Guest post by Hema Gopinathan in a new series called REAL TALK where Ask Amma explores issues we face when engaging with womanhood.
I look wistfully at the cute pair of neon running shorts with its matching tank top that I picked up from a big fitness brand store. An expensive waste, when I am fully aware, having been told over and over, that if you want to run you can even do it in a salwar kameez or a saree. The critical point to remember is to never call attention to oneself. Because that’s very bad, calling attention and any consequence would entirely be my fault. So I put on a pair of leggings long past their lycral prime and a XXL t-shirt in a colour that can be only described as puke-sia. The hair is bound tightly as are the breasts, so as to not swing and you know, call attention.
Level One: Warm up.
I begin running on an inner road which is relatively traffic-free, but I know while this is just warm-up it must not taken lightly. And lo, a bike screeches towards me carrying one rider and two pillions, none of them wearing helmets. But their safety be damned they are here to do a job, to train me. The bike swerves left and right and I quickly change directions, jumping one way, then another. The bike zooms past and I can hear the boys laughing. Phew, level cleared. It used to seem unfair at one time, and I would want to report them to the police. But I know now that I must not ruin a man’s reputation and career for cheap publicity. These boys have their whole lives ahead of them. Besides, this test was to increase my brain plasticity and to provide entertainment and I think I have done well.
Level two: Strength and Agility Training, Analytical skills.
I turn into a bigger road, not yet the main road, but a wider road, more traffic. I have to at this point, make a calculated decision whether to continue running on the road or hop onto the footpath with its missing paver tiles. I see a car hurtling towards me, so I get on the pavement. This is an interesting challenge, whether to keep looking down to avoid the foot deep craters on the footpath that I broke my foot in a few years ago or to keep looking up for other obstacles. I do both, like a bobblehead doll, all the years of Bitilasanas and Marjariasanas come to my aid.
I see a man approaching bang in the middle of the footpath. Again decision making time. I know I cannot expect him to give way, even by an inch, though that would be all it would take for both of us to pass each other without incident. Some men are really kind-hearted, but I can’t take a chance and kind-heartedness doth not a good teacher maketh. Inches away from approaching obstacle, I jump off the pavement and jump back up as the good man moves on. That very second from the corner of my eyes I spot men some ten metres behind me. My brain pauses and does some quick calculations, it seems to think that they will not catch up for me to take any decisions on my trajectory. But the hairs on the back of my head and neck stay up and alert.
I repeat the squat jump exercise a few more times, as I encounter more men I silently thank the men for the high-intensity glute workout.
Level three: Hyper-vigilance training.
I turn into a small curving lane, only about 50 metres long, but it’s a poorly lit lane and the latter half is near deserted. I see two men approaching from the opposite side. At 7 pm, their faces are shadowy, their intent is unknown. Well, not entirely unknown, it’s known to them. I will not be made aware of it till the very last second. But I’m no noob at this game I have been playing in one modality or another for the last 40 years. My body physiology begins to adapt, my heart begins to beat faster, my breathing gets shallow, my stomach muscles contract, my adrenal gland begins to secrete cortisol and adrenaline, priming me to go into the flight or fight mode, my grip on my water bottle tightens. The instinct is to run faster, but that would be a dead giveaway to a predator. Instead I don’t alter my pace, I hold myself taller, square my shoulders in a bid to look bigger; I feign nonchalance. I duplicate all I that have seen small creatures of prey do when challenged by bigger predators. A second later a group of girls turn into the lane and the breath leaves my body in a whoosh. The test ends without incident, but it has warmed me up for the big one.
Level four: Spatial Intelligence, Information retrieval, Decision making.
I exit into the main road. I can no longer run on the road with its heavy vehicular traffic. For a distance of about a kilometre, I will have to run on the crowded footpath. The first big challenge is a small paan-beedi shop, the pit stop for young males looking at COPD in the distant future, but for now filled with high testosterone levels and low self-esteem and looking for ways establish hierarchy and pecking order amongst each other. I see one such looking interestedly at me; he mutters something to his smirking mate and struts his way towards me. Now occasionally this kind is satisfied with blowing a cloud of smoke in my face and swaggering back to his mates, world dominance established. But there’s a look about this one, it’s about to get physical I sense. Just as Shahrukh Khan, as the coach in Chak De realises in the very last minute which way the ball is going to and advices the goalie to stay in put, I sense this boy is going to shoulder slam me and in the last second, I turn my body slightly and his shoulder meets the empty space inhabited by my shoulder a second ago. Yes! I mentally pump the air ( I wouldn’t of course be so brazen as to do that in real-time). It’s teachers like this boy and others who came before him to whom I owe a deep debt for my sharp reflexes. I dodge, duck, weave, through a few more war formations of masculinity. Always defensive, never challenging the superiority of the male of my species. And it’s a great simulation of a kickboxing workout and I’m deeply grateful, for now my body is fully warmed up for a run as I turn in towards the ground that I run in to ostensibly avoid confrontation of the kind I endured to get to the ground.
Final level: Recap.
This is not so much a level in itself but a combination of all the levels, with anthropological lessons built-in. For here in this gated running ground, I will encounter only good men.
If a man is running towards you in the opposite direction, it’s you who must break pace and anticipate which side of you he will want to pass on, if men run together they will do it in single file and you will have to step aside or be shouldered away, which is fine, because it reminds me I need to work on my upper body strength.
On the days that I have energy left I repeat the whole process in reverse on my return home. Today I might take an auto back, I think I have earned it.
All through my run I keep repeating the the mantra #NotAllMen, #NotAllMen under my breath, it regulates my breathing.
I hear that when men go for a run, it’s just cardio, a mere run and not the mind-body workout that I enjoy. How boring that must be.
Hema Gopinathan left a blip of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in the manic Mumbai waiting impatiently for her teens to fly the coop and the other half in the sylvan Himalayan foothills where she lives the quiet, sustainable life on her farm.
She can also be found at youareanothing.com