Lock, Stock and Barrel Down

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We’ve just completed seven weeks in lockdown in Mumbai and while the first couple of weeks seemed surreal, I can’t quite remember what the original normal was anymore. I am trying to recollect what incessant honking sounds like or what it feels like to get pushed around against my will on a railway platform. How does a Margherita pizza taste? What was the name of my office building again? Is it my imagination or can I actually hear the wall clock ticking? Seeing sparrows and listening to Magpie Robins outside my window is no more a novelty. Neither is seeing myself transform from a well-groomed chap to Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (I miss my barber the most). I’m quite certain I heard that pigeon say “Look, son, the exhibit in this next window is a human being, or at least was. Now it looks like some sort of relic”.

I intend to make good use of my time while I’m away from the world, and while I do spend a fair portion of my week doing household chores and work related to my profession, I also want to engage in activities that are actually productive and meaningful. Here is a list of things I do and am considering doing. Maybe you want to try a thing or ten yourself.

  • Perform household chores blindfolded just to ensure that I know the exact location of all the furniture and artifacts in all the rooms since I have rarely looked away from my phone and television screens when at home. And of course, since I don’t drive in traffic anymore on uneven roads, this provides the thrill of a bumpy ride.
  • Jump out at people at home from behind the sofa or from top of the cupboard just to make sure they get their daily dose of exercise that drives their heart rate up.
  • Hangout with my action figures. At least they don’t try to keep talking to me about the morbid situation that engulfs us. I might even do a photoshoot with them and send the results to Fashion TV.
  • Play dumb charades on the balcony with the distant neighbor or the occasional pedestrian on the street below. The patrolling cops may get competitive and show me around their workplace.
  • Create an orchestra with the stainless steel vessels in the kitchen and make the dog the lead singer. The cops might invite me again. Hey, at least I’m getting out of the apartment often.
  • Try a new hairstyle where the first step would be to hope for some hair growth on my head. I know it’s a long process but we have time.
  • Have a water gun fight where all the guns are filled with hand sanitizer.
  • Compose and sing a song. Then send it to Simon Cowell. The reaction might keep me entertained for weeks until it starts affecting my confidence.
  • Play dead or practice social distancing when called on for additional household chores.
  • Put my daughter’s toy sea animals in the tub and go snorkeling.
  • Put beer bottles in different rooms in the apartment, dress up, and go bar hopping.
  • Direct a ‘home’ production.
  • Turn off the lights, get onto my daughter’s tricycle, and inch towards the television. I’ve always wanted to experience a drive-in theatre.
  • Break my piggy bank, have someone hide the contents, and go treasure hunting.
  • Play monopoly in the building society with our actual apartments and use underhanded tactics to win every piece of real estate available. The lack of a regular flow of income has to be compensated somewhere.

I wish I could illustrate the numerous other ideas I have in my head but I don’t suppose the lockdown will go on for that long.

It’s easy to get frustrated and perturbed about how things are and how they might turn out going forward. It’s also easy to get swayed by all the negativity that has hit our senses these past few months because we won’t stop reading, thinking, seeing news reports and studies, and speaking about the current pandemic.

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Why subject ourselves to this endless misery? It’s best to engage in some positive productivity and while I strongly recommend the actionable items in the list above, it won’t hurt to participate in some lesser but useful activities. Play with your kid, you won’t do it as much again (or hopefully you’ll create a life habit to do so). Learn a new skill through self-practice or online courses. Exercise, you already live in your gymnasium (where else will you go?). Pursue that hobby you have always given yourself excuses not to. Begin to eat healthy home-cooked food (are you really going to risk regular food delivery?). Read, let me say that again, READ!! (No, not the news. Please go read the previous paragraph again). Start a side hustle (or hustle your sibling). Look outside your window and actually observe. Slow down and breathe, you have time.

The current circumstances may last for a week, a month, or even a year. We can’t predict the future but we can certainly put our present to good use. If coronavirus can kill us, so can Tik Tok videos. If we have survived the latter, we can survive the former too.

Que Sera Sera. Just co-vid the flow.Lockdown1

 

The Escape Artist

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With our bodies getting bigger and our apartments getting smaller, space constraints have to be one of the primary first world problems. We literally have to shove clothes into our closet and seal them with tape so that they don’t invade each other’s space or the space on the floor in front of the closet. When we open our refrigerators, it tends to attack us with anything in the frontline: eggs, soda cans, half-eaten apples, 3-month old milk, phone chargers (so that’s where I left mine), the annoying neighbor’s severed arm, and if we’re lucky, perhaps even an assortment of pastries. Washing machines occupy the tile right next to the one under the shower spout so that we may get a bit of a massage while we shower as it tumble-dries. We don’t even have to hit the floor as we can tiptoe over furniture right from one end of our apartment to the main door. The bicycle now shares our bed. The television is attached facedown to the ceiling and we have to keep glancing upward to follow the plot. The writing desk serves as the dining table. And the children live with the neighbor (the other neighbor who’s hand we didn’t sever).

This does not even begin to define all the other clutter that exists in our homes. We won’t stop buying more but will tear our hair out at the lack of space and whine about how unfair life is because the new 12-seater sofa set we bought does not fit in our 400 square foot apartment. And while we fret over these ‘diabolical’ issues, the real threat lurks under our feet. Under our rugs and carpets.

Isn’t that where we shove all our actual problems? In fact, we go a step further. We store our materialistic objects for current use or use at a future time but we dismiss our problems and pretend that they have gone away for good, or never existed in the first place. That’s like a passenger in a crowded Mumbai train pretending that the foot of another man does not exist on the floorboard and places his own over it. This single move alone can worsen the plight of all 130 people in that compartment. As a toddler I played hide and seek by hiding in plain sight with my eyes shut, thinking that if I can’t see the world, the world can’t see me. My family was kind enough to humor me. Life isn’t.

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Sure there are plenty of reasons for us to avoid problems.

  • We have to deal with unpleasant situations (especially if we upset our cable TV operator or internet service provider)
  • We have to admit a mistake (or two dozen)
  • We have to take responsibility (I never signed up for this)
  • We have to cease being in denial (oh it’s such a cozy place to be in)
  • We need a reason to continue drinking and smoking regularly (avoiding problems is a full-time job and requires plenty of hard work)
  • We also need excuses to call and text our friends about frivolous topics that allow us to live in fantasyland (with billion-dollar startups popping up like daisies, unicorns are now a reality)
  • And we get to become close friends with tomorrow (a mutually convenient long-distance relationship)

While we bide our time, these problems start flowing out from under the carpet and into our lives like a behemoth with the tantrums of a spoilsport. We may feel safer in delaying our intervention in a situation, but either way, at whatever point in time, that situation is eventually inevitable (Thanos anyone?). The term ‘nip it in the bud’ is something I urge everyone to take very seriously when dealing with problems and adversities. Whether it is a strained relationship, a toxic work environment, stressed finances, unhealthy lifestyle habits, fixing your vehicle’s tail light, or even kicking that stalking creep in the nuts, these problems are here to stay until addressed. And in my humble experience, these problems are like rotting teeth, they just go from bad to worse if ignored (and from my perspective dentists are easily amongst the scariest people on earth).

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We may try and keep ourselves busy being busy in the hope that when we look up, our problems will either have gone away or be resolved. But are we really fooling ourselves? Is our subconscious not aware of the strain with our coworker as we chug our fourth beer at the bar? Is our subconscious not aware of the bad blood that is beginning to creep into our relationship with the spouse as we distract ourselves binge-watching series after series? Is our mind not worried about the ballooning debt that has to be paid, while we continue to rack up credit card bills to keep us materialistically happy? Are we unaware of our rising cholesterol as we submerge ourselves in food delivery applications? Our mind is aware of all our issues every second of our lives whether we acknowledge it or not. And this will consume us from within, slowly but surely. There is no point jumping from one roller coaster ride to another to keep our spirits high because the park will close at a certain hour and we will be left with silence and darkness.

By focusing on accepting our problems and being solution-oriented, we will realize that problems don’t necessarily get the better of us. This, in turn, will provide the experience to deal with future problems with greater confidence and a sense of control. Sure we all need to let out some steam, but that is to help us deal with our problems better, not run away from them.

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Baptism By Migration

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Many of us have stayed in our home towns, and even with our parents our entire lives (except when we went on short trips or to the local mart to pick up some milk while holding daddy’s hand of course). This is particularly true in India and some of the other Eastern cultures. While I value the closeness and support of family as much as anything in the world, I have come across people that completely lack a sense of ability in their own independence to perform basic tasks and take everyday decisions (which include picking their own wardrobe, deciding on the brand of cereal they like, figuring what their favorite color is and determining if they need to participate in the local sack race). These examples may sound like exaggerations but I know of people that depend on parents, family members, and close friends to make some ridiculous decisions for them, as well as help them execute these terribly ‘burdensome’ acts. And many that can make decisions independently still turn out to be a bit soft and cower under the smallest of adversities. Until my late teens, I was certainly one of them.

I was always a ‘mama’s boy’ and to a great extent, I still am. ‘Mama’s boy’ is a term used to ridicule men that are still attached to their mothers after a certain age. Well, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t one be? Attachment does not indicate a lack of independence. However, while I was very comfortable in my skin (Mumbai is a hot place so we don’t get a chance to don clothing made of other species’ skins) and took decisions independently, I never felt ready to face the real world. And the thought of being away from home was scary as hell.

When I was 10, I was being sent away on a week-long Karate camp, less than 100 kilometers from home. I behaved like I was being sent to the Pakistan border to fight their cavalry with only a toothpick in hand. I whined about not wanting to go weeks before the camp and even tried coming up with a strategy of getting the camp canceled. All this for a week-long camp. Am I kidding you? I’m afraid not. I was an easy pushover in school too, especially during extracurricular activities. While I was confident about standing my ground at home even if I was on the wrong side of the fence, I couldn’t for the life of me even utter a word when my abilities were overlooked at times for other agendas. If I had to do anything outside my comfort zone or stand up for myself, I froze. In the school bus, at social events, at the local playground, during private tutoring, when confronted by rowdy strangers, and even during unsavory moments with friends and cousins.

You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family – Anita Baker

At age 18, I faced genuine terror. While it was my decision as much as my parent’s that I would go abroad to study, the reality of it hit me only a few weeks before I was to leave. I spent my last days in Mumbai like it was my last days on planet Earth (After which, I’m sure my parents would have wanted to ship me off to some godforsaken celestial blob outside the Milky Way to ensure they can’t hear me cry and complain). I felt heartbroken, burdened with anxiety, had sleepless nights, and turned from a talkative fellow to a mute in no time at all. How was I going to live in the absence of my parents, family, and my girlfriend at the time? In fact, it took me over a year to get over my homesickness and truly settle in the gorgeous Granville, OH (This is definitely some kind of record at Denison University). I felt like I had been transported from a metropolitan city to one of the towns from the Ladybird books I read as a child (I expected to see the three little pigs or Snow White at every turn).

I call this the ‘boo hoo’ syndrome. And many of us are infected by it. We can’t do without our loved ones even for a few days, we don’t know how to manage our homes, we wouldn’t know how to come up with a basic meal ourselves, if our televisions stop functioning our life comes to a standstill, if our maid takes off we get suicidal, and if we fall ill while we’re alone, we consider ourselves to be the unluckiest people on the planet.

I spent eight years away from home in the USA and they were indeed my formative and defining years. I learned to fight for myself and others, while in India I would think twice before taking on a mouse (Actually I still do. Mice are freaky). I learned to handle multiple responsibilities single-handedly. Where a 6-hour day of productivity in India would knock the wind out of me, I still felt fresh on most days after a 14-hour day in the USA. When I was home, a single rejection would destroy my spirit, but in the USA, I had no job for a few months and a dwindling bank balance, and I only felt positive with every passing day despite regular rejections. I learned to lead wherein earlier I only followed blindly. I even learned how to tie my shoelaces in one motion.

These years were challenging, they were unrelenting, they were rewarding, they were fun, they made me cry, they made me laugh, they toughened me, I became self-reliant, I made lifelong friends, I learned life lessons, I learned how to survive, and I matured rapidly over these years. And these are easily amongst the best few years of my life until this point. While I spent months regretting it, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It made me capable in many ways.

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It’s important for us to get away from our flocks and get a taste of the world on our own. The experience challenges us, even beats us to the ground, but then that is the essence of life: to come back from hardship and reap its rewards. As hard as it seems at the beginning, you will always relish your time away from home, a lesson in mental and emotional maturity. And when we come back, we understand so much more about our homes through the perspective we have gained. Going away helps us appreciate our homes so much more than we ever could if we never left.

So get out of your comfort zone people. Take a shot at going solo. Get away from home for a bit and trust yourself to hold your own. After all, not everyone is lucky enough to get a two-day crash course at home in growing up and taking responsibility like Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone.

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Me First

We love ourselves, don’t we? We only want the best for ourselves. And we like to prove our importance to ourselves time and again. We will be happy to break into a queue at a bus stop (Because the other idiots who were there before us have all the time in the world but we don’t. We do this on the sly and just slip in, or do so boldly if we have the girth to provide that intimidating confidence). We will drive past a red light, or even block a lane that turns left (even though we want to go straight) just because it brings us closer to the head of the pack (And do it with gusto because we always know someone that owns these streets. Besides the person in the wailing ambulance behind is likely to meet his maker anyway). We will carry extra weapons to a sale just in case someone gets a hold of something we want before we do, and we need to make a compelling argument for them to hand it over (By handing them a beating. Don’t believe me? See some Black Friday carnage on YouTube). We will happily push an old woman aside and jump into the only cab available (Like we couldn’t walk those 800 meters to our destination. Besides courtesy and offering help to the needy is a thing of the past). We will bribe a cop upon breaking a traffic law (Because lawful proceedings aren’t for us. But we will certainly participate in a peaceful protest against bribery).

We always seem too important to wait in lines, too busy to respond to calls and emails in a timely manner, too self-centred to think beyond our own whims, too unperturbed about our ‘chalta hai’ (big deal, I don’t care) attitude towards everything, too proud to admit that our approach hurts many around us, strangers and loved ones alike. We always want to jump at the opportunities (and in all likelihood create them) to do something when it is likely to afford us a temporary high (People also seem to resort to smoking and alcohol to achieve this state all the time. The number of heart attacks, depression cases, and suicides will increase significantly if these two sources of ambrosia ceased to exist), make us feel all important, or offer us a feeling of prominence, even if it is meaningless in the grand scheme of things (And often this is achieved by making others feel comparatively insignificant, only to boost our own flailing and misdirected ego).

We will be the first to ensure we do whatever it takes when it is a matter of convenience to us, no matter how inconvenient it is for others (Eating half the birthday cake at a 4-year olds birthday party; Flipping TV channels so incessantly, that it might have you believe that Keanu Reeves is starring in a regional Indian film, shot in space, singing a song around trees, playing badminton, and running with Wildebeests, while being chased by half of the criminal world in New York City; Spreading our legs across three seating spaces in a train that has at least two dozen people hanging on the window grill, on the outside; increasing the temperature of the AC beyond the outside temperature because we refuse to carry a jacket or shawl, while others experience the benefits of a sauna for free; and forcing people to read blogs every week, when they clearly might have other things to do).

And when we ourselves are victim to this attitude, we’ll throw a fit, and complain about how people are disrespectful, irresponsible, uncaring, unprofessional, selfish, arrogant, and add the choicest expletives after each of these adjectives. And this blame game has been going on for eons (Extraterrestrials watching from space would see a very coordinated finger-pointing dance form, worth capturing on video). We love to pass the buck around (We need to blame all those ‘passing the parcel’ game sessions we had during our childhood. We learned young). We love to blame the whole world for not only its shortcomings but ours too. Mahatma Gandhi himself professed against trading an eye for an eye (And for good reason because we would look quite silly if we had one eye belonging to us and the other, the one we traded for)

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How often do we feel the need to take responsibility for our own actions? Do we ever feel the need to change or improve in order to be happier? Do we ever stop to consider the negative impact we may be having on our surroundings? Or are we too busy expecting others to alter their personality and methods, so that we could have a little less to complain about? It’s not his job or her job, or their job to ensure that life is better for us. Life hits us all the same at different stages. And it’s the ones that accept this reality, stay positive, and take responsibility for their situation, who share a better relationship with life. If we are willing to lead in all our pompous, self-serving, ego-massaging, inconveniencing, senseless activities regularly, why not in the ones that require maturity and understanding? Why not in the ones that will turn our attitude and life around only if we gave it a shot? Why not in the ones that impact us and the world around us positively? Do we believe that this responsibility is only for the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Socrates, the Spartans, Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Rosa Parks, Jack Ma, Jesse Owens, Steve Jobs, and several others to shoulder? We are all blessed with spirit, righteousness, generosity, strength, creativity, empathy and courage. It’s up to us to define how we use these gifts in our lifetime.

Stop blaming your kids for your misadventures, stop yelling at your wife for a bad day at work, stop cursing your client for a failed sale, stop accusing the economy for your poor financial situation, stop blaming the traffic if you weren’t disciplined enough to reach your destination on time, stop bullying people to address your insecurities, stop trying to finish your local bar’s alcohol stock in one night, and for heaven’s sake, stop at a red light.

Suck it up. You’re as much of a problem as the next person. Stop looking over your shoulder, I mean you. If we must be first, then let’s be the first to effect positivity in our lives and those of others. Let’s take responsibility for our own situations, and let’s recognize our abilities to become a leader in matters that make our souls proud.

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With great power comes great responsibility. But with great responsibility comes great power. Cease your responsibility and harness the power that comes with it to create your legacy.

Me first? Yes, you first.

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Push Past The Pain Point

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These were the words of Muhammad Ali, when asked why he always went the extra mile and performed a higher number of sit-ups, pushups, or other grueling activities during his training regime, than the numbers set by his coaches.

Recognising our passions and prioritising the tasks and activities that are truly important to us, and necessary to help us achieve our goals, is only half the battle won (Unless you’ve figured out how to avoid taxes, the in-laws, laundry days, waiting in queue for the bathroom at home, your child’s homework, looking for parking, a million good morning messages on WhatsApp groups, advice from your boss on empathy, and people giving you missed calls expecting you to call them back. Then you’ve attained nirvana). Ensuring that we stick to our beliefs, and pursue them persistently and consistently is an indispensable protocol in attaining our life’s missions.

Ever so often, we have an epiphany about what we would love our lives to look like, and we start making goals around this vision. Assuming we have identified our true passion and purpose, we begin to enlist all the small steps we need to take to help us get there (Like finding that glass and bottle of whiskey to go along with the antique armchair and television remote). And then we have one little devil that comes along to play. It’s called ‘instant gratification’.

Some of us want to lose fifteen pounds but want to do so in five days. We go out and buy the most expensive running shoes (These days we need to sell one of our kidneys to afford them and what’s more, they come with a promised life of a full six months. Fantastic!!), and at the end of the week we have evidence of having gained two pounds despite all the jogging (while taking selfies) and sweating (We refuse to acknowledge participating in any cake and pizza eating activities after every run). We want quick results and wear a forlorn look if we don’t get them. We begin to believe that we have set ourselves a target that is well beyond our means and decide to compromise or give up altogether. Some of us want to flaunt a muscular body and we eagerly enlist in a gymnasium. After the first two workouts, we break into muscular aches and pains (sometimes without lifting anything at all) and begin to find the entire ordeal cumbersome and painful. We decide that we need to have realistic targets, and tell ourselves “What made you think you can have that boxer’s physique and six pack abs? You’re an ordinary person, so think and behave like one”. We’re completely ruffled by the effort required to move every inch towards our target. We walk around the gymnasium admiring the physiques of others, complaining that life isn’t fair to us (It gave them steroids but gave us only cranberry flavored protein bars).

Pushing Past The Pain Point

We want to be a professional swimmer, but the daily practice of jumping into a cold swimming pool at 5 am (This isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s 6 am), overcomes our determination because a few weeks later we still don’t have an invitation for the state championships. We want to become a Bollywood playback singer, but the relentless practicing for three hours a day, after our 9-hour job (if we plan our day well we can play ‘Antakshari’ at work for better practice), for a year, hasn’t brought a wave of music producers to our doorstep. We want to publish a book, but a few instances of writer’s block have diminished our enthusiasm (Most times the writer’s block comes in the form of us dozing off due to our own insipid writing. Ahem, moving on). We want to be perfect parents, but as soon as we realize how hard the first two years are, all bets are off (and we go from our desire to be fantastic parents to awfully crabby human beings). We want to be successful businessmen, but a few failures and missed deals convince us of our ineptness as well as the difficulty of the trade (And then the only thing being dealt are harsh words, as we sit around the conference table playing ‘who takes the blame’).

We want to be world-class coders, speakers (I recommend you just get Bose), teachers, doctors (ones who display exemplary skill in diagnosis followed by legible handwriting to ensure that treatment is provided for that very same diagnosis, and not another), engineers (ones who remember the stuff they have learned even after the examinations are over), dancers (I once saw a horse dance brilliantly at a fair in Pushkar, India, despite having two left feet), bankers, (ones who don’t get caught after sanctioning illegal loans), lawyers (ones who have mastered the art of debating successfully with the wife), artists (ones who can draw more than just stick figures), the man in the attic of Indian shoe stores, servers at the McDonald’s drive-in, and anything we envision ourselves doing that brings fruition to our lives.

In this technological age, we want lightning quick results with minimal pain. The moment we encounter an obstacle in our path, we are keener to change direction rather than overcome that obstacle (Funny this rarely happens when we encounter weak internet connectivity while uploading images on Instagram. Eight hours later we are still at it, in the quest for success). Are we willing to push past the pain point? Are we willing to tell ourselves that it’s going to take a lot more than we’re used to? Some of us give up early and some of us stay in the fight longer, before exasperation sets in, and we lay down our arms with no end in sight. We generally tend to focus on how far we have to go and not on how far we’ve come.

Only if we learn to recognize and appreciate the small accomplishments along the way, will we stay the course. It’s that ability to keep the end goal in sight, and constantly feed it with positivity and belief that will eventually lead to the culmination of our vision. Triumphs born out of trials and tribulations are always the sweetest (Of course we need to fail every now and again to keep our sugar consumption in check).

Let’s not count the number of hours, days, weeks, months, and even years of effort put in, just the progressive milestones that really count.

Inspirational Everyday Strangers

I almost never need any coaxing to go for my brisk walks in the evenings, as I genuinely enjoy a good work out on most days, especially if those days fall in between Monday and Tuesday (But silly jokes aside, I do enjoy my workouts, always have). I’m not fortunate enough to live at an arm’s length (The only thing that close to me is usually the TV remote and a few chocolate bars) from any open green spaces, but the 3.5 kilometer stretch between my home and Nariman Point serves as a convenient alternative (It allows me to walk one way, grab an ice cream at Nariman Point, and hail a cab back home). Walking along the Marine Drive promenade does mean that I inhale as much Carbon Dioxide during my walks, as I do during the rest of the day, in this good spirited atmosphere of Mumbai. I get to wear my shoes out faster, as the concrete pavement and my shoe soles aren’t the best of pals. I get to play ‘Donkey Kong’ with the cars while crossing the road, and invariably have a NDE as there is always some chump on a two-wheeler who whizzes past a red light because he is running at least two laps behind the race leader, Valentino Rossi (Mumbai roads and the moon’s surface have a lot in common and therefore you have automatic and unannounced ‘pit’ stops).

But there are plenty of experiences that are less exciting but certainly fulfilling. For instance, you get to lose a little of something regularly, like your weight and waistline (If it’s too windy, you might lose your wig too, so it’s best you leave it at home. It’s better to let people see that you’ve gone bald over the years and not just in one second). Your stamina increases with time, especially if you’re chased by dogs regularly (You’re likely to stop only if you run out of breath or run into a tree. This not only prepares you for the next marathon but also conditions your head and body to become a serious challenge for Mike Tyson, should he have the courage to come out of retirement to fight you). Your mind gets sharper as your body gets fitter (and puts you in a good position to teach your 6-year old multiplication tables up to 4).

With our new age devices constantly honing in on us and keeping us indoors, it’s nice to get out for a little bit, get the blood pumping through our body, and take in the wonderful sights (People fighting with cab drivers, some trying to cross the road over a four-foot high fence when there is a perfectly good pedestrian crossing 30 meters away, 4 parking lanes and just 2 driving lanes, people having a conversation while sitting on two different two-wheelers, women having a second kitty party on the pavement outside the restaurant they have just had their first one in, and the list goes on). What’s more, you get to feature in a few dozen photographs and short videos (Courtesy of college kids, which seems to be the only thing they do outdoors), and you could find yourself on the cover of the next issue of GQ (Only if you’ve worn your best running outfit and with your wig still on your head while the picture was taken).

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And then there are the serious strangers going about their walks and jogs. Names of who you do not know, but faces that you see every day. You see them go about their exercise regimes religiously and consistently, rarely missing a day (You know that only because you haven’t missed any). You see the impact of their hard work and commitment in the positivity emitting from their bodies. These are not our friends or well-wishers (At least not that we know of. Maybe putting on that sporty deodorant will help), but we still find inspiration from their relentless presence in our lives. Then there are some nameless strangers that will notch up this level of motivation by competing with you and trying to outpace you. With me it’s usually a middle-aged ‘uncle’ who begins to increase his momentum as I pass by and tries to stay a step ahead (This is very encouraging for me, not so much because it shows me that even as you age you need to continue to work on fitness goals, but more because I cannot have an uncle defeat me). The only people that are allowed to go past me are the ones that are out there for their evening exercises on walkers and wheelchairs (You have to tip your hat to these people and be awed by their grit and persistence).

It’s the same story at the gym or anywhere else you choose to exercise (Except in your bedroom, where the only thing you’ll likely be exercising are your fingers on the cell phone and TV remote. Unless you’ve upset your wife, and now you’re about to have a sporting bout of wrestling). Strangers at the gym seem even more motivated (they all seem to have bigger muscles than you, and can lift anything from a 100-kilogram dumbbell to a batch of Zumba girls, all at the same time). And what about those guys and gals on the treadmill? Have you noticed that they are running when you walk into the gym and when you’re leaving (after having inspected every piece of equipment without breaking a sweat), they are still running? They seem to have unrelenting stamina, obstinate almost. If I ever get onto a treadmill next to one of these people, I keep up (When I am done keeping up and my lungs are about to explode, I just slide off the treadmill while it’s still on and let them figure out where I disappeared so quickly). Then there are the other muscled strangers that walk up to you when you are bench-pressing and ask how many sets you have left (Doesn’t that annoy you because they make you lose count of your repetitions, even though you’re still on zero?).

We usually look to our loved ones for support and encouragement but are often disappointed as they seem to have a contrary viewpoint. It’s not like they don’t care for us, but in fact, care too much to see us get hurt. Therefore, many a time they discourage us from doing things that are different or out of the ordinary. This is when we need to look around us for that iota of reassurance. I’ve only spoken of fitness buffs as an analogy, but with an open mind (and eyes and ears that are not focused on our phones as we move about our towns and cities), we will always find people around us that can provide a little inspiration and possibly the courage to do the things we’ve been avoiding. Some that we see regularly, and some that we may see only once. It can be anyone. A young boy hanging out of a Mumbai train with the support of a shoestring and yet finding a way to read that e-book. A municipal sweeper ceaselessly going about her job along a 5-kilometer stretch. A postman going about on foot for hours in the scorching heat, delivering mail (Who still sends these?). The current West Indies team bowling away to the Indian batsmen with no end in sight. And even a couple and their five children balancing on a scooter, hoping to audition for the Cirque du Soleil.

Even a pigeon can be inspirational with their ‘never-say-die’ attitude. Have you ever shooed this annoying creature away (that’s trying to get into your home through the window) only for it to arrive again after a few minutes with that ‘have we met before?’ expression? And this saga continues for a good hour. It irritates me, but it also compels me to write some more, do the extra set of push-ups, run the extra kilometer, stick to my nutrition plan, make some more sales calls, and so on (There is no way I can allow a pigeon to be more persistent than me).

We can complain about our routines and surroundings on a daily basis. And we can continue churning out excuses to not do the things that really matter in our lives and hearts. Or we can find those small sources of inspiration and implement them in our lives. All we need to do is observe, think, feel, and then act.

Strangers 2