The unisex gym at this quaint place in Chennai—one of the quirkiest metros in India—is where we see some of the most interesting specimens of humans, especially men.
A ladies-only gym is not something I prefer. The cumulative oestrogen levels and decibel levels are too much to handle. It could be a bit suffocating also because women look at gyms as a place for some bonding with fellow beings. I don’t really enjoy that idea so much. Once, I even had to shift my work-out timing because a sister harassed me with too many questions while I tried to amble on the treadmill. She was hanging on to dear life on the handle of the treadmill, leaning on to the front of the machine. Her curiosity levels revved her up so much that she could throw a volley of questions at me—from the most personal to the most inane—while walking in an angle that made her look like a bat with her head almost upside down. This really threw me off balance.
The only good thing when you are around women is that one does not have to be worried about an occasional wedgie or a fart that might craftily escape you during a squat. I still have not reached a level where I am that brazen with men around. Sisters judge but they understand the misery of weak pelvic muscles and too much potatoes.
Men In Gymnasiums
Men in gyms become even more interesting than they otherwise are. They have exhibited very unique behaviours while working out or pretending to, and I would never trade their presence for privacy. They are generally quiet—not because they know etiquette—but because they think if they talk, a bulge in the ‘now seen – now not’ chest might deflate and disappear. Believe it or not, there was one on the treadmill running as if a cheetah was behind him. His thundering footfalls reverberated across the gymnasium and he ran like that for exactly 40 seconds. He then practically fell off the machine, panting and eyes popping out. That probably was his first day in the gymnasium but perhaps he thought it would be demeaning to walk or run below 10 kms per hour. 10 kms is for ordinary mortals, but he, being the Usain Bolt of India, had to run at 18 kms.
Gymnasium to Basement Carpark
This you may not believe too but I have seen a guy who runs fairly well, sweating like a pig and running with no regard for the “don’t use the cardio machine for more than 30 min” rule of the gymnasium. He refuses to wipe his sweat, half of which falls on the machine while the remaining he wipes with the sleeves of his T-shirt. I have also seen him using his palm to wipe his face and you know where his palms are when he is running—yes, on the very handles I grip when I get on the same machine. Fortunately, after his fourth child was born (which is, by the way, an irrelevant detail), he started running in the basement car park. The treadmill probably is too piddling for the man he is. Inhaling exhaust fumes are more his idea of health now.
Another peculiarity I have noticed in men is the use of a towel to cloak the panel that shows user stats. The aim perhaps is to conceal the fact that they have been using the machine for more than half an hour. It may be a forgivable mistake except for the slight smirk they have on their faces as they uncover the panel slightly while running so as to check the speed or calories or whatever the hell they check. Some of them even check their weight everyday. Why???
I must mention the heavy duty fellows here. The ones that don’t waste time with cardio machines. They head directly to the rack with dumbbells neatly stacked up. They look at each one, do a bicep curl with each, and with a cluck, rubbish the effect as they go for a heavier one. This performance goes on for a while until they choose a dumbbell that might roughly be the weight of a five-year old kid. After about five reps , they keep the dumbbell down, put on a white towel around their necks, pat the shadow of a bicep very lovingly and leave with weights lying on the floor.
Romance in the Gym
I am normally against all sorts of body shaming but the most obnoxious variety of male I have seen till date is a rather plump man stuffed inside a spandex shorts. The guy elbowed me once while I was waiting for my turn at the treadmill. He threw his towel on the handle bar to stake claim on it before me, and for what? Only to be near his wife cycling on a stationary cycle adjacent to him. The desire to be that close to his wife in a gymnasium of all places suggested a certain mental instability in my opinion. He went on to tell her how she should pedal and dished out some “did you know?” tid-bits about health. Thankfully, the wife self-consciously gesticulated that I was waiting. And as he sheepishly turned to ask if I was waiting, I became a ghastly version of me and told him he needed the machine more than I ever would. But he had the last laugh as my comment fell on deaf ears and he remained floating atop the pink cloud of romance he had generated around the treadmill.
Though there are many others—the ones who switch off the air-con while others are working out, ones on a scary incline as if their next attempt would be to scale Kilimanjaro, and others who let off sudden shrieks that provoke mentally disturbing images even hours after leaving the gymnasium—I would still prefer to work out around men because they are good competition. They help you up your ante as most prefer to die than let a woman outbeat them in the gym. Their pride pushes me to try harder and ignore the peculiarities they bring to this space—the unisex gym at this quaint place in Chennai.
Sketch: Vishnu Nair