By Pradyut Hande
"C'mon, Champ! One more!", he vociferously urged as I summoned the last vestiges of strength that remained in my straining body to lift that 100 pound barbell a final time. "Sab self hai! Ek aur ho jayega! Puusssh!", he egged me on with such belief in his tone that made it impossible for my leaden arms to give in just yet. With a seemingly superhuman effort I managed to complete my final set and sat down (read collapsed) on the matted gymnasium floor; a panting and perspiring heap of branded gym wear and aching muscles. "Good job, Champ! Next week 110 pounds to banta hai!", he said cheerily as he slapped my shoulder in congratulations on today's feat and strode away to attend to another gym patron. I watched him in silent admiration as he moved swiftly around the well equipped gym; exchanging pleasantries, offering instructions, imparting health tips and inspecting the equipment. He was the quintessential gym trainer who was great at his job. The gym was his second home. He loved it here and the gym loved him right back.
It had only been a few days since I'd joined the local gym in an attempt to achieve the coveted six pack body (has nothing to do with impressing the fairer sex!), when I first met the new trainer on the job, Umesh. Right from the start it was evident that there was more to him than his impressive physique, boundless energy and amiable demeanour. Very soon he took me under his tutelage and taught me to push my mind and body beyond limits I never thought possible. It was slow going at first as my body took time to adapt to the rigours of the elaborate workout regimens Umesh had chalked out for me. There would be times when I would collapse in sheer exhaustion and contemplate throwing in the towel altogether. Surely, it wasn't worth going to so much trouble to get a decent body I'd think forlornly to myself. "Get up, Champ! Two more sets left!", he'd relay to me facts my tired mind already knew and tried extremely hard to avoid thinking about! "Ho jayega!", he would declare emphatically as though he knew the sordid state of my sore muscles that bordered on the onset of cramps. But just the manner in which he would coax you into action and challenge yourself to push that much harder without risking injury was incredible!
Soon enough, I'd started making rapid progress as I bulked up sizably. "Wow! This felt good!" I felt a renewed sense of vigour, purpose and confidence about myself. I couldn't wait to hit the gym every day and pick Umesh's brains about a particular exercise routine I'd come across on the internet. We soon became close friends and would talk about seemingly everything under the sun. Fitness fads, health foods, sports, politics, women and Hindu mythology were discussed with equal fervor! "Kya re, yeh aaj kal ka Bollywood music sab ek jaisa hi sunta hai!", he would remark despondently. When I offered him my iPod to turn to for succor, his "musical mood" underwent a rapid upliftment as he gradually discovered the world of The Eagles, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Jimmi Hendrix! "Hotel California kya baap track hai! Too good," he declared resoundingly to me one evening. All this as he continued to inspire and motivate me to push harder at each successive workout session. "Never give up ... never back down!"
One Monday evening, I arrived at the gym a little earlier than usual with an article on a particularly punishing Chest workout that I wanted to share with Umesh. I entered excitedly and tried to seek him out. After searching for him just about everywhere, I got on with my warm up routine in the hope of seeing him later. "Maybe he's taken the day off," I thought to myself as I jogged at a brisk pace on the noisy treadmill. After a few more futile minutes of searching, I asked the other Trainer around, "Where is Umesh?" He looked at me unblinkingly for a couple of seconds, a pained expression settled on his face. "He met with an accident and died on Saturday. He slipped off the local train on his way back home," he said in a barely audible whisper after a brief pause; answering my next question before I could ask him out aloud. I stared at him in shock, the icy waves of disbelief and denial washing over me in tandem. Umesh was gone.
The gym was relegated to the backburner for a few weeks as I came to grips with the loss of a close friend. I realized life could be most unfair to some. The sheer capriciousness of our existence is intimidating and overwhelming. But at the end of the day, no matter what tragedies or setbacks that one stumbles upon, life does move on. One just has to make the most of every minute, opportunity and experience. Soon, I made my way back to the gym and eased myself into a steady routine. That's what Umesh would have wanted.
Sometimes, in the middle of a stressful workout, I hear a familiar voice say in my ear ... "C'mon, Champ! One more! Never give up ... never back down!"