It was 5am and there was still work left to do. The weather outside looked lovely – I love the monsoon. So I decided to go for a morning “walk”. I picked up the keys to my bicycle almost before the thought was complete. There is this thing about a bicycle. It is addictive. Regular bicycle riders no longer like to walk. Or at least that is my “this is how the world works” grade excuse. Bicycling my way through our sleepy locality, I heard someone call out my name. It was the gym instructor at the gym I’d abandoned. He was on his way to open the gym for the day. Absolute eye candy and I had a crush on him till he refused to allow me to use the gym without wearing shoes (I HATE wearing shoes). I circled around and rode the bicycle slowly next to him, so that we could converse. “You have put on weight,” he remarked, eyeing my body with all the detachment of a butcher eyeballing a goat. “But you are a hard worker. You lose it just as fast. You should come. You are an inspiration for the other women.” I rolled my eyes mentally. If only the guy knew the number of people who try to talk me up into joining their cause because I’m good at things and an inspiration…. but I’d be returning to the gym only if I desired to regain that very enjoyable fit feeling. I have no sense of loyalty – whether for politics and ideologies or gyms. No amount of flab was going to shame me into hard work. My high is what I will get out of it. And I most certainly wasn’t going to desire sweating unless the weather knocked off a few degrees at the very least. I explained all this to him. He wasn’t impressed. “The more you delay, the more fat you are going to get.” he said, eyeing my generous tummy with no shame. There is something non-sexually creepy in the way gym instructors look at your body. I’m extraordinarily body shameless, but I can’t pretend I wouldn’t have simply preferred him looking at my body for the usual reasons rather than a muscle-to-fat audit that left him very underwhelmed. The sky, nicely overcast decided to dump a torrent of water all of a sudden, and we rushed to the sole paanwala who is open this time of the morning. I wished there was also a chaiwala as I listened to the evangelist try to convert me into coming back to the fold of weight worshippers. The paanwala chimed in with an astute observation. “The weather is no longer cooling in the monsoons.” “That is true,” Mr Eye Candy interrupted, completely missing the climate change angle. “But the gym has air conditioning.” But the paanwala was a veteran of streetside conversations with low comprehension. “That only throws all the hot air out and creates more hot air for the rest. The world is getting hotter.” Quick and dirty gate-keeping, straight back to the point. I studiously refrained from noting that my bicycle would count as exercising in hot air, if the alternative, walking in hot air weren’t worse. “This time the weather didn’t cool much after the rains. ” Mr Muscle had finally realized that the conversation had moved on on him. “That is because all the rain goes straight to the gutters and then the sea instead of soaking into the soil. How will the ground cool?” Paanwalas are inherently wise. Particularly the middle age and above class. Must be all the different people standing and talking about diverse subjects all day, every day for years on end as they smoke. Probably gives a sense of perspective on not getting too involved in arguing with people who will only leave in a few minutes, but also probably gives a sense of skill on how to quickly score an indisputable point. “Two months later, we will have water shortage again.” gymwala sounded glum. “In a few years we will start dying of heat” paanwala. “When I first came here, by this time, we used to burn garbage for some warmth in this weather. Our Nalasopara was like a hill station.” “We used to wear sweaters to go to school in the monsoon” gym guy is a local. “Now I’m losing customers because the weather is hot.” And so on. We talked for a while, then the rain stopped, so the gym guy left. He was the only one on a deadline. Paanwala could talk all day right there and I was in no particular hurry with work waiting for me back home. The paanwala requested me to let him know if I came to know about a job for his son. “Anything will do. He is 12th class pass.” Not wanting to explain to him that I rarely come to know about jobs that would fit that profile, I nodded along as he explained about the difficulty getting jobs. Another person from their area had decided to go back to his village in UP, except there was unlikely to be work there either. “Our home runs because of my shop. No matter what happens, addicts will want their tobacco, so we will survive. The profits are not so good, but business doesn’t stop. Who says tobacco is bad? Our family would die of hunger much sooner than illness without it.” The logic was warped, but I guess it was a perspective. We talked some more about issues in healthcare (people getting upset stomachs and fevers is normal in the monsoons) and how nothing can be trusted anymore. After a while I left too. As I slowly cycled back home, I realized that I had just spent half an hour talking about issues that involved the world, the economy, the politics, inequality, environment, corruption, insecurity about receiving necessary services….. all without any mention of any religion or political party or Modi. Brought a smile to my face, it did. While we are still able to talk about issues that matter to us and have opinions without fear or loyalties overruling our own interest, perhaps there is still hope for the country.