After seventeen years of relative indifference to gymnasiums, I went to one a few days ago to finally see what all the fuss was about. The result was an experience that I am not likely to forget for a while.
Never before have I felt less like a man. Never before have I felt so intimidated by testosterone. Never before have I felt so out of place.
I consider myself someone who can gel into a situation with relative ease. I can slip into a chair in the corner, do my own thing, and merge with the environment. I can become invisible to the general public. Never before have I felt so visible as the day I went to the gym. Trudging through the sweat and toil, I was greeted with “Oh-ho, Arsh? Gym today?”
Many things struck me as I tried to orient myself to this new world. First: Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing. While I was aimlessly wandering from one piece of equipment to another, everybody else was pushing me out of their way to get somewhere. When they got there, they’d pick up the equipment and use it with considerable agency. Did they research all this before they got here? Did they just have a machine-like dedication to what they wanted to do? Or are they (like I am wont to do) going towards the piece of equipment they think looks most impressing, like moths to a flame?
Second: The room was filled with grunts. I have passed this gymnasium (which, I must add, is in my Boarding school) many times to get to the Table Tennis area. Usually, they have music playing here. I always thought the music was there to give their work-out a sense of rhythm. Turns out, without the music, the place just sounds ugly. It’s already an ugly room, with crumbling white walls covered with valleys where students had punched them. It already smelt ugly, with at least fifteen sweaty, teenaged boys crammed in a room the size of an extravagant washroom. Turns out, the place is unbearable without blaring music because it sounds ugly, too.
Lastly: Girls. At some level, every boy in that room had girls on their mind as they grunted their way to a slightly healthier body. Sure, they’d cite athleticism or health, but at the back of their mind, even if it’s dismissed as a by-product, girls are the reason they dedicate this hour-and-a-half to this hideous room. When they actually come in, the room transforms. People who had been half-assing their exercises would suddenly be filled with the passion of youth. The room would undergo a new wave of grunts and, occasionally, shouts of anguish. The girls themselves looked like tourists in a museum, noting with considerable admiration, the beauty of certain exhibits in the room.
I wasn’t just staring at the people in the gym. I was working out. I had a friend show me the ropes and almost kill every muscle in my body. I came out of there feeling like I had held the weight of the sky on my shoulders. It is a good feeling, knowing you have done some hard work. I applaud myself, knowing that this is nothing compared to the dedication these boys show every day. I describe them like lesser beings, toiling mindlessly, but I am the lesser being. I am the thinker in their midst, too weak to lift their weights. I am not the intelligent, creative, eccentric artist that I think I am. I am learning my place in this world of men. I am a disoriented tourist in the city of my own people.