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Fit is the new rich
In the old days, when food was not plentiful, being on the heavier side was considered a sign of one's higher status in life. You had to be rich to be fat. This was true globally. That is why when kids go to art galleries abroad now, they are amazed that the paintings are almost always of big, fleshy, naked albeit beautiful women. "Why are the women so fat?" is the question you will get from a modern teenager on a swing through the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum. In the Elizabethan period, the nobility - including Elizabeth 1 - had bad teeth. As sugar was in short supply, and hence widely coveted, only the rich could afford it. Having bad, black teeth consuming lots of expensive sugar was a sign of wealth.
In India, a few kilos around your middle were an attractive attribute until a couple of decades ago. Plentiful flesh on bones meant that you belonged to a 'khaata peeta ghar' and was a reflection on the economic prowess of the breadwinner.
But in the modern world we live in, where food is plentiful - to the middle class and upwards at least - it takes more money to stay thin and fit than to stay fat. You need expensive gym memberships and diet foods - not to mention abundant staff to take care of housework - to stay reed thin while the poor binge on cheap, junk food that puts them on the fast lane to obesity.
To use a phrased coined by champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, fit is the new rich. If you've been to the gym or attended a cocktail party recently, you know what I mean. Chances are you've bumped into a runner who's all too happy to tell you about his heart-rate monitor and awesome timing.
Kamal Venugopal, a software architect, runs 10 km every morning. His personal best for the distance is 51 minutes. The 30-year old, who aims to run the Berlin marathon in two years' time, said that conversation in his friends circles revolves around sport and fitness. "If that doesn't interest you then you'd feel out of place, " he said. In the Mumbai marathon earlier this year, a record 38, 400 participants - 400 more than last year - took the field. The 2004 event had just 22, 000 participants. The Delhi half marathon, run in the latter part of the year, saw participation in excess of 30, 000 last year. The World 10K Bangalore, a summer run fest that limits its number of entries to 20, 000, has had a capacity field for the last two years. A fair number of celebs -
Rahul Bose, Gul Panag, Siddhartha Mallya, Puneeth Rajkumar and Anil Ambani - run these events. So much so that Indian IT companies are sponsoring marathons from San Francisco to Sydney.
Apoorva Prasad, publisher of a soon-to-launch adventure magazine, says that India has moved towards a fitness culture, with a focus on active lifestyles. He says, "People are into doing things they never earlier thought they would do. They're not just running marathons, but are finishing ultramarathons. " Fitness buffs are equally severe with their diets. Pratvi Ponappa, a public relations professional, who runs, cycles and hits the gym as and when time permits, limits his calorie intake to 1, 500 a day. He follows a balanced diet devised by a group of friends.
Sports psychologist Dr Chaithanya Sridhar, who has worked with many Indian athletes, says fitness has become the new way of defining self. "There was a time when people wanted to be seen in all the party pictures in newspapers and magazines. Nobody cares about that anymore, people want to be recognised for the right reasons. There's no gold medal waiting at the end of a fitness routine or marathon (especially when you are 30-40 years of age and have just started training seriously), but there's a goal. And you live by that. "
With inputs from Padmaparna Ghosh
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