Indian Attitude to Fitness
The India rubber man is getting lumpy and stiff. A clichéd image of an Indian used to be a wiry little fellow who tied himself into amazing knots, or laid himself quite happily on a bed of nails. He was fit, flexible and had power of endurance, thanks to the practice of yoga. (Yoga is a sophisticated Indian system of holistic health leading to the optimisation of mind and body potential in human beings.) But somewhere along the way Indians have just let go.
Plumping for prosperity
While our sculptures from the slim Indus valley danseuse to an elegant Chola bronze glorify taut and streamlined figures, we also have our Ravi Varma paintings and Thanjavur style where the men and women are plump and happy. This plumpness got associated with prosperity and good living. Even today Indian communities are more approving of people slightly overweight than of slim ones. Though being slim is not necessarily being healthy, corpulence does not conform to the fitness code either.
Mind Over Matter
Another reason why physical fitness hit low priority is the understanding (however
superficial) that the mind is more important than the body. This applied especially to women. It is okay for a well-endowed, skimpily clad lady to peer timelessly in a mirror in a sculpture on the temple wall. In real life, only courtesans and loose women drew attention to themselves with cosmetics and careful dressing. Men and women were expected to be active but exercise was not enforced as a regimen.
Indian clothes can be deceptive. Our traditional garments are loose, flowing and largely unstitched ones, ideal for our weather. The sari can show off a fit and shapely figure. But the sari, dhoti or salwar kameez can also shroud potbellies and sagging flesh. Conversely people are more accepting of poorly maintained physiques in traditional clothes than in Western outfits.
The Indian Image
Beauty is largely associated with colour of the skin, the hair and facial features. Women are expected to be wide hipped and big breasted, possibly because these characteristics are thought to be essential for child bearing and rearing. How fit a person looks or feels receives low priority. Health is seen as an absence of disease, though in the indigenous systems of medicine, health had a holistic connotation.
Cable TV has reached far into rural India. Mass media has played a vital role in changing ideals. New concepts of food, dress, and lifestyle are sneaking up on the Indian. In the metros the change has been drastic. Simple living and high thinking is passé. It is earn big and spend bigger now. People are opting for white-collar jobs and putting a premium on living comfort. As physical activity goes out of our daily routine, a whole new set of health risks creeps in.