I considered myself a fit enough guy having played football almost everyday since I was 13. Played for my school, my college and even now. Till I had to take a break from football for an injury (a different story). So, I had to join a gym for rehab and strength and conditioning purposes.
And there I met Chandan. Chandan Kewat.
I met him around a month into the gym. I was really struggling with my exercises. I felt like a directionless ship, going in everyday, doing whatever I could and coming back. Going back in again the next day while I saw guys with chiselled muscles really knowing what they wanted to do. No one really gave me any attention because neither I was one of the overweight guys who were just starting out and needed a lot of help nor was I a showstopping lifter whose antics at the gym would raise eyebrows. I was just also there.
I did a lot of exercises wrong. Wrong forms, wrong weights, ego-lifting, not pushing hard enough etc etc. The more experienced guys at the gym would sometimes correct me, but they would then go back to their own stuff. There was always a sense of superiority amongst them. With their advice came the feeling of throwing a bone. But it was different the first time I met Chandan. He corrected my form for an exercise but unlike others he stayed with me for the whole set.
Well technically he was a trainer and he was supposed to do that. But I had gotten zero such responses from the other trainers. Other much more muscular, steroid fuelled, competition winning pro trainers who were least interested in walking me through the process so I could learn.
Once that set was done and I was huffing and puffing, Chandan came up to me and asked me suggestions for a shoe that he was browsing on an online shopping portal. That became the start of me getting to know him.
Chandan is one of those guys who does not stand out in a crowd. He would be there somewhere, in the background, not wanting attention, but smiling just the same, just happy to be in the picture.
You would never see him complaining. However bad the day was. He would say the whole negative incident with a smile and mild exasperation.
I used to go to the gym in the afternoons, but it started to get crowded. So, I started going a little after noon to avoid the crowd. The gym was almost completely empty then. It was mostly me, Chandan and another guy at the gym.
Chandan became my unofficial trainer very accidentally. Like everyday I had gone and the gym was empty. In fact there were just three people. Me, Chandan and Siddarth.
Siddharth was one of those guys who has really good inter personal skills and could make anyone his friend very easily. He does cross the boundaries sometimes, but that is a different story altogether. I was very reticent at the gym, but Siddharth just barged into my personal space with a huge smiling face, told me a lot of stuff about himself and made himself my friend saving his number in my phone. I was glad he did.
So, that day, Siddharth, after picking me up like I weighed nothing while helping me do pull ups (that guy has the strength of a gorilla), asked me what weights did I lift. On hearing my numbers, he tsk-tsked my numbers out of the window and said I should be lifting a lot heavier. Following that he literally ordered Chandan to make me lift heavier.
Chandan nodded, and almost doubled the weight of what I usually lift. It was out of my imagination that I could do it but Chandan stood behind me giving me support whenever needed. That was the first time someone spotted me. After a point it felt like I was not really doing much and he was doing all the lifting but in his words it was just touch.
That was just not the case with that set, but with almost all exercises. He increased the weight to a point where I couldn’t even imagine that I would be able to lift it and then stood behind me shouting Chalo.
Siddharth had to take a break for travelling, so it became just the two of us and that was the point when the trainer-trainee bond really grew and I got to know Chandan as a person. In between sets I would get to know how he travelled 20 kms each day on a cycle to reach the gym, help everyone out, maintain everything at the gym, do his own workout and then again travel 90 minutes back on the cycle. How he has married and already had a daughter who he loved extremely dearly. How his love life did not really pan out as he had hoped but he doesn’t have any regrets and he is happy with his family now.
One day I realized he was not just being professional but he really did care whether or not I had a decent workout. Most days it was just the two of us, one such day, he was cleaning the place and getting ready for his workout when I had already started warming up. That day I felt zero motivation. So after struggling for a bit, I still saw myself getting nowhere. So, I packed up and left. I had almost reached home, when I got a call – Where are you bro? I just saw you here, went to change and you disappeared? What happened? When are you coming back?
I think that was the little push I had required, that made me go back to the gym and atleast finish a half decent workout for a single muscle group.
The dynamics of the workouts changed as well. Of course I still depended heavily on him for my sets but he started asking me for touch on his heaviest last sets.
Even the strongest guys and other trainers needed Chandan when they were doing their workouts, but Chandan did it alone, when there was no one at the gym after he was done cleaning and sanitising the place. So, being all alone, sometimes, he was scared to go beyond the weights he was comfortable with. After a while he started trusting me to help him and it felt good to be able to help him back.
Once the gym got crowded, you wouldnot see the version of Chandan I saw everyday. He would be running around. Helping the senior trainers with their workouts, helping the newbies fix their form. Maintaining a cordial relationship with the regulars, and doing everything else that needs to be done to keep the gym running smoothly. Always with a smile on his face. Polite. Getting the job done.
But during the workouts he was a beast.
He did not have the most chiselled body or the biggest pair of muscles, but whatever he did have was completely natural. Also, he gave a fuckall to diet.
Was Chandan the most knowledgeable person about exercises and diets ever? No. But he knew a surprisingly lot more than anyone gave him credit for. He would often know the fact the one of the ego-lifters in the gym was doing something wrong but he would keep his mouth shut. But he was pretty strict with me. Often starting the count of the set only once he was satisfied with the form.
He might not be the most knowledgeable guy out there, but he was still light years ahead of me in his knowledge. He did not have any responsibility towards me. I was not paying him anything for his professional services, but he still helped out. And I am grateful that he did.
He seemed kinda sad when I said I am taking a break because of my travels but he wished me all the best and went again into his own stories about playing cricket for his company and how he loves South Indian food. Great guy. I will miss him.
But don’t be fooled by his smiling face. If he is in charge of your workout and he says to do a Drop Set. Run. Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.