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We all are creatures of habit. Some like me, more so. Not habit simply but familiarity…familiar people, familiar surroundings, familiar routine. Shake this up, and that too without prior notice, and I’m like a fish out of water..for a while at least. How moving to a new city, or even a city that I’ve lived in earlier but moved out of, traumatises me, is anyone’s guess. I try to look around for familiar things that can help me establish a familiar routine. Until the “newness” of it all fades, I’m pretty much lost.

One of the first things I do in a new city is to locate a good gym. I may have to hop, skip and jump over unpacked boxes to get there but a gym helps me find my moorings. Not that I’m any fitness freak but the loud, often over bearing music, drowns out my thoughts that often verge on the morose. And as I begin to run ( crawl for many) to the beat of that music, ah! Bliss!! It’s a high that few other experiences can match. Can only imagine what Usain Bolt feels !

In Chandigarh my search for a gym became akin to the quest for the Holy Grail. For starters, Chandigarh didn’t have, and to my knowledge still doesn’t , any International Health Club. The reason I went looking for an established name was not because of snooty brand value but because these International chains have, and adhere to, high standards for everything- equipments, trainers, group classes and even basic hygiene. But forget any such chains, even the ones I had seen during my last stint in the city had vanished and their place taken by some new names. Asking people around me did not help. Chandigarh, you see, works on the system of old, well established coteries. One always goes to/ recommends a place that is owned or run by someone known, regardless of that place’s actual worth. So it was suggested that I try out a gym in the front row of Sector 9/ back of Sector 8 that is owned by Pammy Aunty’s brother’s son, who also owns something else somewhere in the city.

After a lot of to and fro I eventually zeroed down on one that seemed decent enough. But Chandigarh will never cease to surprise me. As  I reached the gym, I saw a bevy of high end chauffeur driven cars and the drivers carrying gym bags upstairs. Instead of people with well toned bodies or at least trying to get there, I was greeted by a crowd with perfectly coordinated gym attire in latest trends and colours. Lovely lip balms, kajals and liners make for a great ad alright but are not particularly conducive to a good work out.  As days went by I realised that the gym, like places of worship, is not full of people who are committed to its primary reason for existence- in this case fitness. Just like the places of worship become a ground for socialising, so it was with the gym. Not that Fitness First in Gurgaon didn’t witness any socialising- it did too but priority was always the workout. Whatever talking and gossiping happened was after the workout over a quick cup of coffee at the snacks bar. Taking breaks to gossip or just gossiping, and exercising as a break instead, were some new things that I witnessed here. As was the culture of shouting out to the attendant to wipe down the equipment or to carry your bags. Colonial legacies are indeed difficult to break!

As days went by I got accustomed to the same faces with their daily round of gossip updates.  As much as I tried, shower room talks are difficult to avoid. I knew precisely when someone’s mother in law was visiting or when they were going on a holiday. If someone had a fight with her hubby or trouble at work or with domestic help, that too were a part of the talks as were the medical problems that beleaguered some. Beauty talks and health tips were flying out of my ears within a few months time.

So did my commitment to fitness improve or wane at this gym? Neither actually. I continue to run at my snail’s pace and feel happy about it. But yes, unlike Gurgaon, I wave at every other person I’ve got used to seeing there and indirectly even befriended. I know who needs a sympathetic pat or a friendly hug and very often it’s me who needs that hug or pat – Life can throw genuine heavy weights at us to handle.  So it’s once again familiar faces, familiar people and familiar surroundings; all the more friendlier because it’s Chandigrah. And I, in turn, love Chandigarh more because of it.