Month: March 2017

The Proud Unhealthy Indians

The Proud Unhealthy Indians

Image credit : Pixabay

Despite being one, I am no closer to understanding Indians. Why is it that we were always ruled by foreign powers but never ventured too far from home to become rulers? If our ancient rulers had spent even half of the time and resources on science and innovation instead of religion, things would have been much better today. Or why, despite having the manpower and the resources, do we rank so low in most indices that indicate a better life?

But these are complex economic and sociological questions with no clear-cut answers or more than one answer. So lets turn our attention to a smaller problem : individual health. It would be fair to say that majority of Indians are not health conscious. I am excluding here the minority that you see jogging in parks or going regularly to the gym. You guys are doing great. Keep it up! There is also the younger generation whose sole purpose for going to the gym is to get six packs or zero size like the ones that their Bollywood screen idols flaunt. This is better than not doing anything, but the motivation is misplaced and may not last long enough. Fitness is much more than just looking good, although you do look good if you are fit.

If you look at the crowds on Indian streets, one thing that stands out are the bellies. Leaving aside the middle-aged or the seniors, it’s really sad to see twenty-somethings sporting generous bellies. And it’s not just bad only from the aesthetic point of view. India has as many as 50 million diabetic patients and according to experts, the number of heart disease patients is on the brink of an epidemic. Life expectancy in India is about 68.3 years (both sexes) and we rank 125th in the world. No 1 is Japan with 83.7 years. Countries ahead of us include Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Iraq! Of course, life expectancy depends on many other parameters such as health care for the poor etc. What’s remarkable is that the health awareness is poor in higher middle class as well, where adequate resources are available.

If you struggle everyday to find time to exercise or eat the right food while dealing with complexities of modern life, I empathize with you. I have been unhealthy most of my life. I know the struggle. It is not easy to be healthy in today’s world. Work pressures, deadlines, family commitments – anything and everything can get in the way. Of course, there are many ways to overcome these hurdles. (Tip : It’s okay to start very small. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Consistency is more important.) I understand people who realize that they are not healthy and that they should do something about it.

There is another class of Indians who have a different attitude towards health. And it is this group that I fail to understand. What I find most surprising is that these people are actually proud to be unhealthy. There is a certain devil-may-care attitude. To a certain extent, this is understandable if it’s a group of teenagers. Hopefully, they will come to their senses in due course of time. But when this attitude carries over into the thirties and beyond, that’s when it gets problematic. A side effect of this attitude is the belief that it is more hip or cool to live recklessly without any regard to your health. And this also means that people who do take care of their bodies (and their minds) are somehow uncool.

What is the origin of this illogical belief? One is the assumption that if you follow healthy routines, you are missing out on life. This, of course assumes that excessive drinking, smoking or eating everything that tastes good is the only way to enjoy life. So if you are not doing these things, you are uncool. QED.

What these people have never experienced is this. When you have slept a good night’s natural sleep, when your body is well rested, when you have eaten food that does not make you drowsy or sluggish, when you are brimming with so much energy that after a workout you feel more refreshed and energized instead of feeling exhausted, this feeling is your body saying “Thank You!” And no amount of external stimulation can match this wonderful feeling of being healthy.

The other illogical belief prevalent in Indians is that they are too conscious of their age. Now, one would assume that if this were the case, they would be more careful about their bodies as they age but what we see is the exact opposite. They just hang up their boots as they go into their thirties. They avoid physical activities, prefer vehicles even for smaller distances, some have trouble in simple tasks like getting up from a chair. Gradually they become sluggish and devoid of energy. Automation in every aspect of our lives only exacerbates this tendency.

Internet is full of interesting videos and news bits. Every so often, there is some interview of the oldest man or woman, telling us about their diet or their philosophy of life. There is a video of a 99 year old beating a 92 year old in 100 m sprint.

Jiro Ono, one of the most celebrated chefs in Japan, is still active as ever at the young age of 91. Clint Eastwood, 86, made Sully with Tom Hanks last year. What this means is that not only are they physically fit at their age, but they have exceptionally creative and sharp minds as well. I have already written about Jiro-san. Clint Eastwood also deserves a separate post.

Or there is Alan Alda, 80, doing a cartwheel. Caption was, “I will try again when I’m 85.”

Think carefully. What was the last time you read such a news about an Indian living in India?

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart


I mean, what was it even thinking? Answer to the biggest problem ever is 42?? The most powerful supercomputer in the universe spends millions of years doing hard mathematical calculations and comes up with 42? It’s meaningless.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, drop whatever you are doing and go read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. You are welcome. 42, by the way, is the answer to the ultimate question about life, universe and everything.

But this post is not about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. What Douglas Adams has done is take a dig at all the attempts to discover the meaning of life. Everyone has grappled with this question in some form or another. (If you have not, you are too young. Wait for a bit.) A corollary to this question is what makes us happy? This one is as formidable as its parent and there are no clear-cut answers. What’s paradise for one person can be hell for another and vice versa. At the same time, it can be interesting and illuminating to read about someone’s journey to fulfilling what they set out to do.

Enter Chris Stewart. Chris was a drummer and one of the founding members of the English rock band Genesis, along with Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks. Chris’ career as a drummer was short lived. After he left Genesis, he did something completely unpredictable. With all the savings that he had, he bought a farm named El Valero in Las Alpujarras region of Andalucia, Spain. He moved there with his wife Ana and has been living there ever since. Chris is also a sheep shearer. This helped him financially while surviving in Andalucia. Driving Over Lemons – the subtitle is An Optimist in Andalucia – is the autobiographical account of Chris’ adventures in everything from farming and building houses to pig killing and becoming a proper shepherd. Chris has a somewhat romantic vision of the last one – the shepherd taking his sheep up the hill, watching them graze on lush green grass through wet mist.

Chris, or Cristóbal, as he is known in the Spanish community, had to learn everything. Fortunately, experienced farmers like his neighbour Domingo, were there to help. Perhaps the toughest two tasks were building a house in stone and building a bridge over the nearby river. In the first one, Domingo showed Chris how to place each stone one over the other and then cement the whole thing. Within a week or two, Chris gained enough knowledge so that later he led a team of volunteers from New Zealand to finish building the house. Second task was more difficult. You have to cut large beams of eucalyptus tree trunks, put large stones in the river and build a pier, and finally haul the beams on top. It took twelve strong men four hours of hard work to get everything in place.

There were some failures as well. The poultry project, consisting of chickens, guinea-fowls, ducks, pigeons and quails started off promisingly but ultimately failed. Reason? Too many predators, too little protection. Foxes, snakes, stouts, weasels, martens, wild cats, rats, all lying in wait for their next meal. Speaking of meals, the book also has an interesting recipe of papas a lo pobre – ‘poor man’s potatoes’.

The tendency to idealize living in nature can be very tempting. Even Chris has an ideal picture in his mind in the beginning, but he is honest in recording the gaps between the ideal and the practical. Not everything is hunky-dory, problems come in all shapes and sizes, be it a severe drought followed by flood (and the bridge that took so much work was washed away) or preventing the sheep from ransacking the vegetable patch.

“Getting away from it all” has become such a cliché that every week you see a few articles on it. Driving Over Lemons is not about this. There is no message here, it’s just an honest account of an honest journey. Not everyone can be a farmer and live in the woods. What’s fascinating is the whole spectrum of milieus that life has to offer. On the one hand we have state-of-the-art technology with plans of colonizing Mars and on the other we have Chris and Ana, treating sheep wounds using herbal medicines. (It worked!) Mind you, Chris is not anti-technology at all. He was the first one to use a machine for shearing sheep, in the face of strong resistance from the Spanish shepherds who liked the conventional way of doing things.

I found Driving Over Lemons through sheer serendipity – a book sale. (Pick any book for 50 bucks! Hurry!!!) Soon after I discovered the joys of Kindle and ebooks, I happily gave away about a hundred hardcovers and paperbacks. For some reason, I could not part with my copy of Driving Over Lemons. Perhaps, there is some connection between the simple life depicted in the book and reading it in a conventional mode, turning pages.

What is the meaning of the title Driving Over Lemons? We find the answer on page 2. Chris is driving with Georgina, a real estate agent, to look at the farms up for sale. The road is filled with lemons fallen from trees lining up both sides of the road. Chris says,

I stopped and backed up a bit to go round a lemon.
‘Drive over lemons,’ ordered Georgina.