Thursday, August 09, 2018

Working out

The thing that they never told me about teaching is its breathless physicality. You see, in good Cartesian fashion, I thought it was all about the mind. But when faced with twenty odd recalcitrant or absent bodies as the case may be, that which kicks in most even before the mind is the body. One can sense either the presence or absence of energies, and one kicks into high gear. Literally. I'm sure if I were to view myself from the outside, hands and feet waving wildly, trying to keep in tune with the ersatz knowledge we call theory that I try so desperately to articulate, I'd consider myself just another court jester. Which, mind you, I have no problems embodying...

When first initiated into the world of Hindustani classical music in my childhood, all my attention veered towards the artist's bodily and facial contortions, and was both thoroughly tickled and completely awestruck by the ability for bodily abandon. I did not realize then as I did not realize before beginning to teach, that the body is not an instrument, it is the thing in itself. And often we see the body, and hear the voice, and think them to be separate in the world, even as together, they form embodiment proper.

See, for example, this video where you can watch Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in a rendering of Raag Deshkar, every curve of mouth, every tilt of eye, as much as the music as his voice.


But this body that I've spent so many years denying will not be denied; even as nobody ever tells you this secret. During the many years of the PhD, so many of my colleagues cultivated exercise, diet, activity and the rest not as constitutive but as substitutive elements of a life that must be abetted in reaching its highest possible potential, where the body is the means to an end, but never the end in itself. And I followed suit. I practised yoga, ran three miles a day, kayak-ed on weekends, went climbing twice a week, and wrote my dissertation on a Pilates ball. I tried to learn how to swim, a total of seven times, one set of classes at a time. As you can tell, I was not great at it. And while physical activity became routine and marginally fun, it was also equally easy for me to fall off the wagon, for every minute of every activity, counted as reasonable rather than pleasurable.

And I often wonder how it was that so many of my tween and teenage years were spent playing badminton, running around our colony lawn in circles, and absorbing large amount of sunlight at fantastic pursuits like lagori, three hours a day, seven days a week, with no thought of it needing to be on my calendar. I guess the answer might well be adulthood. For adulthood is the attainment of reasonable pursuits such as work, as opposed to pleasurable pursuits such as play. And as one trained in the anthropology of work, I should have known to connect the dots. And training be damned, anyone even marginally aware of the work-leisure binary ushered in by the Industrial Revolution will be able to explain my quandary. For the secret of that binary is that even leisure needs to be worked on, and all leisure in any case only exists in relation to work—yoga as curing stress, running as increasing focus, you get the drift.

So these days, in a minor albeit feeble attempt at bodily living, I do things I feel like, when I feel like. Sometimes I walk, and at other times run. I jump over balustrades, trip and fall, and skip steps. I climb walls, run into the sea, and fail miserably at somersaulting. I watch these Madras boys, running in wild abandon, vaulting over dividers, and imagine myself in their stead. I see young colt-like children waddling over grass, flailing and giggling, and follow in their wake.

And I tell myself that it'll all work out.