I sit here in another’s space, blue couch, and busily ornamented, textured white walls–outsider’s space in which I decide that, after the gap of more than a year, I must write again. On Facebook today, I happened upon a post that suggested that writing = thought. I would qualify that writing=responsible thought. If I take the trouble to put words onscreen or on paper, I hold myself accountable now and later. They may come back to haunt me.
Living in another’s house, on a fitness program, or whateverelse, all paid up, is a peculiarly ambiguous venture. You pay to abdicate control over yourself –you relinquish your habits and philosophies, store them on a safe shelf in the home you leave. You may or may not use them again when you return fit and re-shaped, another self. As as my project takes place in India, the rules and expectations are left unvoiced but obtrude suddenly at unexpected junctures. I am left to stumble about, bring my middle aged, overweight, body and mind into the upmarket dwelling of a young, fit couple. To clarify, I have embarked on a fitness bootcamp for a couple of months (ideally), in Kodaikanal, a small hillstation in Tamil Nadu, South India. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_boot_camp] The fitness program is run in the house of the trainers, a small but exclusive dwelling in a gated community and cannot cater to many residential clients. Currently we are but two, Rishabh, a young chubby man about town from Mumbai, India’s largest city, and me, from an ashram in an village of Andhra Pradesh.
P—, our trainer, believes in what he does, his particular philosophy of body and mind, and expects you to follow him without undue questions. At 34, he is proud, justifiably, of his toned, beautiful body, and his attractive, slim wife who is 6 years younger. And I, a middle aged, 53 year old, funky, bisexual feminist, have to negotiate the undercurrents. Often I realize K— the wife will say or suggest something, only to withdraw her ideas in the face of her P—‘s disapproval. K— is thin, fit, rather overzealous about her weight and her house. As I’ve been there in my own OCD of cleanliness, I cannot help but recognize the symptoms but reap the benefits of the attention to home, decor, and appearance.
The irony here is that the couple appear thoroughly westernized, a paradox of young India: P— dresses in top of the line sports clothes, wears thirty thousand rupee designer sunglasses, K— models Abercrombie and Fitch figure hugging clothes. [check out the controversy over that company’s policies– http://www.businessinsider.in/Abercrombie-Fitch-Refuses-To-Make-Clothes-For-Large-Women/articleshow/21136601.cms] The ‘westernization’ or ‘with it’ exterior however does not penetrate skin deep: husband and wife are products of Indian sindhi conservative culture. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sindhis_in_India] P—‘s mother handed over her precious son to the willing hands of his young wife who now caters to his needs, while maintaining her body, a not uncommon role in India. P— finds any suggestion of fat unappealing, un-hot. The couple, please note, are almost white skinned, as are most of the Sindhi community, so naturally the label of ‘un-hot’ extends to cover the darker skinned denizens, the majority, in fact, of the Indian sub-continent!
They are proud to announce they do not want children. “We are going to be monks, renunciants,” K— tells me. P— confirms, “We are without desires, our lifestyle is only temporary.” Of course, I find the discouse seductive. The couple are into Vipasana meditation and K— has just returned from a month’s training in the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala for her advanced yoga instructor’s certificate. The spotless house and vintage furnishings with the requisite fittings and physical comforts, all western amenities, are, as I mentioned earlier, equally enticing. I note the delivery of a Bose mini speaker system for the gym, the huge flat screen tv that dominates the living room. In fact when I turn on the lower end channel, P— chides me, “hey, which channel are you watching, dude, go for the HD.” His subscriptions are only to the premier channels that offer high definition tv.
He is dedicated to the body. The discipline necessary for a beautiful bod–hard training and conditioning, restriction of food–is full time, obsessive, a yoga in itself. And charming K— teaches us yoga, chanting the mantras and re-telling buddhist fables to the other ‘client’ here, the young boy of 23 from Bombay, privileged, wealthy, and overweight, but totally submissive to P—‘s will, uber guru of fitness. The three of them are a little thrown by me, the overweight ashram dweller who has a tattoo, dresses a little too street–a single woman who lives in an ashram but cannot take mantras or chants. No brand names for me, but, obviously I must be okay in the pocket to be able to afford the plush bootcamp.
Young Rishabh, the Bombayite, quizzes me one day when we are having dinner tete à tete, with K— and P— out on a dinner date: “how do you fund yourself?” I reply that I live on the proceeds of selling my house, on the interest. “Do you have investments?” he probes, “how do you spend your time in the ashram?” And I account for my day to day schedule. The problem with me is that I am not easily quantifiable, I do not ‘fit’, my freakishness is both my strength and a dilemma for the others. Ah, new India, now almost a fascist Modi India whose values rest on the Rupee, the bank account, and the body that money can buy all the while vociferously reaffirming an ancient misogynistic culture. [http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/gupshup/modis-new-india.html] The Monks of the 21st century.