person who gave it to me.

What hopes we had all those years ago, travelling thousands of miles across the continents, to seven countries, away from our parents, grandparents, friends…

Strange that visions of some of the packers flit to and fro through my misty vision, though I cannot quite place them all in context. As I open a small hand-painted tea-set, I think of my packers in Korea almost 30 years ago. I remember they enjoyed the 11am and 4pm chai and samosas during their three days in our home. They presented me with this gift, saying I was kind and to remember them when I drank chai. I said I was just doing what we all do back home in India!

What hopes we had all those years ago, travelling thousands of miles across the continents, to seven countries, away from our parents, grandparents, friends — into new environments and diverse cultures and making new acquaintances. At the end of each posting, we would talk of future family gatherings in our home, of a lush green lawn that you could sink your feet in, breathing in the familiar air, chasing butterflies through the colourful flowers in bloom. We spoke of finally being near and living amiably with relatives and long-lost cousins and old friends. Alas. The pollution from vehicular traffic in front of our house is a health-hazard.

There are many books our adult children have said we may give away too, and toys… A bit of my life ebbs away with each parting gift

I place all the clothes and jackets that are wearable, gently used, to one side — for the winter collection by local youthful volunteers. It’s heartening to see them doing their bit so whole-heartedly, going into the streets and slum-tenements, interacting with the children. There are many books our adult children have said we may give away too, and toys. It is with great love that I pack away these items. Each has memories of glad joy, even some sorrow, etched into its fabric, into every dog-eared page. A bit of my life ebbs away with each parting gift, but as I straighten up, I know a new little person will feel the same joyful emotions and be warm for a while — until he or she outgrows them too! This is the end of the road… just 20 odd boxes of such items, as we always gave away wearable clothes and some household kitchenware before leaving each country of residence.

The deep-fat fryer that found its way back here is given away for free to the kabaadi-wala, but I caution him that the plastic handle seems unsteady — I am unprepared for his toothy grin and “Chips”! Each item must be usable, the husband admonishes. Yes, I know. But we need to stop eating french fries at our age and re-discover the magic of greens. Of exercise or walks at a steady pace. Of the need to slow down and de-stress. To sleep early or get-up late, if we wish.

Our books are treated with great respect and we are going to re-read our favourites and those yet unread. Perhaps the spouse will start his carpentry again and his painting… the yacht does actually float — tested in a bathtub 24 years ago! The fire engine with its ladder and hose pipe has not been found yet… the treasure hunt continues!

I have time to stand and stare now. In retirement.

I wonder at it all, this coming home, to retirement — this is the ultimate ‘coming of age’. It is not easy. It takes longer to get things done. It is tiring. It gets a bit boring, all this unpacking, but it’s for the last time. There is a sense of apprehensive finality. I have travelled the world since I was five years old. I am at some intangible cross-roads, full of indecision, torn between taking off again and digging roots, at this late stage of my life.

I miss the clean cities I have lived in. I despair at the illiteracy around me and the sudden development, in uneven graphs that defy the imagination. I am pleased that people are earning more, but saddened by the lack of civic consciousness. I am angered to see people on motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, even in cars breaking laws by not wearing helmets, disobeying traffic rules, impervious to their surroundings, showing no respect for pavement-walkers, driving on the wrong side of the road.

But I am getting used to side-stepping past the old bulls that come to rest on the pavements, so stoic and at odds with the chaotic traffic, the congested city-dwellings and footfalls. I am becoming an expert at ducking sudden projectiles of paan-liquid on my way to the corner store.

Yes, I have time to stand and stare now. In retirement.