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Getting India off the couch
When Mayank Rungta is not toiling away at his day job, he is converting people, convincing them to switch from gas-guzzling, fume-spewing personal vehicles to energy saving bicycles. Rungta, who works as a software professional in Bangalore, cycles 10 km to work everyday. The journey takes him a quick 20 minutes, one-eighth of the tedious two hours it takes him to drive to work through traffic.
"I spent about Rs 17, 000 annually if I took the office cab and driving was too stressful. Even a motorbike took at least 40-45 minutes. I was stopping at the same traffic signals everyday - same stress, different day, " he recalls.
Now, as a significant part of the Bangalore riding community, he considers himself a semi-biking-evangelist. Corporate Bangalore, much like corporate India, is well-travelled and most have seen cycling junkies in the West plough through snow and sub-zero wind chill on all-weather bikes.
"It is not a status thing. There, you can see the CEO jogging/cycling to work. It is a very cool thing to do. Here it is only the doodhwala or the postman who rides to work. But today, when people put their bike next to their cubicle, there is a cool vibe to it, " says Rungta, who has worked in the US and Spain and thinks that stints overseas do help convert otherwise fitness-averse desk workers. A few years ago the community had only 200 bikers, today it has about 3, 200. Not just that, some Bangalore buses now also have bike carriers.
About ten years ago, no one in Delhi had heard of a rock-climbing group. Apoorva Prasad, a freelance journalist, tried to seed a community in 2000 but that was before social networking sites. "There was hardly any interest or access to equipment. Now if you talk of outdoor activities, they are usually driven by NRI returnees. If you have been abroad, you tend to notice that people there take fitness to a different level. Travel and education overseas make a lot of difference (to how we perceive fitness), " says Prasad, who lived in the US and France for ten years before returning.
The Delhi Rock Group is now fully resuscitated. Started about a year back by Anuraag Tiwari, an education entrepreneur, and Prasad, it now has 500 members on its Facebook group and 100 on the Google group. Even the Indian Mountaineering Federation, which has an artificial climbing wall and had 15-20 members, now has 200.
"It is becoming popular, especially among young professionals. They do want to be fit for a lifestyle and not just to look good. There is lack of information, not lack of interest, " says Tiwari. The fitness industry too has bloomed, he says, adding to the new wave of awareness.
The running community in Bangalore has also grown exponentially. Runners for Life, which started seven years ago and with 250 people, has now crossed the 10, 000 member mark.
"In the beginning, more than half of runners were people who had picked up the habit overseas. They were pioneers of sorts. But now fitness is becoming an integral part of local thinking too, " says Arvind Bharathi, head, Runners of Life.
For Bharathi, returning NRIs serve another purpose - their role as brand ambassadors of fitness gear. "When we started, we didn't know about GPS watches or supplements, salt tablets, energy gels or training methodology. They were simply not available. But the NRI returnees were always using accessories we knew nothing about. Now we just order them or ask those who travel often to get them from overseas, " explains Bharathi.
Top brands are also starting to register their presence in the Indian market. ASICS, which makes premium running gear is now in India, whereas earlier the only place anyone could get it was the Mumbai Marathon Expo.
Rungta though says that there can be a downside to returning and finding abysmal infrastructure in India for biking, which can be demotivating but he is hopeful that that too will change.
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