The Benefits of Taking My Headphones Off
A few days after arriving in Delhi, I took advantage of my lingering jet-lag, which would allow me to sleep in no later than 5:30 am, to start jogging in the small park right next door to my home. I was accustomed to going for morning jogs in the States, and I thought that a morning workout in India would do me well – I would have a reason to wake up early, I could stay in shape, and, hopefully, I would slowly begin to acclimate to the monsoon-season humidity.
As a jogger in Delhi, I’m a fairly unusual sight. (Add to that the fact that I’m a white female jogger, and I become quite an oddity; a source of bewilderment and amusement for people passing by the park who stop to watch me, probably wondering why I would choose to punish myself with that much physical activity in this kind of weather.) Most Delhi-ites who can afford it seem to prefer exercising in cool, air-conditioned gyms. And those who still enjoy exercising outdoors are almost always walking only. Nevertheless, as someone who has always preferred jogging outside, I was eager to add a morning jog in the park to my daily routine.
The park was surprisingly full for 6:30 am. There were four or five people practicing yoga on the green, grassy area, a few men doing chin-ups on children’s monkey bars, and a handful of aunties in groups of two or three, chatting as they walked the perimeter of the park. I plugged my Ipod headphones into my ears, and began jogging the stone path loop that encircled the park. As I passed other walkers, I would nod and smile, but my headphones still remained in place as I continued my solitary run.
The next day was the same, although I received slightly bigger smiles from people who recognized me from the day before, and I even got a wave from the guard on the corner.
On the third day, though, after running for about twenty minutes I decided to let myself rest and walk for a bit. I also decided to take my headphones off so that I could listen to the birds singing their morning songs. Not even one minute after I had removed my headphones, I was stopped by one of the aunties. It turned out that she was a friend of my mother-in-law, and had recognized me from the engagement. I stood and made small-talk with her for a few moments before continuing on my way, pleased that I could now tell my mother-in-law that I had met one of her friends in the park. A few minutes after that, another woman stopped me, and asked if I was new to the colony, and what country I was from. (Obviously my fair hair and skin give me away as not being from ’round these parts…) She and I began to walk together and had a lovely conversation. We talked about India and the United States, traveling, cooking, religion, and education during our thirty-minute walk together. In the course of our conversation, this Auntie also mentioned something that I found interesting. She explained that she preferred walking in this park to other kinds of exercise because, even if she came here alone, she could almost always find someone to talk with as she walked.
When reflecting upon what she had said, and my experience of jogging alone versus walking with company in the park, it struck me – in India, exercising in public parks, like most other things, is meant to be a shared, social experience. I was reminded of conversations that I used to have with Amrit when we first began dating. I would tell him I had gone somewhere. He would ask, a bit perplexed, if I had gone alone. “Yes, of course”, I would reply. And he would respond, “Why would you do something alone when you could do it with other people??”
This, in part, reflects Amrit’s friendly, social nature, but it’s also reflective, I think, of a cultural difference. Most Americans are accustomed to having a certain amount of “alone-time” during the day. In India, on the other hand, there are maids, repairmen, washers, gardeners, friends, and family ringing the door bell so often throughout the day that there is little to no “alone-time”. More importantly, though, most people that I’ve met in India seem to prefer going about their daily activities in the company of others rather than being alone. As Amrit had put it, why would you choose to do something alone when you can enjoy doing it with other people?
I’ve now altered my morning routine. Every day I go to the park and still jog and exercise with my headphones in for the first twenty minutes, but for the last forty minutes I now take my headphones out to walk and socialize. Through this process I’ve met several of the neighbors and, dare I say, even made a few new friends.
When I relayed this whole story to my mother over the phone, she reminded me of how, for years now, she’s been telling my siblings and me that, in this era of the internet, Ipods, Blackberries, and handheld games, we should make a point of un-gluing our eyes from the screens and un-sticking the headphones from our ears once in awhile to interact with the rest of the non-virtual world. “Do you see, now, the benefits of taking your headphones off?”, she asked. I guess mothers can be right once in awhile…