Thursday, December 22, 2011


Margaret and I go back a long way. In the early days we would spend hours trying to pigeon-hole her wise-cracking, horse-riding, ever-charming boy-friend into one of the categories in this book she would carry around with her. ‘What kind of a dog is your man?’, was the title of the book and we spent many happy hours wondering if one of my closest friends was a noble and Great Dane or a mere German Shepherd, or was he a wild Blue-tick or a frisky Cocker-poo.

Today, that book sits forgotten in a dusty corner of their kitchen loft where Maggie stashed the book after they got married. So Maggie and I talk about real dogs, happy marriages, Sunday barbecues, kids – the ones they should have had and the ones they will have and other happy things. Then the other day, I mentioned Surbhi and Sahil (our protagonists from last week) to wise old Maggie and she sprang a concept on me…

But hey, I forgot to tell you about Surbhi and Sahil, and how their made-in-heaven-marriage collapsed in a heap around them. So yes, they split up. We could see them pulling away into different worlds for weeks and months and years but somehow they didn’t seem to. We would bring it up and they would just smile and brush it away. Then Surbhi met this boy, one of her students who happened to be a talented dancer. He had dreams in his eyes and music in his bones. He danced and smiled but more than that, he spoke and he would listen. And when Surbhi spoke about her dreams that danced in her eyes, she noticed that the sparkle caught the boy’s eye. She didn’t remember it having caught Sahil’s eye, not now, perhaps not ever… It made her wonder if Sahil understood her. She knew this boy did.

Then we got this message from her… She had packed her bags and moved in with her student. Sahil didn’t know what hit him. He ran after her and tried to bring her back. He didn’t know where he had gone wrong. Surbhi would always look up to him, in awe. When did the plot change? When did Sahil fall from that altar, and fall so low that she didn’t even want to look back or help him up?

Many moons have passed since then. Some of us thought that Surbhi might return, but she hasn’t yet. Sahil spends his evenings talking to whoever would listen, and we all do because he is now the Sahil of old, his voice quivering with passion, his eyes looking for the light and his heart pouring out love. But the woman who waited for so long to see it all was now in another man’s arms.

When I spoke to Margaret about them, she had a theory which she had borrowed from an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother. She called it the principle of ‘the Reacher and the Settler’. The way I understand it, here’s how this works…

In every romantic relationship, so say Maggie and her sitcom, there’s a wide-eyed reacher, (who could be the man or the woman, and let’s say it is the woman in this case), who knows that the object of her affection is way out her league, and a magnanimous settler who knows he could have gotten better but then affection, complacency, or perhaps just good old fashioned love makes him ‘settle’ for the reacher who is reaching out for all she is worth for the settler.

I wondered if that really was true, so I asked around. Funnily, it isn’t an easy question to answer. Most find it a little difficult to accept that they are the ones reaching out, and yet they find it equally difficult to accept that they settled for less than they could have. So they hemmed and hawed for a while and then went one way or the other. Meanwhile Margaret insisted that usually it is the settler who was more likely to stray, especially if life with the reacher would repeatedly remind the settler that there could have been more to life.

So was it really true, I asked myself. And between my wife and me, who was the reacher and who was the settler? It wasn’t a difficult question to answer though… Seventeen years ago, my knees were all but worn to the bone because I spent every waking hour on my knees by her side. Guess that doesn’t make me much of a settler. So a reacher I was. But then, if it is the settler who is more likely to stray, then why was I not worried and insecure about my partner? On the contrary, why did she at times tease about being the one more likely to stray? And then I remembered that I used to tease her in the same manner not so long ago. And there it was… an epiphany right there in that moment.

It dawned on me then that while every relationship has a reacher and a settler, those roles are like money in the market. In a healthy relationship, those roles change hands every few years and that is the secret to keeping a relationship alive and kicking. If couples get stuck in these roles, the relationship goes stale and is reduced to a habit. But a relationship is not a habit but a living organic dance between lovers and friends where each takes turns to lead.

And here’s the science behind the supposition. As an humble reacher, while I was jumping out of my skin and comfort zones, striving to better myself so I could measure up, inadvertently and almost imperceptibly I actually started growing into a better man. And then as the years rolled by, at a subconscious level, my partner sensed it and started playing catch-up instead. And so we played, reaching and settling and waiting to reach out again, and that is the dance of love that keeps us together, helps us grow and makes this relationship a new one every now and then.

The day we settle into our roles and stop reaching out and growing, this relationship will die. We could drag the corpse around like so many others do or just bury it the way Surbhi did, but love will surely stagnate and die, the day you stop trying.

It’ll be a new year soon, and between resolutions for losing that gut and kicking the butt, do stop and ask yourself if you are reaching out enough. And if you are the settler, ask yourself if you are you inspiring the reacher enough? And this question, dear reader will help you better all the resolutions you ever made and never kept… so stay in love and Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 15, 2011


Love doesn’t look like a bright red heart at all these days. It has just gone pear shaped, and all green. No one believes in it anymore.

Actually that might be little too harsh. What I meant was that no one seems to believe in eternal love anymore. All around me, and just as much around you I’m sure, couples who seemed to be forever in love are falling out and drifting apart, away from each other. It needn’t necessarily end in legal separation, but when you meet them, you can tell that the relationship has reached the end of its tether for the staleness begins to show. Why does that happen? Will it happen to you? Will it happen to me?

Well, I hope not and I’m not going to tempt fate by claiming to know how to make every four letter word work better for you just because I got lucky. No sir, and no ma’am, I’m a seeker, just as much as you are… But I will tell you a couple of stories about some friends of mine and maybe we both could learn some lessons on love, enduring and everlasting love as it was once meant to be…

So here’s the first one…

Sahil and Surbhi were batchmates of mine. Surbhi was the queen bee. Every drone worth his droning would be batting his hopeful wings, hoping to catch her eye. The only one who wouldn’t was Sahil. Surbhi was good at games, remembering names, extending a hand, playing with the band and all those other good things that rhyme. Sahil on the other hand was a shameless academic genius. And absurdly good-looking too. Class toppers are supposed to be nerdy, pencil-necked geeks. He wasn’t. He was more like Johnny Depp in contact lenses and a suit. We all hated him for all that, just as much as we loved Surbhi for all that. Then they got lumped together for some of the presentations. Surbhi was a brilliant speaker and a pretty good student herself and together they lit up every presentation they made. For all his ‘attitude’, Sahil was all jelly inside and Surbhi’s warm eyes and sweet smile had him eating popcorn out of her hands at the movies, and before you knew it he was eating sweets out of her hand at their wedding. Yes, they got married as soon as they could and this was a marriage that was made in heaven. Sahil doted on her and Surbhi was in awe of her husband. He was smart and rising rapidly up the corporate ladder, while Surbhi experimented with her career choices and eventually chose to become a dancer. She taught salsa at a popular dance school and spent her weekends teaching dance to handicapped kids and slum children. Sahil would brag about his wife’s good kind heart to his friends but when she would try and talk to him about her work, she couldn’t quite get through.

Sahil cared, and he wanted her to know that. Even though he wouldn’t always say it, he knew she would understand, that even though he was busy playing golf after work with his bosses, she knew he was proud of her.

Husbands, admit it. Within a few years, months and at times weeks of getting married, our wives lose us to the television, or golf, or the quest for the next big car and somehow our relationships aren’t the same ever again. It’s almost like we court obsessively till we tie the knot and then our passions go off on a vacation, only to return like an iron-curtain defector who returns occasionally for fleeting visits and is treated like a rare celebrity.

And wives, it’s not like we need less of your love just because you have a kitchen, a kid and a career that leaves you drained. But more of that later…

As time rolled by, Surbhi and Sahil got drawn into their parallel worlds a little more every day. Some of their friends could see that although they went back to the same house, they weren’t really at home with each other. Their worlds had grown too far apart. Their conversations were functional with none of that youthful chatter about dreams and each other anymore. Conversations were difficult without an event to hang on to. If you were to ask them if they had a problem, they would frown at you and honestly wonder if you had lost your bearings, for to them, life was meant to be this way. If there was a vacuum, they didn’t see it, until…

Wait! Surbhi and Sahil can wait, I need to tell you about Vishnu and Nida before we finish... In the advertising agency where they worked, Vishnu was the charismatic creative head and Nida was the awe-struck starry-eyed trainee. Flamboyant and forceful, Vishnu happened to be a good friend and a very popular, if at times moody boss. Nida was his talented and elegant protégé. In her eyes, Vishnu could do no wrong. She used to hate smokers and yet she found Vishnu seductive when he smoked. Vishnu could get rather loud and boisterous at times but Nida felt he was merely being passionate about his ideas.

And Nida’s sparkling effervescence didn’t go unnoticed. Vishnu liked her work. And he liked her energy and her chic and stylish presence. They went out a few times, “to discuss work”, and then Vishnu started dropping her home. Vishnu didn’t talk much about her but Nida seemed rather smitten. One fine day, they announced they wanted to get married. We weren’t surprised but their parents were. They came from very different families and faiths. This wasn’t going to be easy. Vishnu didn’t have much trouble really, but Nida had to run through walls of fire to convince her people that she really wanted to marry this man. At one point of time, she was ready to give up her ties with her family and the life she knew, just to be with this man. And Vishnu stood by her through it all. Her family blinked first and soon they were married, happily ever after, and so we thought.

Three years later, Nida packed her bags and went back home. She couldn’t bear the thought of spending another day with the man she once worshipped. Her god had fallen off the altar, his halo smashed to sharp edged shards that snagged her dreams and left them bleeding.

The truth is that Vishnu was still the brilliantly creative professional he had always been at work. He hadn’t conned her or lied to her. And neither did she accuse him of that. And yet, Nida, in her own words, “was sick of her marriage”.

I would love to tell you more about the hows and whys of love and why it got this way, but as you can see, we’ve run out of word count, so hang in there and watch this space next week. And while you’re at it, I recommend you switch off that television, go up to your partner and talk about their dreams. If you haven’t done this in a while, you just might end up meeting a nice new stranger. Good luck!


Thursday, December 8, 2011


So you want the magic pill? You want that quick fix that’ll help you fit into that pair of jeans you loved turning around in, and into those arms which once used to clasp at the elbows around your back but now the fingers barely seem to meet, and yes, in your partner’s dreams (it’s a family magazine and that’s what we will call them) where your torso is usually replaced by someone else’s from Baywatch or whatever else you watch… Well, you’ve come to the right page, but before I give you the methods, here’s a bit about the man…

It was a small spiral-bound little yellow book where I first saw his photograph. It was a black and white image of an oldish man. He must have been in his mid-60s. A shock of white hair framed a face that you couldn’t quite call handsome or otherwise. But considering the fact that he was way past his best-before date, this should sound like a compliment. It gets more interesting by the inch, after that.

A taut, strong neck, surprisingly unwrinkled, flows into a sculpted pair of traps and shoulders that look like someone put a pad over a pair of round river rocks. Then that barrel chest and heavy sinewy arms that hung unashamed on either side of a midriff that you knew could take a punch even if you did add an ‘a’ in the mix on a bad day. We’ll stop there, as far as the picture goes, but here’s what I found out about the man in the mix. His name is John McSweeney and he was one Ed Parker’s (Ed, for those not in the know was one of America’s biggest martial arts icons and his students include some of the silver screen’s most celebrated action stars) early star students. McSweeney rose to be a celebrated martial artist in his own right and came to be known for his punching power. It was said that a McSweeney right could drop a horse dead. When John McSweeney started teaching, he stripped his karate down, focusing only on techniques that were equally effective in a New York alley as they were in a Manhattan Dojo. With their karate shorn of all the trappings of tradition and techniques that were mere relics from a different battleground, McSweeney’s Kenpo students became a would be rapist or mugger’s worst living nightmare.

But that isn’t important here. You are not reading this to fight off rapists and robbers. You are reading this because you want to know to fight off the ravages of time, and of the lack of it. You want to know how you could fight off that double chin, that beer/bore children belly, the wasting away of those once robust arms... That’s what you care about and therefore you must read on...

You see martial artists need to train for three things – technique, endurance and power. For developing techniques boxers box, wrestlers wrestle and karatekas do katas. For building muscle and cardiovascular endurance, they all do roadwork of some kind... Cycling, running, rollerblading etc. And for developing the power to knock a man out cold in their punches and kicks, these super athletes lift weights, do endless calisthenics and hit the heavy bags. But what does John McSweeney do? We know he did not bother with tradition. He just wants to do what works the most in the least amount of time and so he tries it all but he knows he is looking for something else... Then one day, he goes to the zoo and stands in front of the tiger’s enclosure. Guess all these boxers and fighters find a kindred spirit in these big cats that have to kill to live... Remember Sylvester Stallone in some of those Rocky films? Anyway, our man, McSweeney, sees this tiger stretch out its feline form with a grace and power that makes the whole body quiver. And that was his Eureka moment.

John McSweeney thought that if the tiger could build its phenomenal power by just stretching and contracting his muscles with such intensity then maybe instead of lift ing weights he would be better off tensing his muscles till they could quivered and he might well approach the mind boggling power to weight ratio of a jungle cat. And so began Mc- Sweeney’s experiments and eventual love affair with what has come to be known as ‘dynamic tension’ – the act of moving a muscle through its range of motion while tensing it as much as possible. McSweeney developed seven primary exercises which he called ‘The Miracle Seven Tiger Moves’. There were three other exercises too but these seven would do for you for now. In McSweeney’s own words, his system is nothing but “contracting and extending your muscles with great tension while thinking into them. It’s the mind muscle connection...” that builds incredible strength, and if I may add, tones your body and builds muscle that is both strong and supple. And as McSweeney adds, you don’t need any weights or equipment. You can train anytime, anywhere. Most importantly this method of training, since it’s just muscle resisting muscle without any jerky snappy movements, is safer than most other forms of exercise.

Just remember to keep breathing, through both nose and mouth, exhaling when exerting, and inhaling when not, and not hold your breath at any point of time.

These workouts have a bit in common with the hard qigong moves of Hung Gar Kung Fu. Interestingly, the Hung Gar style of fighting and training the body found inspiration in the movements of the tiger and the crane. And yes, you should know that Hung Gar masters are known for their strength and vigour. So you now have a martial artist vouching for these workouts, and a centuries old fighting style endorsing the principles of these workouts, and last but not the least, you will now have yours truly giving his grateful perspective on the matter.

Last week I had expressed the constraints that tie us all down and while I had been meaning to get back to the workouts from the beginning of my early youth, now that I’m admittedly in the fag end of my early youth, life and its demands leave me no time for those happy hours in the gym. I had been looking around for some do-it-anywhere workouts and three months ago, I came across a book by John E. Peterson and Wendie Pett titled The Miracle Seven, the aforementioned yellow book, and that’s where I met Mc- Sweeney’s tiger moves.

I added them to my regimen which included calisthenics and yoga, but because of its convenient and comprehensive nature, I found myself leaning on the Tiger Moves whenever I was pressed for time. Soon I realised that while I might miss out on other bits of my workout, it needed very little other than desire to manage the tiger moves at some point in the day. I could do them in shorts and tees, office formals, shower cap or whatever else, wherever else. And I wanted to, because I saw my body go from soft and pudgy to toned and er... if you must know, some would say approaching a shape not too far south of what one might describe as.. er... rather athletic, even if I do say so myself.

John McSweeney says that the tiger moves are an ‘instinctual exercise system’ that will help you develop incredible strength, health and youthful vigour that would stay with you all your life, and develop proportions like that of a gymnast or a ballet dancer. Having stayed with the tiger moves for the last few months I’ve got to admit that I feel the only reason I might not be able to send you a postcard at 90, flexed and toned in my Levi’s 501s, would be because I would’ve a grown a modest bone or two by then.

Oops, I almost forgot, but where are the miracle moves? Well, I recommend you visit and let John Peterson and Wendie Pett, spiritual inheritors of the McSweeney legacy, take you through the moves that promise to reshape your life.

Hey, breathe... remember to breathe...! You are about to become what you were meant to be...


Thursday, December 1, 2011


I feel your pain, yes, I do! There was a time you used to be fit, and looked it too. No, it wasn’t a six pack tucked neatly into your low-waisters necessarily, but at least it was flat….ish. And the shoulders had the nice rounded look of one who knew how to work with his hands, if you know what I mean. But look at that lying wall of glass in the dressing room that tells you that you aren’t young any more. Look at those once proud shoulders that have caved in with the weight of keeping up with the kids, the boss, the deadlines and the EMIs. And whose is that thing you are wearing around your middle? That… that lumpy thing that seems to grow from you and yet doesn’t seem to be a part of you… where did that come from? Just the other day, you would fit into a size 32 and then it got a little tight and you thought you would start running every day and lose the extra bits instead of buying a new size. Then it was your birthday, or was it Diwali, when you got all these new clothes and they all surprisingly got you clothes a size too big. You meant to get them changed but when you tried them on, the fit didn’t seem too bad. So you thought you’d wear them for a while and then get them altered.

That was some years ago. And somewhere in the middle, the details got a little fuzzy. Every three months, you would start running, or going to the gymnasium or those kickboxing classes and then it would get too cold to rise early. In the evenings once the presentations got done, or once the kids went back to school or when you were done with the next round of tours. What’s the point starting and stopping and starting all over again, you thought. So you buy a new pair of trainers and a new gym-bag and sipper to mark this new resolve (or was it the new mountain-bike this time?), and there you go, working on the inches. This time they’re sure to go.

You remember the disapproving look your wife gave you when you tried to fit into that singlet that she bought you in a fit of madness on your honeymoon ten years ago, and that look drives you through the first four winter mornings. And then you get late on Saturday night, you have guests over on Sunday and your wife tells you how nice you look in that new tie and how she’d much rather you remembered to drop her over at her mother’s rather than fit into that singlet and before you know it, another three months have gone and your new gym bag is happy getting stuffed with old books and magazines you’ve removed from the library but haven’t yet decided to give away, just like the other two old ones in the closet, one stuffed with your stamp albums and the other with the stuff you didn’t want the kids to see.

So there you are, unfit, unshapely, unhappy and unfulfilled, on the cusp of another year-end, and wondering if you will ever get to be the way the photos say you once used to be, or hoped to be, depending on whose photos we are talking about here. What’s worse is that those gym-bags in the closet tell you that your plans of ever being a regular gym-rat or trail-cruiser will not work.

So maybe you should give up on the idea of sweating your way back to shape and instead try one of those new fad diets… Atkins, at-kin’s whatever… So what if you don’t lose even an ounce of weight? At least you’ll have something new to talk about when you meet friends over the weekend.

Or maybe you should just drop whatever else you are doing and quickly read the rest of this story. You might want to kiss the hand that typed these words…

John McSweeney is the man to kiss actually, for if you ask me, he has created a ‘do it anywhere’ workout that is arguably the best in the world. How can I tell? Well, like almost every other 30 time, for me, has proven to be a faithless lover. Like your story above, I too have struggled to squeeze in a workout every few months. I too have fretted over that unrecognisable man in the mirror and I too have wondered if I’ll ever become half the man I hoped to be.

But John McSweeney changed all that. It’s been four months since I first read about the man and his ‘Tiger moves’ and I have since gotten back into the best shape of my life (for the record, I was once a dedicated gym rat and I wasn’t really an embarrassment to the establishment).

I don’t mean to brag. The ‘best shape of my life’ might be just pooh-pooh stuff for you but the point is I went from being all puffy and soft to a point where instead of my friends buying me clothes a few sizes bigger than the ones I was stuffing myself into, they were actually saying things like “Ah! You’ve been going to the gym!”, while all I had been doing was just 15 minutes of McSweeney magic, anytime, anywhere.

Unlike weight workouts, I did not need to haul dumbbells and barbells and a bench around with me. In fact, I did not need a road to run on, bars of all sorts to push and pull on or even a mat to lie down on. All I needed was 15 minutes and the willingness to focus mind and body into a concerted effort that was bound to bear sweet fruit.

There have been times when I have been working a tight travel schedule and even then I managed squeezing in a quick work out while waiting at the terminal. When getting a work out is this easy there really are no excuses for missing one.

So watch this space next week for the rest of the story on the man and the methods behind the McSweeney miracle workout, but just in case my word isn’t good enough for you, then read up what fitness guru and author John Peterson says about his first meeting with McSweeney. “ McSweeney was 63 years old then… but looked a lot closer to 45 and moved like a man of 25. And he said he expected to stay that way right up to the end of his days… which was exactly what he did!”

Now show me a man, or a woman, who wouldn’t want people to say that about them when they are 63, and I’ll show you someone who would rather spend their fifteen minutes looking at the mirror wondering what ran over them, while the rest of us could just roll up our sleeves, and believe me that’s all the preparation it takes, and get into our ‘tiger moves’.

So hang in there folks, for your way out of yourselves …