Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One for a healthy heart

"All the first year students should report in the seminar hall for a medical check-up." The notice-board on the college walls made this announcement. It is compulsory to record the medical history of every student in the college, so that it is easy to administer medical care in case of an emergency.

"So, what all will they record?" This was Leena's first question. Height, okay, blood-pressure, pulse, allergies, anything else except weight. She dreaded that part, because she had been overweight (on the borderline of being classified obese) right since her school days. Not that she didn't exercise or try to reduce her weight. She tried jogging, skipping, aerobics and many other things. But, she always did it under parental pressure. Surprisingly, she didn't pay heed to peer pressure.

"Leena, don't worry, you won't have to give your weight details," said Sumati, mischievously. "Why?," asked the others around her. "Well, you see, her weight is beyond the limits of the weighing scale!!" Everybody standing around poured into laughter. Leena, took it sportingly, but it always hurt her. Not that she was a lazy-bum, couch potato. She stood 5'8" tall, could walk for miles together or any given day, but her weight still was a concern to her. After college had begun, under pressure from her parents, she joined a gym, where she diligently followed their workout programme, hoping that she will lose weight. But, again, she dropped out of the gym at the very first excuse available.

Now, let us fast forward. Two years into college, Leena had made a nice group of friends. Everytime after the results were out, the group used to gather in a restaurant just to celebrate their success. Even if somebody had failed in a subject, (s)he would join the celebrations. But this time, they decided to go out on a trek to the small hillock just on the outskirts of the town. Excitedly, they all rushed to the hillock on their bikes and started trekking up the hill. While the group was moving ahead, Leena was stuck behind, because her weight didn't allow her to make quick moves up the hill. Sumati, who was with her because she always used to be, asked her to speed up. "But..... hmpf, hmpf, I can't go up any further," said Leena gasping for every breath of air. "It is too tiring. " "Come on, Leena, you can make it," Sumati couldn't think of anything better to encourage her. Leena continued, although she felt like her legs would break up into pieces, she had decided she wouldn't give up on the trek. The pain was too much to bear. Finally, almost an hour after everybody had reached the top, Leena managed to tumble up the summit. And she wasn't left with any strength to proceed further. She just gulped 2-3 glasses of cool lemon juice, which had a refreshing feeling.

At the summit the entire gang just sat and had lots of discussions over all possible issues under the sun. Suddenly, realising that they would need to start now, if they were to reach home in time, Leena and Sumati ushered the group to wind up and start the downward journey. It was a bit early, but Leena needed extra time than others to complete her downhill expedition.

When she came home, she withdrew to her room and tried to think what could be done about her weight? Dinner time came and went, but she wasn't able to make up her mind. She was completely embarrassed by today's outing. Something within her didn't want to take it lightly. She wanted to be fit and fine for every physical activity. For the first time, she realised the importance of all those health related articles she'd read on the internet. They always warned about eating right and exercising so as to stay fit. It finally dawned upon her that if she didn't take efforts to stay fit, not only would she end up at the back in treks, but also end up with heart problems, diabetes or blood-pressure. She desperately wanted to follow some of the fitness tips offered on the websites, but knew she couldn't stick to them as these tips never ever addressed beginners.

She then devised a plan for herself. Firstly, she would bring her diet under strict control. Not the kind of diet that aspiring models indulge in. She would limit the quantities of food she takes. Breakfast, which was normally healthy and sumptuous, needed no attention. So, during lunch it would be just two chapatis and a serving of rice, supplemented by ample amounts of salads like cucumber, carrots, etc. It shouldn't matter how favourite the vegetable is, the amount had to remain fixed. Dinner, would mean three chapatis only. Nothing more nothing less. And a strict cut down on intermediate munching. If she was hungry, it would be fruit juices, for she couldn't carry fruits to college. For the first three months, she would be just ensuring a discipline in her diet. Physical exercise was necessary if she wanted to reduce her weight. Leena decided to participate in the monsoon mini-marathon, which was 8-9 months away. To prepare for the mini-marathon, she would have to practice jogging. Since, it was a target for her to complete the marathon in respectable time, she would be forced to practice for it. And, to avoid embarrassment at college, she wouldn't be able to withdraw at the last moment. But, will she be able to run? She was determined to try!

Three months later.... Leena was sticking to her schedule. Her diet was under control for 6 out of 7 days of the week. Once in a while, she did give into the temptation. Her jogging efforts too were taking shape, albeit slowly. She was able to jog for 1 k.m. before tiring out. A good progress, for some one who had detested the idea of running around without purpose. Over time, she had realised improvements in herself. Although her weight wasn't coming down quickly- she lost only half a kilo in three months- she was feeling better. She felt fitter, lighter and quicker. Out of curiosity, she had got herself tested for blood-pressure and other conditions. She found out that everything was well within limits. Her blood-pressure was normal, sugar and cholesterol well within limits. And her exercise schedule continued like before, diet under control, jogging distance increasing gradually.

Now, almost a year has passed since Leena embarked on her fitness plan. It was totally self-motivated. No parental pressure or peer pressure. Just self-motivation. It all began with her desire to stay along with the rest of the pack during their trekking excursions. She realised the power of positive emotions. Previously, all weight-reduction plans had failed, because they were thrust on her. This time, it was she who had undertaken the task herself. And she couldn't let herself fail!! She completed the mini-marathon, 12km, in 1 hr. 45 min, a respectable time for her. Her weight too, had come down by 6 kilo, but her frame appeared still leaner and fitter and her waist was down by three sizes. This time, when they went to trek the hillock, she wasn't far behind the rest of the group!

Note: This post was written as a part of "20000 Bloggers for a Billion Hearts" contest for Through this post, I wanted to convey the importance of self-motivation that can drive obese/lethargic people into doing the impossible. You can see my pledge on the extreme right gadget bar. I urge you to take the pledge too and spread the message for a safe heart.

One for a healthy heartSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, July 19, 2010

European diaries, Part 3: Rules, regulations and human rights

Now that I have written a few good and humourous things about Europe, let me also talk about the "bad" things in Europe. Here, in India, we keep on commenting how clean the western countries are, how they follow rules and regulations, etc., etc. Well, mainland Europe is clean, its streets are bereft of any dirt or garbage. People carry leftovers in their bags and drop them off only in bins kept at frequent locations and cleaned at regular intervals.

But, to say that (western) Europeans have highest regard for rules and regulations, is far-fetched. In Europe, smoking is banned in public places and public transport. So, while Europeans do not smoke on trains, you should watch them at railway stations. Before boarding the train, the passengers smoke incessantly. And as the guard blows the whistle, to indicate closing of doors, they stub the cigarette on the platform and get into the train. These stubs are left on the platform, to be collected by the cleaning staff, whenever they do their rounds. Even at intermediate stations, passengers get down from the train, take a few puffs and then get back in the train. It is common to find numerous cigarettes stubs at station entrances and exits.

In the Louvre museum in Paris, there are strict instructions, written on the entry ticket and atleast one wall of every gallery, to not use the camera flash while photographing the artwork inside. Yet, you will find everybody, majority of whom are Europeans and Americans, violating this rule and nonchalantly using the camera flash to click photographs. They do not even spare the cathedral, where others have come in to offer their prayers.

And finally, while the European Union champions itself as an organisation that strives for enforcement of human rights, it falters in its own backyard. One of the most basic right of any human is access to potable water. Even in India, (supposedly "third world" and having a bad record of human rights violations) there are free water fountains in cities, towns, railway stations, etc. where anybody can drink water. And restaurants are bound by law to provide potable water free of costs to their customers. But, none of this exists in Europe. You are required to buy your beverage at the restaurant, whether it is water or Coke. And both are priced at the same rate. Of course, tap water in Europe is so potable, that you can even drink from the wash basin tap. But then, isn't it necessary to provide for free (or cheap) access to water to commoners? Why should water be priced at the same rate as cold-drinks or slightly cheaper than beer? I do not see any of the European countries acting on this issue any time in the future. Even the USA has a law which makes it compulsory to provide free potable water at every place that serves food.*

While we brood about our uncivilised ways and their civilised ways, let's thank God for the things we already have.

*About the free potable water in USA, I was told about this by a US citizen. I personally do not know if such a law exists and do not hold me responsible if this information is incorrect.
European diaries, Part 3: Rules, regulations and human rightsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

European diaries, Part2: Confusions galore

In my previous post, I had written about how the politeness of Belgians and, in general, most of Western Europeans left me baffled. There are a lot more things in Europe that can confuse you, especially if you are coming from tropical South Asia.

Since the young age of seven or eight, we are taught about how to safely cross the road. The teacher used to instruct- look to right, see if there is no vehicle approaching. Then look to your left and see if there is no vehicle approaching. Then cross the road only if there are no vehicles approaching from both sides. Over time, we gained experience on how to cross the streets safely, even if there are vehicles approaching. And over time, our necks first turn right, then left, as if it were a reflex action. But, this would never work in mainland Europe. In the first two days, I used to do that almost reflexively. And when I began crossing the road, a car used to honk at me. It takes you time to realise that the traffic here is always travelling from left to right. So, you need to first look left, then right and then cross the road. Till the day I left Europe, it always happened to me atleast one a day.

European summers too add to a lot of confusion. Being from India, where the longest day isn't more than 13 hours, it is very difficult to digest the fact that the sun sets after 10:00 PM in the summer. Even at 8:00 PM in the evening, the sun is shining as it would at 4 PM in the afternoon in India. And the mind cannot prepare the body to have dinner while the sun is still shining high in the sky. Or to go to sleep when it is so bright. I've ended up being half sleepy all through my Europe trip, just because I couldn't adjust to this very fact. But, otherwise, Europe is enjoyable and the life is definitely good.
European diaries, Part2: Confusions galoreSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, July 05, 2010

Europe diaries: Part 1

In Belgium, every one is too polite. It freaks me out, when the person at the ticket counter says "Bon jour". Not only in the morning, but any time of the day. Especially, when you are used to the thumping, that indicates "next please". For the first two days, I wasn't able to return the greeting. I could only smile in surprise. But, somehow, I managed to say "Thank you" at the end of the ticket purchase transaction.
The same goes with the travelling ticket examiner. In Belgium, there are female TTEs too. He or she first greets you with "Bon jour" and then politely asks you for your ticket. These people might be greeting more than 100 people in a single journey. A sea of change from India.
Europe diaries: Part 1SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend