I used to snobbishly think that gyms and workouts were for people who didn’t “get” real sport, or the joys of “natural” exercise like hiking and swimming. That is, until I was struck by an unnamed illness/malaise that left me nearly crippled and enfeebled for a year.
It all started the day after I returned from Delhi last year. Almost overnight I developed excruciating pains in my legs and a degree of fatigue and ennui which made me reluctant to leave the house. Of course I forced myself to keep going, but without any joy and always in great discomfort. Walking was an endurance test that went on for for months and even swimming and riding a bike were done through gritted teeth. And the brain fog that accompanied the physical symptoms was almost worse- I couldn’t read a book, or if I did I had no idea of the contents and of course I stopped writing because I simply did not have a functioning mind.
I won’t bore you with details of various therapies and months of homeopathic remedies, but I had come back from India riddled with bacterial and viral infections that affected my muscles in a way I never could have imagined, even if I had tried my hardest. Did I pick up the cocktail of infections from water, pollution in the air, milk, persons or a mosquito? I will never know. My only certainty was how I felt, and that was awful.
I was massaged and pummelled and pricked with acupuncture needles, I tried thermal waters but nothing was helping me to walk without pain. My six-seven mile hikes faded like distant dreams.
It wasn’t until I started working with a trainer in Oxford (the splendid Frances Carroll) and learning to use gym equipment that my poor muscles gained any sort of strength and resilience. I realized how under-used parts of my body were, how slack and feeble and how much they needed building up. So determined not to let Frances’ s efforts go to waste during my time in Delhi I found Raj Rana on the internet, phoned him from Oxford and set up a meeting the day after arriving in Delhi. He turned up on his Vespa with some weights in his saddlebag and we commenced our sessions in the park opposite, to the amusement of the gardeners and passers by.
Raj worked out with me for an hour in a shady spot (by the time I left the temperature had climbed to 32C) and instead of expensive equipment I used railings and benches to do sit ups, press ups and all manner of challenging stretches. For one I lay on my back, held on to a rusty shrub enclosure and did leg lifts. Three sets until I was dripping with sweat.
Raj kept up a running commentary: “God is watching you, so you are doing your best for Him.” Occasionally he would recite his own poetry and was very happy when I said it sounded like Kabir’s dohas.
Encouraging as she is, I can’t imagine Frances exhorting me to perform for the Mother of God, like the juggler of Notre Dame in the Maupassant story.
“Look at your hand. Each finger stands for something special. The fingers are like the five Pandavas: The thumb is Truth, or Yuddhistra, the index is Power, Bhima, the middle is Intelligence or Arjuna, the ring finger is Beauty or Nakul and the little finger is Humility or Sehdev. You need all five to be balanced. You need to sharpen each of these every single day!”
And I start to feel the benefits of vigorous movement by a rush of energy, just as I think I can’t manage any more stress. “Why did Krishanji play his flute? It was a call to meditation!”
And so Raj presses me to concentrate more, to perform in a mindful way, to do even better. I am so proud that I can get through the hour, almost every day, without giving up. I am walking at last without a limp and with confidence. At the end of my fortnight and nine sessions later I can see a somewhat sleeker profile in the mirror and I know I have become an addict.
Raj is 43 and was a gold medallist national volleyball player. India is his home, but he was born in Nepal, near Kapilavasthu, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. He lost his mother when he was 10 and cherishes the memory of her morning prayer ritual. His conversation is naturally full of reference to the importance of invoking energy and spiritual quality in one’s daily life. “I have a gift. If your glass is empty then I can give you my energy and encouragement.”
What a delightful experience to have met Raj in a city full of disenchanted people who trade on their depressed view of the world. I hope that his ambitions for his two sons to become sports champions are realized and that he continues to share his enthusiasm and expertise with as many Delhi-ites as possible.