Doctor Whoa

Updated: Oct 20, 2019, 08:19 IST | Ekta Mohta | Mumbai

A doctor at Nanavati Hospital by night and parkour trainer at Mumbai Movement Academy by day, Dr Rishi Prasad makes sure you are alive and kicking at all hours

Since navigating Andheri station is like running through an obstacle course, it's the perfect gateway to Dr Rishi Prasad's Andheri studio, Mumbai Movement Academy. At the city's first indoor parkour gym, Prasad, 30, climbs a four-poster steel frame like a champ, and swings from one rod to the other like a chimp. "If you look at people doing parkour, they do look like monkeys or cats," he says. "I've always wanted to get the maximum out of my body. I have this fascination of how the body works, how it evolved to be so perfect at specific tasks." It's one of the reasons Prasad became a trained physician as well.

From 9 pm to 7 am, Prasad is in the emergency ward at Vile Parle's Nanavati Hospital, tending blocked arteries; after hours, he teaches parkour, tending to atrophied muscles. He flips between the two careers as easily as he flips on bars. "I started off with medicine thinking that is my career, and parkour is a passion. It turns out, parkour has become more of a career and medicine has become a hobby." As a kid, Prasad was an acrobat/reader. While he loved poring over encyclopaedias and comic books, he also loved climbing walls and swinging from trees. "We had a banyan tree downstairs. I credit that for the start of my parkour journey." He also played football, tennis and basketball. "But, these sports were transient. I played them with enthusiasm, I loved playing them, but they didn't hold my attention for long. Until I found parkour, which was a game changer. This is the longest I've stuck to any sport continuously."

Doctor Whoa

Prasad has been practising parkour for 11 years and teaching it for five. Parkour enthusiasts move through the city like rolling stones: every obstacle is a stepping stone. "Parkour is efficient movement. Think of it as the martial arts of running away. In the flight or fight situation, we are the flight. But, it's not that easy. The same way you need to learn how to fight, you need to learn how to run away in a safe manner. Different obstacles require different skills. If you're jumping over a waist-sized wall, or vaulting over it, there are different ways to do it. Similarly, swinging from bar to bar, crawling under narrow objects, you start finding different locations to practise a flow seamlessly, without hesitation, without stoppage." If parkour sounds like a distant cousin of the military boot camp or calisthenics, that's because it is. "We use a lot of calisthenics as our conditioning exercises: pull-ups, push-ups, handstands and animal movements such as crawling and galloping."

Along with three friends, he started the gym this January as a minimalist space. The ground floor has a bar setup, ropes, a few waist-high boxes and some "hidden" obstacles. The first floor is a dance studio. "When we came to see this space the first time, the staircase wasn't there. [My friend and partner] Cyrus [Khan] and I were the only two people who could climb up [to the first floor]. We designed the space from scratch, because no one understands the requirements of a parkour gym, other than the people doing it. There is no equipment, no machine: it is simply you and the environment. Like how parkour is supposed to be." Ideally, it's an outdoor sport: there's only so much you can monkey around indoors. "[But], finding a terrace in Mumbai is hard. There's too much hue and cry. But in smaller cities, like Pune and Chennai there are two- or three-storeyed buildings. So, nobody's worried about you killing yourself. But, if you jump on a 14-storeyed building, it's like, 'Get out.'"

Doctor Whoa

Prasad clarifies, parkour isn't "a wild dash" into the unknown. "Most of these jumps and movements are done in a very calm way. It's not a sport about the adrenaline rush. Parkour [is about] dealing with fear. Every time you encounter an obstacle, especially at a height, you stand at the edge, your legs are shaking and you are wondering, 'Why am I even bothering to do this? This is scary. I'd rather be at home watching TV.' But the minute you make that jump, that feeling is euphoric. You faced your fear and conquered it." This translates to other aspects of his life as well. "The emergency department is a high-stress job. The family members are always a little apprehensive, demanding answers, which is fair: their loved ones are not well. But to face that, you need to have a certain calmness, because if you start panicking, then they are going to panic even more. So, this helps me maintain that sense of calm."

Currently, Prasad has close to 30 students, which is a big leg up from his earlier batch of a couple. They range from six-year-olds to 50-year-olds. "All kids are born with the ability to do parkour. The reason our classes run is because they lose it by the time they grow up." Although, not those who cross Andheri station every day. For them, parkour is a walk in the park.

Prasad swings from one bar to another like a trapeze artiste, but without a partner or a harness. Pics/Ashish Raje
Prasad swings from one bar to another like a trapeze artiste, but without a partner or a harness. Pics/Ashish Raje

Parkour under the sun

Bandra Fort and Sewri Fort
"Forts are great locations to train at," says Prasad. "Bandra Fort is a golden spot. Every time we go there, we find a new challenge that will stump us."

Mindspace Garden behind Inorbit Malad; Gulmohar Garden in Yari Road; Amarsons Garden near Breach Candy
"Mindspace is a beautiful, huge garden. They're receptive of us training there. Some places you get shooed away from very quickly, but these guys never bother us."

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