Weightloss Saga: Beginnings

January 16, 2007

I have struggled with my weight ever since I left school. As my trainer recently informed me, after one turns 18, the body’s metabolic rate automatically continues to diminish throughout one’s lifetime. And so perhaps the timing of my weight gain is perhaps no mystery, although it was certainly not helped by the fact that it also coincided with the start of my university life in North America, and the infamous “freshman fifteen” that goes along with it.

Regardless, the fact is that after school I was about 10 kilos overweight (around 80kgs) and continued in that strain for most of the remainder of my university life. Recently however, the past 18 months of so has seen and increasing sedentiarization of my life style, resulting in what can only be described as a ballooning effect of my body, which in its supreme comfort sitting on the couch, the computer chair or reclining on my rather comfortable bed, decided that, what the hell, lets aim for an even 100.

And so yes, ladies and gentlemen, my most recent examination of my body revealed that it has hit that terrifyingly scary triple digit figure of a 100kgs. My recent return to India is accompanied by my stark realization that I must, must, regain a more respectable shape, and that a pear is certainly as far from respectable as possible. Of course this realization, though inevitable due to the sheer size of the issue, has been brought into focus through the rather blunt and astute observations of my family and friends, who having not seen me for an extended period of time, now resort to giving me open mouthed and wide-eyed stares that waver between my rather plump face and my bulging middle.

Anyhow, the time has come for some return to sanity, the normalization of my body shape and size being merely the first step. So with this aim in mind, and with the firm encouragement (or should I say insistence) of my mother, and the constant reminder of the rather unfair mirror in my bathroom, I signed up for a gym to achieve this herculean task. Three days ago, after some rather light cardio, I sat down with a rather amiable young nutritionist attached to the gym, who rather starkly laid out my situation and the process I would have to go through to achieve my aims. The end result of that consultation was that I must lose close to 30 kgs, that my body fat percentage is at the dangerous level of 31%, and that my stomach at the level of my navel, has inflated to the alarming size of 44 inches.

Whoa.

That took me back a bit.
Once I regained my senses a bit, I got to the grim determination part of the program. It appears that to lose this weight I shall have to undergo a regimen of a somewhat mediocre diet, which requires increasing the number of meals to 5, reducing the intake of food in each meal, and cut out from my life the wonderful joys of butter chicken, egg centres and of all things… coffee! Now that was just going to far!

So ignoring that last blasphemous item, I have begin affecting the required change in my life and have begun my days with sticky, gummy, yucky oatmeal which in retrospect is really not all that bad, removed the egg yolks from my second (smaller) breakfasts and have cut down on my coffee consumption. So far so good. I also am expected to burn 600 calories per day doing cardio exercises, which I have chosen to mean a mix of jogging on the treadmill, cycling, and looking funny on the elliptical. So far so good.

Speaking of which, I believe it is my time to head off to the gym… so off I go. I hope this serves to remind me of what I need to to. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: So its been a good ten days since I started my workout regimen, and I had the first of my weekly follow up meetings with my trainer. Good news! Lost 3 kilos in such a short time, which seems a lot, and my trainer concurred. Maybe it was a lot of water loss or something… either way, I’ve lost atleast 2kilos of fat and my body fat percentage has fallen almost a full percentage point. Lets hope I can create a trend by next weeks weigh in!

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Piano Man

July 26, 2006

When I was 7 years old, my parents sent me away to boarding school. It was far away from home, and for some reason I just did not fit in. After two rather miserable years there, I had just about had it with the place… I was done struggling with trying to fit in and not being able to. I was done with the bullying, I was done with the bad food, I was done with waking up at 5:30 every morning. I was done with it all.

And then, in my third year in that godforsaken school, I discovered the piano. I don’t remember much about that period of my life… I blocked most of it out very soon after, when I left the school forever. But I do remember when my parents first bought me and my sister my first piano. It was a Casio synthesizer, jet black, sleek, and it cost a whopping amount to my indulging parents who gave up so much just so me and my sister would have even a moment of happiness. It was primarily for my sister, that smiling, beguiling creature that could convince my dad of pretty much anything, and who always got her way (yes, i’m mildly bitter!). But I remember being drawn to it, to the intriguing sounds it would make at my command. And as I awkwardly strummed my inexperienced fingers over the keys, unfamiliar ground to them that had never held a musical instrument before, I felt some connection to it, amazed that such pure sound could come from my actions.

And so when I went back to school the next term I signed on for piano classes. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of my teacher, though he was immensely important to me at the time, and I remembered him well for many years afterwards. But now, I have lost that along with many other surrounding memories. Still, I remember him well. I remember his watch that he wore on his wrist. It was old, like him, and distinguished, also like him. I remember that watch because it was a part of him, as much a part of him as his face. It had yellowed with time, and I imagined that it was quite white when it was new. But as the years went by, and the glass got scratched and scrubbed, the face changed slowly, aging along with its owner. It was slightly loose, and klinked when he fiddled with it, which was often. Maybe I just remember the watch because that’s what was at my eye level at the time, short, small thing that I was. But it stayed with me all this time, and as I sit here and try to remember what I can of him, that watch is what sticks out the most.

He was a distinguished old man, probably not very well off, but passionate in his love for the music, and a wonderful teacher and mentor. There is little I remember from then, but the feeling of going for music practice after lunch in the afternoons, after we had rested in our rooms, and we would get ready and walk across the main field in the hot sun, to reach the cool shade of the auditorium in which we practiced. A small piano lay dwarfed in a single corner of the oversized room, and we would walk across the painted lines of the basketball court, and when I sat down in front of the piano… it just felt right, somehow.

I was devoted to the piano, and they were happy months for me. I would practice religiously every day, praying to god every morning at assembly and every night before I went to sleep. There is one moment that sticks with me to this day… It was a ways into the semester (or term, as we called it) and it was pretty clear that I was way beyond the other kids (false modesty was never my thing). And one day during practice, I was playing whatever song we were supposed to, and I was so confident, so happy, so secure in my ability to hit the right keys, I put my head back and leaned far back enough to be almost horizontal, all the while playing the rather complicated song with my 9 year old fingers pitch perfect, without missing a beat. We were all just fooling around, playing the song a little faster than I was supposed to, with the others singing along… but that was just about a perfect moment.

At the end of the semester, I was asked to play in front of the entire student body of some 700 students at the final assembly… I was a huge deal. This wasn’t some junior school production… it was for the whole school. My parents were coming to pick me to take me home, and were supposed to see me play. I can’t remember if I told them or not, but in my head it I didn’t… I seem to remember wanting to surprise them, imagining them walking into school and stumbling into the middle of my performance, astounded that their son was playing for the entire school… I don’t even think they knew I was any good… they hadn’t really heard me play since I had developed my abilities rather quickly within the school year.

Anyway, the big day came, and I remember I played in front of the entire student body, the teachers, and a number of parents. After I finished, all my classmates, my house-mates gathered around me congratulating me, saying how I had surprised them all, that I actually could play the damn piano after all. These are the guys who wouldn’t notice me at all… and if they did it was just to say something mean or stupid. It felt… gratifying. And I looked around after a while and I saw my parents walking up, and I ran to them. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that they had just arrived and had missed the whole thing. I told them about me playing for the assembly, but I don’t thing they got it.

Soon after I left the school forever, joined Doon and my 10 year old mind decided that the best way to get over the bad experience of the past 3 years was to completely ignore it. And so in honour of my new beginning, my new me, my version 2.0, I announced to my parents while filling out some forms for my new school, that I would no longer choose piano for my spare time activity from now on. I wanted a change. I remember them asking why, and I remember getting flustered by the question, ignoring it, changing the subject, telling them to “Just trust me, cause I know best”. I remember thinking that they wanted to say something more but didn’t… and then I never played the piano again. My new life in my new school began, and I was wildly successful at forgetting everything (well, almost everything) from my last school. I actually managed to erase whole people from my memory, so strict was my devotion to my “new” life. And I managed to forget the piano, quite completely.

A few years later, I was hanging about the music school in the afternoon, and I noticed the new violin teacher. To my surprise I recognized him – he had taught at my old school, and had been friends with my old piano teacher. Eagerly, though shyly, I went up to him and began asking him about my old mentor… his name bringing to mind all things old, British, and music related. And of course bringing to mind his yellowing watch. I can’t tell if my addled, screwed up brain has just made up the next part in an effort to compensate for the erased portions of my memory or if it was actually true, but I have the distinct memory of him telling me that my old piano teacher had passed on. Dead. I remember feeling like I had lost a friend, an uncle, like I was lost. It was, I think, my first real experience with death since my dog Spotty had died after being run over by a truck, and I had cried to my father on the phone, “Why did he have to die?” It shook me up. I tried going back to the piano then, for a little while, but it just so happened that right about then the school’s piano teacher had decided to move out of the country, and she wasn’t replaced for over a year.

I soon forgot about the piano, even that I ever played it at all. It seems like a dream to me now, like I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not. But I remember that feeling, that feeling of creating music that soothes my mind. I regret that decision of mine, as you might imagine reading this. I imagine how differently my life might have turned out. I don’t think of it much, but every once in a while, I’ll hear a piano playing in the background of a moving scene in a weekly tv show, or see a young prodigy playing in a movie, and I’ll think of the summer afternoons when I walked across a sun-swept field, into a cool room, and played music like a young god.

And I’ll think of all that could have been.

Absolute knowledge is a fictional creation, as is the idea of an absolute truth. And so, while I have professed to be an avowed atheist over the past five or six years, I have slowly acknowledged within myself that I more agnostic than atheist. Of course, since the former merely allows that a God (or many Gods) might exist, it may not seem like much of a distinction after all, but it is enough.

The crux of the matter lies in the perspective one looks upon the world with. Do I take a reasoned stance that allows for the existence of the unknown, for gaps in my knowledge, or do I take an immutable stand on my stated beliefs, never to recant or change my opinions on what I accept as “truth”. And stated in such manner, most people it would seem, would choose the former. But in practice, it implies that my existence as an atheist is as rooted in blind faith and stubbornness as is that of a religious zealot. I say, “I do not believe in the existence of God because I have seen no proof that he exists. My powers of perception and reasoning have not revealed God to me and so I deny his (or her for that matter) existence.” But what we learn is that our perceptions and sense are severely limited, that we do not in fact, see everything, hear everything. My reasoning is so startlingly similar to that used against the mind bending claims of Darwin or Galileo that at first it horrified me. Our senses so clearly tell us that the sun moves around the earth, and that monkeys remain monkeys, that the absurdity of any claim that states otherwise is obvious to even the most simpleminded of simpletons.

But that is the very point of scientific thought isn’t it? To ask questions of the most obvious beliefs, and above all to never dismiss any claim out-of-hand. Yet that is what I have done most of my life; this is what we all do. What got me thinking about this was (of all things) the recent South Park controversy about Issac Hayes (the voice of Chef) quitting over an episode making fun of Scientology. A couple of friends and I were making fun of the guy and Scientology on the whole, when I suddenly realized I actually knew close to nothing about the so-called religion. So after everyone left, I fired up my computer, did a trusty Wikipedia search and sat down for some hard reading and thinking.

In the spirit of my newly purchased perspective of not reflexively dismissing outlandish and unfamiliar ideas as absurd delusions, I stopped for a moment to imagine a world where the claims of Scientology are true. Much like how true Christians believe that we are all the sons of Adam and Eve, and Judgment Day is around the corner (I’m trying to say this with as little sarcasm and skepticism I can, believe me), what if I truly believed that all of humanity is merely a pawn in a galaxy-spanning space-opera and that we have been brainwashed by a galactic dictator named Xenu some 75 million years ago? How would I react to what I see in the world around me? How would I go about sharing my privileged knowledge with the world? If we take Scientology to be true, and accept that its founder, Ron L. Hubbard had access to this knowledge of human history that has remain hidden from the rest of humanity by design, then the world at large takes on a very different face.

What secrets, I would ask, does the church of Scientology conceal from all but its most advanced members, revealing them only out in the middle of the ocean on the mysterious ship Freewinds? What need have we to look to Science Fiction and Fantasy when such a world of wonder and variety exist within our very own time and reality?

“A strange and rapidly expanding religious cult gathers power as its highly visible members begin proclaiming their beliefs on the world stage, their status in popular culture giving them voices that resound across the globe. As their existence becomes widely known, growing ridicule and persecution against them gives them more credibility than ever before, as it did the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims.

At the same time, a religious politician is chosen to lead the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, waging war against his one-time spiritual cousins, who believe in his same God, his prophets, and his faith’s history until very recently. And out of this chaos and destruction, the people turn to the wild proclamations of the small cult that promises them a different future, which tells them that their decades of discontent is caused by money-grubbing pharmaceutical companies and their psychiatrist lackeys. It promises the masses a true, scientific path for the redemption of their souls (for despite peoples earnest professions to the contrary, Science is the true religion now) and the world sees its previous folly, and repents.”

Perhaps I paint a rather fantastical picture, but one must never forget that such far-fetched events have occurred again and again in human history and pre-history. Their grad and epic sweep overwhelms the mind, and we who live through such times never truly grasp their import until they have already passed us by. I wonder what the majestic Romans first thought of the puny cult of Christianity and its absurd ideas of a singular God. How frail and misunderstood the Christians must have thought themselves in the face of the mighty empire that receded so far into history that it dwarfed the lifetime of their recently crucified prophet. Yet Christ came to rule and judge over that mighty kingdom; he survived its collapse (though some say he was the cause of that particular catastrophe) and saw another usurp his role as the last prophet of the Lord God. Yet today his followers live their daily lives, walking about calmly buying groceries, gossiping and cheating and living, without a moments thought as to how they came to be where they now are.

Who knows? Maybe a day will soon come when their long prophesied Apocalypse will arrive, and they shall look to the sky expecting to see the (four?) dark horsemen that shall mark its coming, and see instead the ominous face of Xenu, riding in on his trusty Douglas DC-8 aircraft. Then, we shall truly know that the Apocalypse has arrived.

Reunion

January 2, 2006

It is a cold December night, with a chill in the air and dense fog all around. My vision is clouded, the shapes around me indistinct, as if my brain is reluctant to bring the world into focus. A door looms up ahead, defiant of the blur that surrounds me; I stand frozen before it, unable to push my way in. A furtive glance through a curtained window reveals little: like the current contents of my mind, I see a vast emptiness in a cramped corridor.

I have not known what to expect from the upcoming evening, of friends long forgotten, companions not seen or heard from. “Has it really been five years?” my brain screams at me. It just doesn’t seem possible. I retreat into my more comfortable denial, of mischief done a half-decade back, seemingly only yesterday. Yet here I stand outside, in a foggy driveway, before a stubbornly clear door that beckons me in, five years hence. I am frozen between the contradictions of the vast amount of time it represents to my short life, and the immediacy of my memories that defies that gap. I submit to the reality, that five full years have past since that fateful day in 2001, when I walked out beyond those imposing gates that had sheltered me for over seven years, and had enclosed my home.

I have vague expectations, of people to be met, of occasions to reminisce overdue, and of a hundred broken promises of ‘keeping in touch’ to be renewed. Yet as I lay my hand on the doorknob, cold as it is to my tentative touch, my mind abandons all preconceptions, and I have no idea of what lays ahead for the next few minutes of greetings.

Reluctantly I close the door behind me, which had, only a few short seconds before, served as my sole bulwark against the unknown, now acts to cut short any thoughts of retreat. I peer forward, nervous of the first encounter. The unmistakable sounds of Dosco’s reveling in joyful reunion filter around the blind corner, down the corridor, and into my fast warming heart. A solitary figure stands at the far corner, under the illumination of a single light, intent on a conversation with his phone. He turns… his eyes flare up; I see the quick reconciliation, the merging of the figure of a boy, etched five years ago into his mind’s eye, with the image of (I hope) the young man that stands before him.

A smile splits his face.

“Dude!”

The phone forgotten, the quick calculations of the brain complete, a long hug is exchanged. Ever so macho, but unashamedly glad.

It has been too long.

Walking into the living room, my step light, my eyes eager, I stand for a moment gathering in the faces, duplicating the calculations I had so recently observed in another. Each one reminds me of a moment, of anger, of laughter. I am late. Some would have remembered to expect that, in tribute to the days when such things were known of all those you lived with, you ate with, you played with. A chasm exists in the long history of our knowledge of each other. There was a time we were aware of all of the annoying idiosyncrasies of our roommates. Now we remain wary, unsure of the breadth of that void, of the depth of change the short years would have wrought on us.

Each memory has a person attached, and is thus rekindled in this coming together of its members. We are united into a brotherhood with bonds far greater than those of steel; our memories tie us together even when names and details remain forgotten. An absent participant will chance upon some fragment of the story, from some forgotten recess of his mind, while innocuously working at his desk, or buying clothes at a store. A smile will break free, or an unexplained laugh, confusing those around him. A rueful shake of the head and he moves on, providing a mildly apologetic look to the bewildered passers-by.

The memory remains, revived and alive.

Yet here, we now stand sharing in our past, and a present still being forged. Everyone describes a beginning, a new job, a move to a new city, country, continent. “I’m going to begin working in a Bank” seems to be a popular reply. Rejoice you fine institutions of finance and money, while you still remain free of this group of louts that I once knew. They shall infest you shortly.

I jest. Fine futures have been forged. Some promising ones, lost. Advice, a mainstay of young professionals everywhere, seems here to flourish unnaturally. It is given, received and cheerfully regurgitated (with careful additions, of course) in subsequent conversations. The weighty wisdom of some twenty-two years backs this deluge of opinions, and is treated accordingly.

The evening fast approaches the enjoyable stage of the ‘three-drink-minimum’. Everyone seems to have complied, some more so than others. Warm, fuzzy, fraternal feelings seem thick in the air, a nearly palpable sensation of joy as the discomfort of early meetings dissolves into the relief of our discovery that while we are all changed, we remain the same. Yet the gathering remains incomplete; too many are missing, the current of their lives carrying them to places beyond our reach. We miss them, from the moment of short disappointment when we walk in and note their absence, to the bitter-sweet farewell at the end when we remember them with regret. Regret that they did not enjoy in this night of reunion, this vital renewal of commitment to all things Dosco. But there will be other reunions, other opportunities and occasions for catching-up with lost friends, and dissapearing acquaintances.

Till then all I can say is farewell. And keep in touch.

I smile too much

December 22, 2005

I smile too much. My friends know I joke too much as well. Not the funny, ha-ha kind of joking, but in (I would like to think) a more witty, acerbic kind of way. I seem at times amused by the most mundane things, by the way people say things, by an advertisement on television.

Yet when I sit down to write, I always find that my writing takes on a more serious, darker tone. I want to be able to write in the way I speak, break out the same jokes and point out the same absurdities in my amused manner. But all that comes out is this.

What does that say about me?

The beauty in words

December 3, 2005

How does one describe a life changing event? How do you muster the words that describe the intricacies of the moment, the collision of feelings, perceptions, and circumstances that define it for you?

I have read many books in my short-yet-long life. I have experienced the joy of discovering new and unknown ideas in the books of Ayn Rand (a cliche, i know), seen the wonders and alieness of feudal Japan in James Clavell’s masterpiece, “Shogun”, and discussed moral quandaries in the future and alternate worlds of Orson Scott Card.

Yet i have not been so affected as by the sheer mastery of the words of Guy Gavriel Kay.

A second coming…

November 21, 2005

Months ago I wrote about clarity, and how fleetingly it comes and goes for me; how rare it is. But today it came to me again. I was browsing through the bookstore, and suddenly I felt it wash over me, encompassing my whole body, cleansing my mind. The weight at the back of my head disappeared, though had not known it existed. My life just came into perspective, and the small worries of work and presentations, and infighting all just disappeared as I realized none of it mattered.

Months ago I also wrote about my inability to let go of the big picture. I was judging everything I did on the grand scale of “Life?, as if every decision would make or break my future, and every move would reflect on the man I want to be. I railed against myself for being unable to focus on the here and now, the events that were happening around me. And so I abandoned that perspective; I cut off my mind from contemplating on my life, from focusing on what I wanted to be and how I would get there. All that mattered any more was what I was going to eat that day, what was coming on TV, what assignments were due this week.

As you can see, I merely substituted one extreme for another. Standing there in that bookstore, moving from one book that intrigued me to another, and being unable to choose which one I wanted to read first, I realized what a fool I’ve been. This is what I want from my life. To be happy I need to do what I am passionate about, to be surrounded by books and ideas, to work on creating them, putting them out there, and talk about them.

When I first started seriously thinking about getting a job, and figuring out what exactly I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I came up with the idea of publishing for exactly these reasons. But I was so scared of being rejected that I never went through with even a single application. I applied for jobs I really didn’t care for; jobs in finance, marketing, consulting but never in publishing. Not even one.

Because if I didn’t get that, then I really didn’t know what to do.

How stupid am I? Seriously?

I love books. I really, really do. I love the ideas that they contain, and in part that is what draws me most to them. The discussion and discovery of ideas is what made me briefly (very briefly!) think I wanted to be an academic. But I couldn’t understand why I didn’t attack my Anthropology readings with the same gusto as I did an Isaac Asimov novel, or even Jared Diamond’s excellent “Guns, Germs and Steel” (which I highly recommend). They all share similar ideas, on mankind and its capabilities, of how we got to where we are, and of where we are going. But the only time I was any good at the academic stuff was when I could use a book I had read on the subject. Like when I used a book on philosophy, Jean Auel’s “Earth’s Children”  series, and several books by Diamond to work for an Anthropology paper. The result of this happy confluence of sources was a term paper I was extremely proud of, and a very suspicious professor who thought my material was too good be original (he ended up giving me an ‘A’, after much convincing)

So will I be once again disappointed with a job in publishing as I am with most things? Will my expectations be too impossibly high to satisfy? Maybe, but it will sure as hell be better than this.