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

Level Up!! Welcome to the stage of life

You love video games. Come on, admit it. No matter what your age, or cultural background, or how bad your fine motor skills are, you love video games. Even if you’re a dinosaur, you know you will ask your 5-year child or grandchild, who is just moving on from the intermediate level to the expert level of handling technological devices, to teach you how to use a smartphone, just so that you can begin playing that game you saw someone on the metro play.

Just like everything in life, video games have evolved in leaps and bounds. Most of us today are exposed to ultra-realistic graphics, to the extent that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between video game characters and actors and sports personalities on screen. I remember playing NBA2K a few years ago when my uncle walked into the room and asked “Who is playing today?”, and I replied “Your 15-year old son and I. The loser has to have his nose and tongue pierced. I’m 20 points up”.

The first video game of ‘noughts and crosses’ by Nimrod in the early fifties to the latest obsessions like NBA, FIFA, God of War, Call of Duty, Spider-Man, and my favourite MLB: The Show, among many others (No, Fruit Ninja isn’t a game. It’s just a way for you to put as many smudge marks on your phone screen in as many places as possible), have kept our competitive spirits on the rise while keeping us thoroughly entertained. We can continue playing through the weekend, even the whole week without a bathroom break because we’re engaged, our adrenaline is high, and we want to come out on top and won’t settle for anything less. As we say, ‘we’re zoned in, we’re in the game’.

And then reality strikes, life arrives, and our heroic ‘never say die’ versions start feeling weak, despondent, and willingly lay down our arms at the first sight of adversity. Worse still, we resort to inaction because we anticipate that what might happen next will be an event that will be too difficult to deal with. We fear the unknown, perhaps because we almost always believe it may not be good.

We have all the possible excuses to remain stagnant. “I can’t resign from my miserable job, because the next one could be even worse”. “I can’t ask this question in class, what will others think?” “I won’t do well in my presentation as I suck at public speaking, I may as well not prepare” “I’ve been told I’m a good dancer, but what if I freeze on stage?” “I can’t marry him, the in-laws are part of the package (Okay, I admit this fear is valid)”. “What if the police find out? (Don’t get any ideas, I’m just making sure you’re paying attention here)” “What if I sound childish?” “What if I hurt someone?” and the list goes on.

Do we ever hear ourselves saying “Damn, level 6 on Mario is likely to be really hard, let me just play level 5 for a year or two”? or “I’ve been stabbed 57 times at this very stage of Assassin’s Creed, I’m done playing this game”? or even “This level is so comfortable and easy, let me just stay here forever” NO. We come back with a steelier resolve and intend to improve our performance with every single attempt. And we do this till we achieve that goal, and celebrate in euphoric fashion, compelling the old neighbor lady to think that someone in our house is getting assaulted (See, now you don’t care if the police find out).

For those that have seen the movie ‘3 Idiots’, Dr. Sahastrabuddhe says “Life is a race”. I believe life is a game and the only race run in it, is between you reaching your true potential and the time you have on this planet (or the moon, or Mars, or elsewhere if you’re young enough to see our species spread our presence) to achieve this.

We take absolute joy in playing video games and importantly no one has to ever convince us to do so, at any time of the day or night. We are ready to be entertained but also bring our ‘game face’ (pun intended) to the occasion. We play with belief, we fail at various levels but dust ourselves off and have a go again, but critically, we enjoy every moment of frustration and excellence alike. We were not born to excel at any of these games, but yet out of sheer belief, commitment, perseverance, and practice, we succeed and move on to higher levels. We tell ourselves it’s just a game and yet we play it like our lives depend on it.

Bring this joyous and spirited attitude to your lives and treat it like a game, where your goal is to master one level and move onto the next. Once you activate this mindset, it won’t matter what anyone thinks, or if you’re good at public events, or the consequences of taking action, oh that’s right, the in-laws are still a problem (but you’ll figure it out, won’t you?).

I’ve heard Robin Sharma say that you need to make your ‘I can’ greater than your ‘IQ’. Your attitude is greater than your ability. As long as you bring your strong positive attitude and mindset to every single day of your life, you will lose the fear of failure. And that is a key element to success.

So, I’ve decided to shed my fear of sharing my writing for others to see and just try to do it one level at a time. Welcome to the next level!!

Level Up 2