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February 14, 2020

The Pursuit Of Everything

Illustrations by Mrudula Kuvalekar

Faced with hashtag challenges and people who seem to have discovered extra hours in the day to optimise even their leisure time, Zaral Shah tries to figure out whether this non-stop hustle mode is truly worth it

Many of us probably still have memories of adjusting — and sometimes holding in place — an antenna to watch the Indian cricket team in action. Fast forward about two decades, and we now lose patience over how long the television takes to switch on. This is the era of fast everything. We’re impatient and always in a hurry, but we also don’t want to miss out on anything. So, it comes as no surprise that even in our free time, we want instant gratification and results and often find ourselves cramming an assortment of activities into our schedules as though they are assigned missions.

These aspirational pursuits are further fuelled by the pressure that comes with constantly being on social media. When we regularly scroll past posts about how many kilometres someone has run that day, the number of gourmet dishes they taught themselves to cook over a weekend or how they’re caught up with most shows on every platform, it makes us want to join the party too.

I had to know: in this climate of more is more, is it really possible to do it all? So with video-on-demand subscriptions, colourful athleisure and a stack of books in hand, I decide to give this sped-up approach to leisure a shot myself. For two weeks, I fill my free hours with a year-end workout challenge, an attempted binge-watch of all nine seasons of a concluded but popular sitcom (that is still a prime meme source), and for about three days, I also try to finish one novel every day.

A glimpse of my schedule:

WEEK 1

FRIDAY

Browsing through Instagram, I stumble upon celebrity trainer Yasmin Karachiwala’s #8weekstoPartyChallenge. As part of this weekly YouTube series, through the last eight weeks of this year, she will continue to share a circuit of five exercises every Monday. With the festive/wedding season and the guilt of not being anywhere close to my 2019 New Year’s resolution target weight, I take this as an opportunity to do some damage control. Being day one, my enthusiasm and energy level are both at their peak, and I cruise through the first workout of double pulse squats, knee push-ups, triceps dip, diamond sit-ups and jumping jacks.

Friday evening brings with it the prospect of being able to fill my weekend with a new TV family. And having heard nothing but praise about it, and with multiple streaming platforms popping it right on top of my ‘recommended shows’ list, I decide to take up watching The Office — the American version — all nine seasons of it. Interestingly, I find that if I were to watch non-stop, I could finish the entire show in a little over four days — a feat possibly too far-reaching for someone whose weekend also includes a trip to the dentist, some social obligations and the very important activity of sleep.

Only six episodes long, the first season — and a part of season two — are conquered quite easily; the seven minutes of exercise might have had a role to play in why I am so full of energy and keep watching episode after episode. Note to self — squat, push-up and jump at least six hours before you intend to turn in for the night.

SATURDAY

This says less about the show and a lot more about me wanting to watch ‘just one more episode’, but last night I literally fell asleep halfway through an episode of season two. Today is a great day, though. I spend three hours on the road, and two hours at home watching nothing else but episode after episode of season two, and with only a couple more left in it, season two will not be carried forward into Sunday!

WEEK 2

MONDAY

Today is when I get to part two of Karachiwala’s challenge. And after three days of working out alongside the very cheerful fitness instructor guiding me via a phone screen, my body is finally feeling it — I wake up in the morning with some stiffness and have no one but my inactive self to hold responsible. Though I am keen to see what comes my way today.

Forward alternate lunges, the Midas touch (plank), a shoulder workout, the hover and squat jacks — halfway through the plank, to me, a minute has never felt longer! At the end of my first tryst with this circuit, I long for nothing more than a hot shower and my bed.

Later that day, I do the math, and some Googling, and there are 201 episodes in The Office, and I am not even a quarter way there. Ten episodes and a T20I were enough television for yesterday, a Sunday that also included some off-screen errands. I’m about ten episodes into season three, and I’m starting to see why so many people like this show — it’s quite relatable, and leaves me ‘LOL’-ing for real. It’s a convenient mood-lifter to have multiple episodes at my disposal, especially of something that I haven’t watched before.

TUESDAY

Since the Kindle came out over a decade ago, many of us have been content with reading almost exclusively on the device, which is handy to carry around and can load a library full of titles at the push of a button. When I recently walked into a bookstore, I realised how rare my visits there had become, and how much rarer it had gotten for me to read paperbacks. So I picked up three books and decided to do my future reading not only off-screen but also at the speed of a book a day! A book a day, especially one that is only a couple hundred pages, might not sound like too much to regular readers, but when you throw in a full work day, a little (read: a lot) time spent watching TV, and some time to sleep, then 250-300 pages don’t exactly pass by very quickly.

Halfway through the first book, I realise I need a bookmark and find myself taking a break to browse through a collection which has managed to make its way to the bottom of a drawer. And though it takes me a few hours with some breaks to read from cover to cover, I’m liking the feeling of once again holding an actual book in my hand. But by the end of the day, I have pushed and strained my eyes from seven hours in front of a computer, about two hours of watching five episodes of a sitcom and a few hours of reading. My retinas deserve some rest.

WEDNESDAY

I read today’s book in instalments — because I keep going back to watching little more of The Office. The main disadvantage to reading non-digitally is that I need both hands to hold it open — preventing me from doing much else, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve gotten so used to being easily distracted and wanting to cram more activities into a short time that this is a good way to tone down the mania and take it one activity at a time. There’re no messages being replied to, no posts being liked and no snacks being munched on.

THURSDAY

I discover, in a comment on the first video, that Karachiwala recommends doing the circuit thrice a week. I don’t feel so bad about my body aching anymore, and since I have done them daily, I intend on continuing the drill. The last few days’ sets of exercises seem to have gone by fairly easily, and I think I know why — I’ve been letting the employees of Dunder-Mifflin keep me company.

Since Monday, I’ve been watching bit after bit of season three every chance I get, but it just doesn’t seem to end. Lunch time in my office, too, has consisted of me trying to squeeze in an episode of the show. The progress has also hit a slow patch because, for the last three days, I have decided to steer clear of screens before sleeping at night and read a book instead.

Today, for the third day in a row, I read an entire novel within 24 hours. And though these hard copies take up more bag space than a Kindle does, going back to reading on paper is an absolute delight. And so while an e-reading device sure is more convenient, turning a page, placing a bookmark and stacking copies on a shelf are all experiences that only paperbound copies can offer.

Finishing a book a day took longer than I had expected, and occasionally I needed a bit of a push to do it, but that is more about me trying to pack so much into the waking hours of my day. Though the binge-watcher in me does wish I could have taken some of that reading time to watch more of The Office.

SATURDAY

It’s been over a week since I started my half-hour sessions of activity, and while I’m not sure whether the weighing scale can feel the difference, my uplifted mood and energy level sure can. It’s not a dramatic change that has left me sprinting like the road runner, but I feel it in the little things: my posture, for one, seems better, and I find myself half slide down in my chair much less frequently.

From this week’s batch of exercises, though, it is surprisingly the shoulder workout that takes some getting used to. I really thought that all the monkey bars of my childhood had prepared and toughened my arms for this kind of movement. The Midas touch and hover, however, which felt like the toughest at the beginning, grew on me quite well.

WEEK 3

SUNDAY

What a brilliant job has Steve Carell done as Michael Scott! I’ve been told he leaves the show somewhere in a later season, and I almost don’t want to ever reach that part of the show. I haven’t made as much progress as I would have liked, especially since the reading before bedtime has once again replaced watching The Office every chance I get, but I have entered season four.

MONDAY

Since I have chosen to do my circuit in the morning today, I’m still doing the exercises from week two of the #8weekstoPartyChallenge. Funnily, or astoundingly rather, I don’t really need the video on today, my body knows from muscle memory (not sure if that really is what this means) when to start, stop and move to the next workout. Having followed this for about ten days now, I’m tempted to find a way to translate this challenge into a regular daily part-of-my-lifestyle type of thing.

It feels like a good way to bring in some activity and discipline.

TUESDAY

If our parents weren’t just scaring us with this as kids, and more TV watching really does equal higher-numbered glasses — I’m definitely on my way to getting some pretty thick ones. It’s not like I’ve never binge-watched a show before, but this time around, I have managed to fill my entire day with it. It’s good that I have an office of my own to go to, because exercising, lunch time, commute time, etc. are already sharing precious time with the show.

The best part though of taking up an already-aired series is knowing that I don’t have to wait days, weeks or months for the next episode or season.

THURSDAY

This week’s circuit of kneeling squats, plank to T, triceps dip to hip lift, bent knees reverse curls and skaters are accompanied by an additional challenge — to not eat any sugar through the week. Karachiwala also expressed that she hopes everyone is doing the workout at least thrice a week for a minimum of three sets — something that makes me feel good because I have been doing it daily. The tough part is the no sugar — which I didn’t expect to be this difficult to go through with for a week. It’s been only three days without any sugar, and I can conclusively say that this is not for me. And I don’t know if it’s fair compensation, but I’d rather do an extra set of the circuit than have to give up sugar from my diet. It’s been so far so good with the workouts, and I’m excited to see not only how far down the weighing scale goes, but also how active and holistically fit I feel by the end of the challenge.

Through these last few days I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working out, watching a show every chance I get and actually finishing a few books, but continuing to have three specific activities fitted into each day doesn’t feel practical in the long run. The upside is that I have been so busy and my day so full that I didn’t have much time to be bored, the downside is that other than work, all that has largely been on my mind is the workout, Michael, Jim, Pam and co., and the reading. Keeping up with it all in my free time came with its share of (ironically) scheduling, leaving little scope for impromptu plans. And no matter how hard I might try, there’s always going to be something else that ‘looks like fun’. I realised just how unrealistic it is for one person to want to incorporate 20 other people’s schedules into their own. So as fulfilling as this has been, and despite the social media content I have gathered in the last two weeks, I feel that a slower pace and allowing room for spontaneity is what works for me.

And if I ever feel the urge to over-achieve again, I’m going into it with eye-cooling masks, pain relief spray and some strong coffee….

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