25/06/2015 5:14 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Rocking The Gym For A 56-Inch Chest

Ever since Rajyavardhan Rathore, India's Minister of Information and Broadcasting, tweeted #56inchrocks about our white-bearded 64-year-old Prime Minister Narendra Modi, post the Army's Myanmar strike on insurgents, all hell has broken loose in my carefully constructed masculine hall of mirrors.

Even my little dog Louis, himself quite a formidable stud for his miniature frame (he is a mini-Dachshund, if you please), has given me fairly nasty, disapproving looks. Contemptuous, even. His scorn is clear for my laboured attempts at developing a brawny physique. Pumping iron is fine, but where are those rippling muscles of meat, he seems to say as he chews away on an appetising-looking dog-bone. I have no Dard-e-Disco pretensions, and so far my linen shirts haven't suddenly torn apart at the stitches when I experience emotional turbulence. I am a fairly regular guy when it comes to fitness drills. I am as far from 56-inch rocks as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is from Montenegro. Those days of striking a Bullworker pose before a stained mirror in the college hostel seem like a hallucination.

"Politics is clearly experiencing a brain-drain, and is now being taken to the WWF level -- brawn-power."

Narendra Modi's Nero-like role in the 2002 Gujarat riots may be forgotten one day, but his 56-inch chest is now legendary. Even Barack Obama was impressed enough to recount Modi's mud-wrestling with a frightened crocodile, who I'm guessing apologised to the brave eight-year-old Narendra Damodardas by doing a Surya Namaskar stretch. The closest I have come to a crocodile is checking the Lacoste trademark to ensure that it is not made in Ludhiana.

I promptly visited gyms where I found many shapeless figures strolling on treadmills while listening to Badtameez on their iPhone 6, loud enough to be heard at the reception counter. One exuberant young man in fluorescent shorts seemed to be the dark horse, running as if preparing to take on Usain Bolt. From the way he was huffing and puffing, he seemed like an investment banker who had just been given the pink slip and a million dollar severance pay. Mixed feelings.

My personal instructor seemed like he was hugely inspired by that Being Human chap with poor driving skills; I could not distinguish where his biceps ended and the triceps began. Either way he looked bulky enough to star in the Bollywood version of Avengers. "So, what do you want to achieve and in what period of time?" He asked me with both curiosity and visibly restrained amusement.

I want a 56-inch ki chhati, I said, taking a deep breath to expand the horizons of my chest. I added hopefully: In three months. The instructor, if he was flabbergasted by my astronomical ambition, concealed it with the same élan with which Amit Shah dodges all the criminal cases against him. Ok, he said, let's get going.

He led me to this machine, which looked like a prototype of a rejected robot from Transponders. Bend at the knee, sit at 90 degrees, arms stretched to 45 degrees, a deep exhalation as you push outward, and reverse in slow motion. I was tempted to ask him for a written manual prior to commencement, but I felt too macho for that. What followed was a series of complex, exhausting interactions with steel grey machines, each affecting some part of the body in flexible instalments. After doing a few repetitions, I checked myself out in the expansive mirror looking for a hint of incremental growth. The instructor laughed. I frowned.

"Muscular is the latest buzzword in Indian foreign policy. Next, they may even add a protein shake of hands."

You also need to do stretches, said the instructor. He then promptly sat cross-legged, turned his neck in the opposite direction till I thought I was seeing The Exorcist, while his hands for some strange reason tried to remain interlocked behind him. The breathing exercises were easier though I found it hard to concentrate as my thoughts kept wandering to Lalit Modi playing cricket in the verdant green palace gardens of Jaipur with Naomi Campbell and her supermodel team.

Politics is clearly experiencing a brain-drain, and is now being taken to the WWF level -- brawn-power. Muscular is the latest buzzword in Indian foreign policy. Next, they may even add a protein shake of hands. Maybe that's why Donald Trump has joined the US Presidential race. And why perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger may be a viable proposition for Uncle Sam. Sorry Hillary!

Two weeks of this strenuous regimen, which has given me body aches of varying proportions, and I looked at Louis with a countenance that betrayed complete surrender. This ab tak chhappan was beyond me; 56-inch rocks were beyond my reach. I took inspiration from the tale of Goliath, drunk on his own invincibility, until David arrived carrying a small sling. The rest is history. So perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree all along. There is life beyond an inflated numerical hashtag, I told myself. Beaming with joy, I picked up my golf set and headed for the lazy, languorous greens. Louis followed me.

The author is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. The views are his own.