Daily life

Walk India, walk!

11:47 AM

I love walking, always have, in Switzerland this was easy to do, roads are clear and clean, and a park or the countryside is never too far to get those legs working. Near my place it was a dirt trail going along a stream from my suburb all the way into the fields in the neighbouring villages. I would grab my shoes whenever I felt tensed take my Walkman (yup no mp3 player back then), and go hack some miles, even in the dead of Winter if needed, the trail was quiet, away from the cars and city life feeling and if I had something big bugging me I could walk furiously at first until I drained the pent up frustration out and then walk at a more casual pace on the way back. I would make a point to be out of my home every Saturday, but doing a different kind of walking, taking the tramway downtown and do some window shopping…yup every Saturday I would walk miles and miles in commercial streets, up to the old town, down to the lake, up to the station and back down to the lake, stopping in shops to just roam and have a look, occasionally buying myself a trinket or two, stopping for lunch at my favourite places for their salad buffets and pies, or a sushi tray (ah the single life!), roaming in the public library…I was pretty much up my feet from about 10am until 6pm when I made it back home on these days, Sundays were or walking, or cycling depending my mood if the weather was nice enough.
And these are the thing I actually miss the most about Switzerland in India, the potential of combining escapes with workout and feeling great about it.

Indian cities are not only crammed, dirty, noisy and if you are a woman full of men that can’t handle themselves at the sight of one, which takes the fun out of the walking act, depending where you live you have to deal with a total lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and lack of green spaces to get your heart pumping in a safe place.
8.5 nearly 9 years ago when I first arrived I was amazed to see that even in my old first neighbourhood in Bangalore (Jayanagar) which is a great planned area with lots of quiet streets shaded by trees people were not really going out for a walk, at the most you would find one or two senior male citizen going for a stroll in the morning and that was it. I spent 3 months roaming around by feet there feeling like a kind of oddity doing so. Over the years more and more younger men were going out for a walk in the morning, but no women, I was again an oddity going to walk my dog around when DH wasn’t there in the wee hours of the morning, and funnily had only the aunties giving me mean stares, the working out crowd didn’t give me much of a glance, I was probably just another morning stroller. And since I hated having to deal with auto drivers I would walk places when DH wasn’t in town, some of the aunties in my street found that puzzling, one told me it wasn’t safe for a woman to walk like that…to me it stroke me as much safer to walk than face arguing with a potentially violent auto driver that could drive me in a secluded place and do his worst in the sake of gaining a few more rupees out of the deal, I didn’t tell her that though, just ignored and kept walking, beside the climate in Bangalore is just too nice. It’s really in the past 2-3 years that changes really started to occur in cities.
First the medias have been urging city dwellers to get off their butt. Unless you’ve been living in a rock, you should know that India is the world’s diabetes capital, and probably the one for heart disease as well. Both lifestyle disease that can be prevented by a good diet and less sedentary lifestyle. Doctors are nowadays advising every patient to just get more active, hit the gym, hit the road, hit the treadmill, tend to your garden, but please pleas please be on your feet. Getting of the couch is just the way to keep diabetes at bay if you don’t have it yet, to keep it manageable if you already have it, it’s the way to keep your hear young, it’s the way to stay fit and healthy when pregnant, it’s the way to strengthen those muscles and keep the joints young longer.
A couple of years ago the mobile phone service provider “Idea” came up with their campaign “Walk and talk” which in my opinion was one of the most memorable they came up with, you can watch the full clip here :



For months, walk and talk was on all the TV channels and probably one of the less idiotic commercial around.
Whether it is that commercial that got people off their couch and on their feet or a combination of constant awareness raised by every medias and Doctors? Well no idea (no pun intended), but what is sure is that now urban India is strapping on their running shoes and doing it! I try to do it myself daily, even in Mumbai’s harsh humid climate, my residential enclave provide the perfect workout having a big road circling it that goes up a hill at one point, so I get Ishita on her cycle, and push the handle as she isn’t really pedalling well yet, and pushing a kiddo on a stroller or a cycle up a hill just add up to the workout let me tell you. But I am not alone, we usually go out in the late afternoon, and we see a quite diverse crowd on the track, other moms like me who have finally the free time to get going and found out how much of a workout pushing a baby in a stroller can be, aunties wearing brand new running shoes with their salwaar suits or  sarees, uncles strutting their stuff in shorts and t-shirts with equally high tech shoes. Young professional going for a jog after their office hours, husbands doing the round with their wives in trendy branded sportswear, young ladies not shying away from shorts and workout tops, people walking their dogs (something rarely done 6 years ago when we got ours). And for those who are more lark than owls, the road become their playground at the break of dawn, DH himself goes for his walk before heading to office, ladies who are too shy to hit the road hit the park directly inside our complex. In the past 2-3 years it has really started to sink in into people’s mind that exercising is vitally important to keep healthy, and that it doesn’t matter if you are old, young, fat, unfit, a woman or a man, what matters is that you get moving, at your pace, as much as you can as long as you do it.
And that ladies and gent I call a success in itself. It’s a small step sure, but it is a start, hopefully more infrastructure will come, a community that is now walk happy will surely look for area with the space to do so to live in, which means some thought might be put into developing such places overtime.
Because in the end, blaming lifestyle diseases on junk food alone is one thing, but it’s not all that is causing the health disaster we have now, heck even the traditional home cooked Indian meal is high in carbs and fat and is beneficial to a segment of the population that works on their feet, and as natural and healthy it can feel is not suited for a person that works long hours behind a desk without shaking their legs a little. The human body is designed to get moving, and can bear walking over long distances without much problem if it is kept fit to do so.

As for me, I gave myself an upgrade in footwear this weekend, I don’t feel comfy walking in my running shoes in this climate, I sweat and overheat too fast, but my flip flops aren’t really comfy either, so I got myself a pair of Fila Velcro straps sandals with a thick shock absorbing sole to keep on walking.

5 comments

  1. It's great you can get out and walk now. I missed that while living in Amritsar too. There were a few places to walk, but just as you mentioned it's hard to feel safe or enjoy it if you're a woman. Even when I wasn't alone I didn't feel comfortable in the park there.

    In the US my mom has a treadmill. I could go out and walk along her road but I don't think my muscle tone is up for that year (she lives in the hills). I do look forward to walking along city streets again soon though.

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  2. Yeah loosing muscle tone is something that is a serious risk living in India :-) I'm happy our residential enclave has a steep uphill portion of road to get my muscles working a little :-)

    There might be another blog post soon about my take on children obesity around her. The media are quick to blame dual income families and kids preffering to veg in front of the idiot box, but I seriously don't buy it. Everywhere I lived and went if there is a safe park or playground kids will go out and play for hours, there are actually very very few kids that are obese or even overweight in my complex and even then they are out playing like the other kids, most are kids from dual income families and go out to play with their maid supervising. My take on why obesity is an issue is that there are many area where there is a total lack of infrastructure for kids to play safely outdoor and grown up to exercise properly.

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  3. I agree with you about kids. Hubby was "mota" as a kid too and I'm certain it was because there was no safe place to play and he only likes junk food lol. He didn't sit in front of the TV but he spent most of his childhood in a war-torn city which meant he was always indoors. Most of the residents still feel like the park isn't safe to go to and thus don't go out much and keep the kids indoors. Schools don't teach physical fitness to the children and that's going to cause problems in an India that is rapidly adopting western trends like eating more meat. They need to find a balance.

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  4. Akshaya7:42 AM

    I agree walking in Indian cities is unsafe for women even in broad day light. I have few bad memories of being sexually harassed while walking to college , but its niether safe using auto rickshaw or public transport. So the only option is to drive your own vehicle if thats allowed in the family or be dependant on the male of the family to take you around. I ended up walking in groups with my freinds , but that was not possible everytime, so end up walking on the terrace of our building for some exercise and fresh air. I love the freedom and safe feeling women get in Aus, its safe to walk and get on public transport at majority of the times.

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  5. I grew up with a father who was a jail officer, he taught us quite a few tricks to keep safe, self defence being one, so I know where to strike to make an escape if needed :-) And it actually doesn't even need much strenght to get out of a sticky spot. My sister had to put them to use in Geneva a few years back. I think the difference between India and back home is not that there is less crime as such, it's just that men aren't going to try that easily, the rapists are deranged individual, the teasers are given a lot more hell in Geneva, probably because women are tought very early on to be assertive and not fear and stay safe at home. So walking in India might not be ultra safe, but as my dad put it back in the day it gives me control, which is power in my hand, I am in charge of my surrounding I am in charge of where I go, and it's pretty much all in my hands to stay alert. When I take an auto I relinquish that power to the driver, at night it can be super unsafe. I never tried getting on a bus in India, the bus route system in cities is very confusing, so that would be really giving all my power to people I am not sure I could trust.

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