The Astha Fitness Centre

In the colony where I live in Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, houses are built on small plots of land, separated from their neighbours by a boundary wall at least five feet from the house, so we are at least ten feet away from all the houses around. I felt this was cramped but I long for those days of three years ago.

When our owner of the house behind ours decided to expand his house and rent it out, little did we know what the future held for us. A three storey bright blue monstrosity came up, blocking all the light and breeze from our bedroom, and given that the owner had constructed right up to the boundary wall, I can now touch his house by standing in my garden. It leans a bit, like the tower of Pisa, and I keep hoping that it will not collapse in a storm and rain bricks and mortar and blue plaster onto us.

The ground floor has been rented out to a group of young men who run the Astha Fitness Centre. This involves a stationary cycle, a treadmill, some dumb-bells and little else, and is used by members while listening to ear-shattering music at odd hours of the day. The selection is limited, and the young men who run the centre make up for it by not only repeating them endlessly, but I suspect they hope to deafen the patrons by playing it loud, so that after a while the patrons will no longer be able to recognize repetitions.

The centre opens on to a small courtyard that is directly behind our bedroom and across the courtyard is a tiny 5X5 room which serves as the kitchen. The tap in the courtyard has been dripping monotonously for months, and it is surprising how the sound can keep you awake late into the night.

That, however, is not the only thing that keeps me awake. At 10.30 pm, the men decide to cook their dinner, and the sounds of chopping and of the cooker hooting come right into our bedroom. At 11 pm the inevitable happens; the smell of hot oil, followed by the pungent smell of plenty of garlic and onions being fried, as the daal is tempered. This is much worse in summer when we have the cooler on: it sucks in all the air from the kitchen and courtyard straight into my house and my dreams, and I need to get out of bed and put off the cooler and sweat it out in the heat till our friends next door have finished their dinner.

It does not end here. Dinner is followed by a relaxed beedi smoke among friends, and as that smell wafts in too, I wait sleepily, dreading the sound of the dripping tap, hoping it will allow me to sleep: for the few hours of peace I will get before the fitness centre gets to work again.

Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Ramani Atkuri

She is a public health physician who has worked for over the past 20 years in rural central India in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, with tribal and other disadvantaged people. In addition to providing patient care, she trains traditional birth attendants, health workers, nurses and other health personnel. She enjoys teaching and empowering others with knowledge and skills, demystifying medicine. She feels that health is an immensely political issue, and that medical care is a very small part of health care. She likes to share her experiences and reflections and involve others in the issue of growing inequity in our country especially related to health and the determinants of health. She enjoys reading, writing, and walking.

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