The Day of the Genie

Thoughts on a curious tradition

On a bright January morning in 2019, I walked into an F45 Fitness studio. You had to climb three flights of stairs for the reception and gym floor, which I presumed was their idea of a warm-up. The blue-and-white F45 branding was plastered on the walls which ran along the staircase. Loud, bass-y music was accompanied by a loud and bass-y human voice asking someone to push harder.

I walked up the three flights, panting and puffing, and found the receptionist. He was warm and soft-spoken, quite unlike most gym receptionists I have met. But when I asked him about the annual subscription, a smirk broke out on his face. Another one, his eyes screamed. “I have an important event coming up in September, for which I need a lot of Strength & Conditioning training,” I said, explaining myself even though he didn't ask.

I know why he smirked. For starters - F45's brand of fitness is challenging. Their cardio sessions leave you gasping for air and the strength sessions often prompt you to re-evaluate your life decisions. It is rare that someone with my typically Indian, skinny-fat build would last an entire year of this. For him, this was just another flimsy new year's resolution waiting to break under the weight of lethargy.

He did not know, and wasn't supposed to either, why I was there in the first place.

My trip to F45 was the result of a conscious choice. I had been running for a few years, but never quite warmed up to it. So, over time, I reduced running to an endurance measurement tool. Once or twice every fortnight, I would time my runs to check if I could run faster and longer. The annual goal, however, was to push my endurance to uncharted waters.

Once I could comfortably cross five kilometres, a 10K finisher's medal became my next target. The Wipro Chennai Marathon - it may have changed title sponsors now -  is held every January and has a 10-kilometre race. In 2017, I checked that off my list.

In 2018, I moved on to the half-marathon, but came close to quitting the race many times. After about an hour into the race, every step reminded me of my dislike for running. Why was I running 21 kilometres at 4 am on a Sunday morning? I knew crossing the finish line would be cathartic, but I hadn't estimated the surge of emotions upon receiving the medal.

So, on New Year's Eve that year, I made the resolution of taking it a notch higher. Life lesson: never make decisions under the influence of good gin & tonic. I registered for the 2019 Ladakh Half-Marathon. The week after, faced with the daddy of all uphill climbs, I walked up the F45 stairs.

I lasted eight months at F45, but it was long enough to train for and conquer a half-marathon at 11000 feet. While making the bold announcements seven months before, I didn't think I could accomplish this. But, I've come to realise, accomplishment is not even the point of resolutions. Our resolutions merely reflect the things we want to improve in ourselves, a to-do list for an internal genie if there ever is one.

Growth is not a fad. It will never be. My friend Sharad often spoke about a sister he had lost touch with. His face bore a weird mix of sadness and hope. When he mumbled something about spending time with his family last year, I understood where he was coming from. I don't know if he ended up going through with it, but the thought mattered.

The last page of a calendar can act as a potent door beyond which lie newer possibilities. The follow-through, however, depends on an internal and private motivation - the kind, I suspect, you cannot barter on Instagram for likes. If I wanted to learn the saxophone, I would kick the door open and upgrade my musical abilities. If it was just a fleeting interest, like going vegetarian or cutting out dessert, even a weekly Skype call with Kenny G wouldn't suffice. But, on a drunk 31st December night, I would think of the saxophone and fantasise about playing the intro of Careless Whisper.

In about four days from now, this annual tradition will possess us. While simultaneously counting down the minutes to a new calendar year and the number of drinks it takes us to pass out, our conversations will turn to the dreaded r-word. We will be keen to announce, ask, and validate.

2020 has been a rough year. We have been locked up in a room for long periods, sitting across our fears and insecurities, unable to use social life as an excuse to look away. If anything, this New Year's Eve is a great time to make ambitious resolutions. Let them rain and make them outlandish, and while you are at it, drink yourself silly. You deserve it for getting through this year.