Join the Club

January 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Bombay is a lovely city, but you got to hate the lack of accessible sports facilities here. Everything “public” resembles VT Station at rush hour.

I decided to get back to swimming after the disastrous attempt last summer, where after being tempted by the 8 ft length pool at Ramee Guestline, Dadar, we finally settled on Body Rhythm, Nariman Point. Body Rhythm is a decent pool, though it’s actually appears to be a private pool of a housing society that they’ve opened to the public. It was hardly cheap, but overcrowded with little boys playing water polo and 3 year olds learning to swim, flanked by their overambitious mummies and mummies flanked by bored domestic help. It also occasionally smelled like sewage.

After recovering from various infectious water borne diseases, we had found the solution.

As we made more friends in the City, we came across the wonderful people whose parents were smart enough to take up Gymkhana memberships back when it was relatively cheap. Now, with spiraling rates and waiting lists (and of course increased longevity) this has become pretty much impossible for most under 30 upper middle class types such as ourselves. We’ve now decided that we don’t need any new friends who aren’t members of a “gym”.

What’s a gym? So ignore the images of a huge area where people are working out on ghastly looking machines. No – the “gymkhana” is more of a social club, where members (and, more importantly, their guests) get exclusive use of sports facilities, restaurants (which almost always have mediocre food) and bars (with subsidized alcohol AVAILABLE EVEN ON DRY DAYS). The catch? A starting price of 15 lakhs for lifetime membership.

So how do you filter these folk? How do you find people who are members without looking too greedy? Well, when you’re meeting a new group of people, your ears should perk up at the mention of their being second generation Bombayites – they have more of a chance than others at being “the one”. This also applies to people who answer questions like “what do you do” as “I’m taking some time off” or “Well, a lot of things”, especially when further probing indicates that the latter means nothing at all. Where they live is also a key indicator: South Bombay is of course a sureshot, but Matunga, Shivaji Park and Chembur are also as promising.

After sufficient introduction, stretch your arms out and say “oh, sorry, I think I overdid it at the pool/squash court/tennis court today”.  When asked where you play, name a random location (YMCA, building sports club) but immediately mention how crappy/overcrowded it is. The beauty of 2nd generation gym members is that they have no hang ups about getting guests in, simply because they haven’t spent their hard earned money for the membership. You would be surprised, but 80% of the time, someone will say “oh man we swim/play tennis/play squash at the Gym”. At this, nod your head and quickly scan your mental Bombay map to figure out which Gym they mean. Take a guess, and let out a low “ooh” when the Gym is finally identified.

Now comes the hard part, the co-ordination. Gym membership mooching is a process that involves a lot of patience, and often travel. You might get SMSes at 5am in the morning saying “heading to the Gym for tennis in half an hour. Coming?” You then have to get your gear and board that local train from Andheri baby, or it’s back to the waiting game.

Once you’ve paid the guest fees and the like, read all signboards carefully and follow Gym rules. There will be random signs telling you to remove footwear even when completely unnecessary, just do it. Club rules are scary. Don’t make eye contact with any members, ignore the looks of contempt that the staff give you, and focus on getting the most out of your visit. And do not make smart alec comments at staring uncles or snarl at the aunties when they suddenly walk into the ladies changing room with their 8 year old sons when you’re pulling your swimsuit off.

Also make a mental note to name your first born after your Gym benefactor.



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