I am a fairly new entrant to the locker room. I have never been used to the idea of changing in front of strange men -- or rather strange men changing in front of me. But now that's become a part of my life, considering that these days I'm pretty regular at the gym and the pool in the club.
Almost every evening I am subjected to about half a dozen instances of unintentional mooning, and to tell you the truth, when I come face-to-face (or should I say face-to-cheek) with reality, I often can't decide whether to instantly turn my gaze away or to look at the naked posterior of a man as if it was a bald head. Most often, I look away, but the eyes invariably manage to capture a few seconds of the images that the mind would rather not like to store.
And the other day, my eyes saw more than they had bargained for. I noticed a tall, well-built foreigner -- a white man -- standing right next to me as I fished for my swimming trunks in the bag. I had been noticing him in the pool during the recent weeks and even admiring his swimming skills, and now he was standing right next to me, changing into his swimming trunks. I don't wish to describe what the corner of my eye saw, but suffice to say that I was instantly reminded of two expressions -- "hanging loose" and "well-endowed".
All these men happen to be of varying ages and possessing varying degrees of fitness. In most cases, I don't ever want to be them, given their girth; and in some rare cases, I so want to be like them, especially the kinds who swim effortlessly. And then, there have been times when I looked at myself in the mirror, clothed waist-down of course, and thought: "Not too bad. Maybe a little more sculpting?"
One such evening, when I was looking at myself in the mirror, reality slapped me hard on my face. Mr S, a senior member of the club with who I had become friends in the swimming pool, had got himself entangled in his T-shirt.
Mr S, a widower, must be nearing 80 now, if not already 80-plus. He was born in Islamabad, from where he migrated to Ambala after Partition, and subsequently ran a business in Calcutta for a few years before relocating to Madras. "Dada, kamon achhen?" he would ask me routinely, in Bengali, as he took toddler-like steps in the pool, perhaps on the advice of his doctor. That evening, as he was taking his T-shirt off to get into the pool, the muscles of his hands suddenly gave away. He just couldn't pull the T-shirt off his head. By the time I could reach him, a young man had already helped him out of the T-shirt. That was the last time I saw Mr S in the pool (these days he just drags a chair and sits by the pool to watch other people swim).
Today, whenever I look into the mirror, I can see Mr S smiling back at me. I may be physically fit and having a well-sculpted body today, but the future belongs to the likes of Mr S. Tomorrow, in spite of the fitness levels I enjoy today, I might not be able to lift my arm to even wear a shirt. What's the point, then, in trying to remain fit? That too when old age is not too far away -- time flies, after all.