When I woke up that morning, it felt like a train rode over me. I had images of a large mass of bulls chasing me, their hoofs springing a blanket of red dust in the air. I watched them charge toward me until I could see nothing. I only felt hundred of pairs of hoofs stamping on me all over. It was not a dream or a morbid fantasy, it was very much a self-inflicted torture. You see, I have never fancied working out in the gym. God knows, I tried, not once, but multiple times over the last 4 years where like a small mass of bacteria, my mass has almost threatened to double itself in no time. I was
big boned never a thin woman, but now, I was definitely obese, out of shape (unless you considered being round a shape too), and doing disastrously in my fitness levels. Euphemistically said, I had become a woman of substance. To make it worse, I fancied wearing a pair of shorts, or an off shoulder dress someday without people hurling stones at me for visual pollution. Hence, I tried running on the treadmill. I tried biking and rowing. But there was something claustrophobic about working out in the closed confines of a gym (Another bahana Miss. sunshine?). Not that it meant that running outside was an option. For some weird physiological malfunctioning, I am one of those extinct species who cannot run. Wait a minute before you try to look all enlightened and tell me that it is because I am not in shape or lack in fitness. Both those things are true, but that is not correlated to my running skills. For this has happened even when I was thin and fit. There is some internal physiological switch that turns off when I run. 20 steps, not more, and I begin to feel dizzy. 20 more steps and my jaws begin to hurt. 20 more steps, and I see things getting blacker in front of me. I don’t live to see the next 20 steps. I keel over and collapse on the ground. The bottom line is, I can do sustained moderate workout for an hour or two, but I cannot run for more than 50 steps. My system shuts down and even before I know, I have fainted.
Back to my post, gym has never happened to me on a regular basis for more than 3 days in a row. Then thanks to Facebook, I learned that there was something called Zumba. I had never heard the word before, and it sounded like an African reptile to me. I looked it up and learned that it was a dance class. No matter how unprepared I am for the gym, dancing runs in my veins. I don’t mean the elite ballet or the classical Kathak. I mean dance. Plain, simple, Jeetendra and Mithun da moves that happen in your head when you listen to music. Nothing trained, nothing practiced. My mother still takes great pride in recounting a particular childhood incident back from 1988 when my uncle was getting married. On a hot, June morning in Kolkata, no one was sitting at the wedding pandal except an old relative snoozing, and me being the only other person dancing away to glory to the songs of Disco Dancer and Ek Aankh Maaron. My father had reprimanded me for such, like he calls it, crass, un-lady like nautanki in bad taste, but my mother had beamed in pride. She just realized that I had something rare that no one else had in the family- the dancing genes.
When I read about Zumba, I knew I had to try it. I was not in shape, I was not fit, but it had to start sometime. However, nothing had prepared me for the level of pain I was about to put myself through. I enrolled for classes at the gym, took this opportunity to shop some more on the pretext of buying gym clothes and shoes, and I was there all prim and proper for my first Zumba class. The music began. The dancers warmed up. Then, it all happened. For the last one month, I have spent my evenings doing every kind of move that can be interpreted as domestic activity. Wiping floors in a circle in the air. Kick starting an old motorcycle. Riding an imaginary horse. Gyrating my hips as if I was the flour grinder of an Idli making machine. Starting a manual diesel generator during a power outage. Milking a cow while half bent on my haunches. Sweeping the floor hopping on one leg. Flying a kite. Vibrating as if I have been electrocuted. I have shaken my hips like Govinda. I have jumped and done acrobatics like Karisma Kapoor did in her movies from the 1990s. They made me shake my belly as if I was a mixer grinder or the belly dancer in Mehbooba O Mehbooba. They made me shake my hips as if I was one of those extras dancing to the song “Gutar Gutar” or “Jhopdi Mein Charpai”. I have felt red thinking of the consequences if any respectable member of my species saw me doing such obnoxiously hilarious moves. I have felt like a dancer from the song Appadi Podu or Yammadi Athaadi. I have been stripped of all my dignity. I am a venerable scientist in the making who secretly shakes her hips and booty in the evenings in so hilarious a way that the scientific society would disown her if they were to see her thus.
It has been an extremely painful process, shaking all that lard, just because there is so much to shake. When you have a qamra (room) in the name of a qamar (hip), the moves never go right, no matter how much you try to gyrate to it. They often ask me to defy gravitation and half bend like a frog while I do my moves. It kills my thighs and my calves. They make me hop like a squirrel. They make me jump on one foot as if I was weightless. Sometimes I am Govinda, shaking my well-endowed unmentionables. Sometimes I am Jeetendra (sans the white shoes, white trousers, and white shirts), kick starting an invisible scooter. Sometimes I am a Punjabi frog, leaping, jumping, and doing Bhangra. Sometimes I am a cricketer who leaps for the ball to prevent it from hitting the boundaries, knowing that there is no ball. Sometimes I am that mixer and grinder you use to make dosa batter. Sometimes I am that woman in labor who gets on her fours and kicks and writhes in pain. Sometimes I pant like an asthma patient, clutching on to my chest and heaving in rhythm to Dhak Dhak Karne Lagaa. If nothing, sometimes I am an overweight baby on my haunches, crawling. My ribs hurt as if someone has hammered the life out of them. My belly muscles, well hidden under layers of adipose, hurt as if someone has wrung the life out of them. My thighs cramp as if a dozen ungulates have stomped over me. My booty hurts as if the last 9:45 pm Amtrack train has just run over it. I hurt in places where I did not know there were places. Even the enervated adipose tissue in my body screams in rebellion, it hurts so much (body parts without nerves are not supposed to have the sensation of pain though).
Then why do I do it, you must be wondering. Because no matter how much you dread the physical pain, there is something addictive about loud music playing and you dancing to its beats. Only a person who enjoys dancing will identify with this feeling. After sometime, you numb yourself to the pain. You pant like a dog, you sweat like a pig, you palpitate like an asthmatic, you feel on the verge of having a heart attack, and you love the feeling. Some people attribute it to endorphins and pheromones releasing in the blood stream that makes you feel sexier. Some people attribute it to narcissism, looking at yourself in the mirror, tight hugging gym clothes and all, and you love it. Some make fun comparing it to role playing- playing the role of a mixer grinder, a washing machine, and a broom. I attribute it to a feeling akin to falling in love. You feel energetic, you feel light-footed, you run around as if you own the world, everything around you looks rosy and romantic, and you cannot wait to do this thing that you absolutely love- Dance.
Whatever it is, it gets you addicted. I started with visiting twice a week. It went up to four times a week. This is a lot, given that I am enrolled in many classes and am expected to churn out a lot of quality research work. Then I travel, do photography, and watch movies. I write blogs, and visit friends every now and then. I even do groceries and cook my food most of the time. I sleep as well, sometimes in classes, and other times, at night. This leaves me with almost no time at the end of the day. Yet I feel strange withdrawal symptoms when I skip my Zumba classes. I get cranky and unproductive, and keep doing the dance moves in my head. Those 60 minutes of class is sheer physical torture, and at the end of it, I come home and collapse, unable to walk without a limp. And this is exactly what addiction is. I am no better than a smoker or a person who does pot. I don’t care how it makes me feel, but I have to do it, else I am very cranky and unproductive. The high I get at the end of a strenuous workout, oh my God, makes me feel like I can jump, fly, levitate, conquer the world, and even escape gravity and fly off in space. I don’t know how much weight I am going to lose at the end of this, but I am surely going to end up as one hell of a weirdo who does Govinda somersaults and invisible sweeping steps when no one is looking, and feels great about it.
The grinding, mixing, blending, churning, and sweeping continues……
Added as an afterthought: I don't do these Bollywood numbers I mentioned, these were comparisons merely borne out of my fertile imagination. If interested, check out these two songs that are particularly favorites of mine from the Zumba class: