My experience with the Dhaka gym scene is likely to be as brief as my twice-a-year trips back home. While I generally tend to be a couch potato during my visits, attempting to spend as much time as possible with my parents and stuffing my face silly with good food, I had something additional on my agenda this time around.
A couple of months ago, I signed up for a relay marathon where I have, to my own consternation, volunteered to run 8.8km as part of a team of four running 42km. I am a beginner with no prior experience in running, and once I realized that I’d be on holiday in Dhaka for two weeks right before race day, I started to panic. So began the quest to find a decent gym that would allow me to train during the period leading up to April 19th.
A number of friends recommended Adonize Fitness Center, the fanciest gyms in all of Dhaka City which even has a swimming pool. Conveniently enough, it was also the closest one from my parents’ place. Dhaka traffic notwithstanding, proximity to any gym is a decisive factor in whether or not you might end up going. So I ventured forth to see if they’d be willing to give me a discount on their hefty price tag of 20 EUR a day fee, given that a monthly, quarterly or annual fee made little sense for me. They weren’t. I was adamant that I needed to train. So I forked over the money for the first day and was quite pleased with the outcome of my run that day. I quickly made plans to go back in two days.
The said day being also my birthday, I had plenty of plans to keep me busy with friends and family. I chose to go running at 9 in the morning. Once I forked over yet another 20 EUR for the day, I felt relieved to note that there seemed to be fewer people than the last time, giving me the now seemingly unreasonable hope that I might be able to get some peace and quiet. Little did I know what would follow.
No sooner had I run two kilometers, the speakers started to blast loud Hindi music. My general feeling towards Hindi music is quiet resignation and helpless acceptance. I had my headphones on playing music, but despite turning it up to its maximum volume level, I was unable to drown out the Hindi music pulsing through the hall. On some level, I can be ok with music being played in the gym. But to crank it up to a level which leaked through my own headphones and one that cannot by any means be considered an acceptable decibel level for human ears just felt wrong.
I gritted my teeth and kept going. I don’t like confrontations, and I didn’t want to interrupt my run. In another a few minutes, I felt a pounding headache come on, making me lose my concentration. The fact that I had paid a ridiculous amount of money to go running in a gym that seemed to not know the basic etiquettes of personal space and freedom made me wonder who this gym is actually for.
Once I had finished my run, I went to file a formal complain to the person in charge of administration. I explained to her my dilemma that blasting music through the gym so loudly did not make for a comfortable experience for me, or anyone wishing to retain their auditory senses. The justification she gave me was that the other members insisted that the Hindi music be played on full volume because they can’t be on the treadmill without it. The ‘other members’ happened to be two fat aunties, chitchatting as they took leisurely walks on the treadmill and was watching Star Plus on a tiny screen in front of them.
I tried to explain how it didn’t feel right to cause inconvenience to some members of the gym at the expense of others, and that if anybody needed music for their workout, they should just get their own headphones – as is the norm the world over. The woman gave me a derisive laugh and said that I couldn’t expect everyone to act the same way as I did.
“Well, then. Could you not make it a rule to have to use headphones?” I reasoned. After all, this fancy gym was full of rules. You can’t be there more than once a day, no more than 3 hours at a time. No ‘outside’ shoes. You must bring your shoes with you and wear them in the gym. Your swimsuit cannot be made of anything other than synthetic material. Surely, a rule that stipulates that anyone requiring music for their workout should arrange for it on their own is not such a preposterous one?
To cut a long story short, the woman informed me after a ten minute discussion that no one else has ever complained about this before, that I was the only one who has had issues with this and that this was really my problem. That is where I decided to draw an end to the discussion, which had increasingly taken the form of an argument.
Clearly, the gym caters to Star Plus-watching, Hindi-music loving, self-entitled fat aunties that come for a leisurely mid-morning walks on their fancy treadmills. Evidently, there is no space for a different version of this reality, where people can coexist without having to infringe upon each other’s private space. And should you happen to object to this reality, you are the one considered a freak. There is no room to live and let live. One’s freedom must be at the expense of another, overriding all logic, common sense and decency.
Quite aptly, the realizations that I am an outsider in my own country, an oddball, an alien to this culture that Bangladesh has inexplicably morphed into and one that I don’t understand came crashing down on me on the day that I turned a year older. The epiphany was eye-opening. While this experience is just one snapshot of life here, it has once again become painfully clear to me that I don’t belong here. Not anymore.