That the name Talwalkars is synonymous with fitness is common knowledge. But few people know that its Chairman, Madhukar Talwalkar, is all of 75 and still raring to go. His fitness levels may put even 25-year-olds to shame. We caught up with this enterprising and dynamic young man, to learn his secrets of being in a state of complete wellbeing. Excerpts:
What role has fitness played in your life?
My father, Vishnu Ramakrishna Talwalkar, was a well-known wrestler. At a young age of 22, he came to Mumbai for work and during his spare time, worked as a trainer at Hindu Sarvajanik Vyaamshala, a gym in Girgaum. During this time, his boss offered him to conduct personal training for him. This encouraged some of his friends and associates to prompt him to set up his own gym. So, in 1932, he opened his first gym at Linking Road, Khar, which he called Ramakrishna Physical Culture Institute. Thus began our journey of spreading fitness.
As I grew up, my father encouraged me to finish my education. I completed my textile engineering from VJTI, and joined Khatau Mills in 1953. It was in those days that I began to take fitness seriously and started exercising. You see, my weight was a mere 96 pounds [45 kg] at the age of 25 and I had begun to suffer from an inferiority complex. So I started working out in my father's gym and soon I gained about 59 pounds [72 kg]. I was proud of myself.
Significant events took place soon afterwards. I was looking good and, in 1959, I took part in Mr Bombay Competition and won the second prize. Then I got married in 1960. In 1961, I started planning to set up a gym of my own. I took the risk of leaving my job. I worked for some time, though, because I had to repay a loan of Rs 1,800, which I had taken [My salary was just Rs 300 then]. I started my first gym at Linking Road in 1962. The rest, as they say, is history,
So you can see, my life changed because of fitness.
What do you attribute your success and good health to?
I have practised what I preach all my life. I consider exercise as my prayer [puja] and I do it regularly with a lot of dedication. I do not have any bad habits, and I am a vegetarian. For a while, I did have non-vegetarian food while I was doing body building. Then, I reminded myself that I'm a Brahmin [chuckles] and I decided to stop eating non-vegetarian food. I take egg as a protein source, today.
I have given up tea/coffee. I want to stay fit, and live for 150 years.
Fitness is not just physical; it is also about the mind. I believe in the attitude of gratitude. So, besides being conscious about physical fitness, I have enjoyed every day and every moment of my life: whether it was failure, success, or times when I didn't have money.
I also believe in positive attitude. Negativity has no place in my world. For example, you will never read a notice saying that, "Gymnasium will remain closed on [Holiday]." Instead, we say: "There is a special holiday on the occasion of…" You can convey the same meaning by being positive.
You should be a giver. I donate to cancer societies, and others. I never refuse anything to my members. At times, people make exorbitant demands; they also have misused my kindness. But I think it's all right. I believe that if God has never said no to me, I have no right to say no to anyone.
How does regular exercising help in achieving fitness?
Exercise is a stress-buster. And weight training is akin to physical meditation. It is a feast to the muscles. When you have good health, your blood flows well, eyes work better, brain works better, and because you are confident, you get less angry.
Do our thoughts affect our body?
Of course! What you think definitely affects your body. So pray to your body. Talk to your body, it is a one-time gift of God. Take care of your body, anywhere, whether it is home, office, street, factory. Whenever you get a chance, go for a walk, do yoga, play games, dance, and remember to spend at least 20 minutes on yourself everyday.
What about those who don't find time to work-out due to their busy schedules?
Exercise is so kind, that even if you do it once a week religiously, it will give you results. Believe in whatever you do, and stick to your time table. Even if you miss one day, it's fine. Then, you will also overcome the feeling of guilt and not give up.
Your body is a temple, and the soul inside is God. So, if you don't work-out, it is like showing disrespect to God, because He resides in your body.
Do not abuse your body. You should never say anything bad to it. Always worship it. If you are out of shape, work for it because you are responsible for it. Don't blame God. Take efforts and live long. It is our birthright. This body is meant for 150 years. These are simple things. If you take care of a table, it will last long. You polish your shoes to take care of that dead skin. So, why not polish your own skin to take care of it?
How important is it to work-out in a professional gym?
I think working-out in a gym is the best. One, because at the gym the atmosphere is such that you get motivated seeing others working-out. Two, you are more serious at the gym because you are paying for it. Three, there is also supervision by trainers so you don't make mistakes while exercising. And four, there is entertainment.
What is your view on miracle machines and diet pills?
Miracle machines are trying their best, but they haven't succeeded. All their claims might not be true, but at least they make you work-out and do something. There are some ab-machines, which are better than the others. Pop a pill and you don't have to exercise! I will become the richest person in the world, if I get the "magic" formula for such exercise pills!
Can you tell us something about diet and nutrition?
Diet is vital to life. Diet means sensible eating. Along with this, I also suggest vitamins and some food supplements. Go to your doctor who has an exercise-mind and not a hospital-mind.
What is your message for CW readers?
Fitness is very important for survival. It is the elixir of life. I think there is a lot of poison available around us, everyday - refined foods such as bread, biscuits, chocolates as well as smoking, coffee, tea, butter, and aerated drinks.
And sweets! I always say that the sweet shop is a death shop, in which Yama [God of Death] always entices, "Come into my lap!"
When I ask people, "Where do you go for remedy?" They reply, "The chemist!" My response is "Come to Talwalkar's Gym - that's where you'll find the antidote to modern poison."
Swami Vivekananda said in 1890: "You will be nearer to God, not by reading the Gita, but by improving your biceps, by playing on a football field, swimming in the pool."
Fitness is important for all - young, old, tall, fat, thin, bold, flat. Even animals have their fitness. It is a very crucial part of life, and you cannot neglect it.
Once you neglect it, it will start showing its presence some years later. There is no point giving excuses, or blaming anybody for this. You are responsible for everything. You should be able to change your lifestyle and diet habits.
I understand that people are busy today, but they can definitely spend 20 minutes for themselves. Just 20 minutes is enough, if you do it with sincerity and high intensity. You should not come to the gym for "time-pass." Because exercising is like praying…