To see netas huffing and puffing and twisting themselves into anything other than unlikely coalitions is disturbing.
Try as we might, there are things we just cannot unsee. For example, our politicians showing off their fitness. #HumFitTohIndiaFit sounds very laudable like SwachhBharat or BetiBachao or GaribiHatao.
But in real life, its implications are scary. A neta wielding a broom is one thing. A neta trying to do a downward dog in public is quite another. Until now, we thought being in government came with a discount coupon for bariatric surgery. To see our netas huffing and puffing and twisting themselves into anything other than unlikely coalitions is disturbing indeed.
But the game has changed. Fitness is upon us. In retrospect, we cannot say we were not warned.
We have seen Narendra Modi do yoga on the Rajpath. He led 37,000 people in yoga there and shamed the rest of us flabby, lazy types as he did the Setu Bandha Sarvangasana and Kapalbhati. Yoga, he said, was the “anchor of my life”. We should have all rushed to buy the yoga mat.
Then we have seen animated Modi tell us about the benefits of Pawanmuktasana and Ardha Chakrasana and Shalabhasana and the Nadi Shodhan Pranayama. Now, thanks to a fitness challenge issued by Manyavar-man Virat Kohli, Modiji is walking barefoot around a track in his black fitness outfit like a new-age Ninja man with a contrasting red-and-white scarf.
Lessons for politicians
This is no ordinary fitness video. The Prime Minister is giving politicians life skills.
Here are moments from my morning exercises. Apart from Yoga, I walk on a track inspired by the Panchtatvas or 5 elements of nature – Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu, Aakash. This is extremely refreshing and rejuvenating. I also practice
breathing exercises. #HumFitTohIndiaFit pic.twitter.com/km3345GuV2
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 13, 2018
He has demonstrated many talents any politician would love to have. Watching him stretch over the rock in a back bend, you realise that the man might be telling his party post-Karnataka how to bend to conquer. As he bends his knee, he is showing that to be successful in politics is to be flexible because today’s opponent might be tomorrow’s Nitish Kumar. As he walks barefoot over the pebbles he is telling the faithful to leave no stone unturned.
His walking track is inspired by the five elements of nature – Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu and Aakash – and Modiji, true to form, is demonstrating that a Congress-mukt India is not enough. He aims much higher. He is practicing to be the master of all the elements. As he walks balancing a stick, you can almost hear his inner Yoda whisper “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. When he bends in that arc over that rock he just does it like a pro while a stunned nation watches in stiff-backed shame. It’s simple. Modiji rocks. Sometimes, literally on a rock.
And in a masterstroke, he tags Karnataka’s new CM H.D. Kumaraswamy to show off his bit of #HumFitTohIndiaFit. It’s brilliant. Can Kumaraswamy show the same flexibility, the endurance, and the sheer strength and control he needs to hold together his coalition? Can Kumaraswamy even compare to the master? He’s taken the shirker’s way out saying yoga and treadmill are part of his daily workout regime, but he is more concerned about the “development fitness” of his state. That’s just copping out.
Hashtagged physical activity
I should know. I used to be a dud in physical education at school. But in pre-Acche Din India, that was OK as long as you went for your extra math tuition and signed up for your IIT-JEE coaching class. I made excuses before swimming class. I was signed up for tennis lessons and whined and moaned about it. I wanted to curl up with a book instead. I did not realise at that moment that it was not about me. Hum Not Fit Toh India Also Not Fit. I was endangering the physical welfare of the nation, lowering its fitness GDP by my laziness.
I have come to my senses now. I have joined a yoga class where the stern instructor tells me aap sir bahut stiff hain. I say yes my legs are stiff. She says: no sir, you are stiff everywhere. But living in mortal dread that someone will tag me in HumFitTohIndiaFit challenge, I persevere with my Utkatasana. My thighs ache but I do not want to let India down.
But I am a little puzzled by our sudden love for hashtagged physical activity. The playing spaces of my childhood in my neighbourhood are being swallowed up by builders, and no one cares. Parks and green spaces are shrinking. My gym offers annual packages for yoga specials that are priced in five digits and that’s after the International Yoga Day discount.
The nation is riveted by Dipa Karmakar trying the Produnova vault at the Olympics, but we ignore the substandard apparatus that our young athletes like her struggle with every day – torn and threadbare mats, shaky pummel horses, unstable beams. Karmakar made a springboard with discarded second-hand scooter parts. And worse, while politicians post their fitness videos, politics gets in the way of fitness all the time. As NewsMinute reported from Tamil Nadu, young gymnasts were caught in the crosshairs of a political tussle between the Tamil Nadu Gymnastics Association and the Tamil Nadu’s Government Gymnastics Programme. One tells NewMinute: “Our floor pit is a high-jump sponge thrown into pieces. We train inside the gym with old, torn beams. We still have the springboard from 17 years ago.” The risk of injury is heightened by the apparatus.
But fear not, we have glossy little videos of exercising politicians to buck us up. That’s exactly what we need because it seems as long as the video of the PM in a lush garden goes viral, we will all feel a little more fit in our threadbare local garage gym. It’s much cheaper than actually investing in fitness.
Fitness is more than a hashtag. And while Modiji’s backbends are impressive, I don’t really wish to see Nitin Gadkari’s fitness regime nor do I want to see the uber-active Tripura chief minister do a headstand while telling us about more things that were invented in the Vedic ages.
In fact, if politicians have to get involved in demonstrating sport and fitness at all, perhaps they’d do well to start by inculcating some sporting spirit in themselves first. If the aftermath of the Karnataka election were any indication, we have a long way to go there. There were sore losers, and that had nothing to do with a difficult backbend.
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.
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