I played soccer in my youth and continued to do so whenever an opportunity came. I wasn’t exactly fat and flabby (pardon my language, no pun intended) but the energy, stamina and endurance was missing by far margin. I struggled for weeks on the treadmills and ellipticals before finally my body started to respond to my persistence. Soon, I was running 7-8 miles in one uninterrupted session, doing weights, belly squats, some more time on the elliptical – three days a week. On weekends when everybody slept through happy snores J and I woke up early to smack the small round squash ball with a sweaty vengeance, for hours. At the top of all this I was rationing food intake as planned. It didn’t take too long before I started to lose the extra fat. In as little as two months the difference became evident. I was happy and emerged more determined. The kids worked as a constant source of motivation as they expressed their doubt and dissatisfaction about the packs they waited so eagerly to see and claimed to my utter annoyance that my midsection still looked simply squishy. What did they know? Little rascals!
I lifted my intensity of workout another notch up. Squishy wasn’t my favorite word.
Months passed. I lost some more, the belly fat finally started to give up (guess what, it comes first leaves last). Armed with couple of newly emerging packs I went ahead to adjust my food intake even further. It was already end of January and I had another 4 packs to go.
This is when the trouble started. I was already being the target of sarcasm.
“Are you trying to get married again?” Some would blatantly say, unable to stop the smirk.(Clue: one tries to get in shape before marriage)
“Of course not! What are you talking about?” I would object, trying to be a good sport. “It is not allowed.” I might innocently add.
“Not allowed!” My better half rolled her eyes. “That’s the best you can think of saying?” Her disappointment in me would be hard to conceal.
“I was just kidding!” I tried to salvage.
Occasionally the conversation would veer away on discussions of the Muslims in some parts of the world who embraced polygamy on the basis of multiple marriages of the founding prophet of Islam (who had several marriages of convenience – often for peace and salvation).
I disregarded such sarcasm and continued with my effort as this project was about self discovery, beautification of a male body and to prolong divine pleasure (xxx). However, the cumulative sarcasm grew stronger.
Another month passed. I now had four packs. Two more to go. Unfortunately this is when things started to break down. Not because my determination was diminishing but because something else had happened. As I lost most of the body fat my cheek bones and the throat area now looked very bony and bare giving me a starving look. Anybody who saw me would instantly get alarmed.
“Are you okay? Why do you look so pale?” Asked one of my distant brother when he visited us.
“Oh, no! I am actually super fit.” I objected, not without a little contempt in my tone. All these hard work and now I am being pointed out as being sick?
He paid no attention to what I said and called out for his wife. “Look what happened to him. Can you believe? He is like a ghost of his old self.”
His wife looked even more alarmed. “I had noticed it. What happened? Are you diabetic?”
“Diabetic? Of course not!” Now I was alarmed. I liked sweets. I gorged on Indian sweets on any opportunity I got (and skipped meals to compensate). Before they got into more terrifying possibilities I went ahead to clarify the situation.
“I am working to get a six pack.” I mentioned with an air of seriousness.
Obviously they had never heard of the term. Very few of my compatriots (or summarily desi) have.
She frowned, suspicious. “What is a six pack?”
My cousin smirked in disbelief. “Come on, dear. How can you not know this! Six pack! The can of beers. Get it?" He offers a solid explanation.
Mili, who was busy with setting up the table for dinner, hawked in. ‘Beer? You are drinking beer?”
“What beer?” I objected. “Each can have 100 calories. Are you nuts?”
“Who is talking about calories? That’s haram (not allowed).”
“Why are you bringing religion into it?” I snapped.
She ignored me and inquired with my cousin, “What were you saying about beer?”
He stammered, not realizing this would bring such intense reaction. “I didn’t say anything. He… ” ,that was me, “said something about six pack.”
“Abs – for god’s sake, I meant six pack abs.” I tried to be patient. Not my best quality.
After a thoughtful stare she retracted, satisfied.
“What is abs?” My cousin asked.
I looked at his round midsection. How do I explain it without risking offending him? I patted on my own stomach section. It was relatively flat.
He squinted. “What about that?”
“You know, with exercise you can have six distinct sections there – six packs.”
A few moments of silence was followed by his cracking laughter. “Oh, like body builders! You are trying to be a body builder? You look like a skeleton. How can you be a body builder? Did you hear that, dear? Ha…ha…ha…”
Now, that was embarrassing, insulting and total disregard of my dignity. Still I continued albeit with lesser intensity. As the weather improved the frequency of lunch and dinner parties went up, the consensus about my increasingly thin appearance continued to grow, even Mili who enjoyed rubbing on my four packs started to cast doubt whether the transition from four to six would be detrimental to already skinny looks. And at the top of all these, precocious Farheen mercilessly maintained that my midsection was still quite squishy.
April. Spring poked through the melted snow and the freshly growing leaves. Perhaps this was time for me to move on too. Six would be good, four works. With summer came lot of possibilities. It was time to find another project.
That’s sometime later.