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Fat Boy Slim

Updated on: 25 February,2024 07:18 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sonia Lulla |

Great-grandfather’s Dandi March is inspiration for Tushar Gandhi to ekla cholo re on his incredible fitness journey, that sees him transform enough to become unrecognisable to those looking for a 118-kg heavyweight

Fat Boy Slim

Tushar Gandhi makes the three-hour walk on Juhu beach end-to-end every morning, and rewards himself with nariyal paani. Pic/Shadab Khan

As March 2005 inched closer, Tushar Gandhi found himself entertaining an idea that stemmed partly out of aspiration and primarily out of the weight of his lineage. The year was the 75th anniversary of the historic Dandi March, and Tushar—Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson—was well aware that three members of his family had participated in it. “I always wondered if I could cover the distance,” recalls Gandhi of the over 380-kilometer marathon. “Until then, I had lived a sedentary life. On a lark, I announced that I was going to do that entire walk, and in no time, 900 people from all over the world said they’d join me. My family and friends told me to train for it, but I was not bothered. I said, I’ll simply do it, and on March 12, I started walking with these people.”

It didn’t take too long for reality to dawn, and Gandhi realised that the feat that he had been treating as a joke, wasn’t one. “Within two days, I was in agony, because we had to average 15 to 22 kilometres every day, in two phases. By day three, I was really suffering. I had blisters on my feet and my thighs were chafed. Each time I started walking, I wanted to give up.”

Tushar Gandhi started incorporating walks into his lifestyle after he was diagnosed with clogged arteries. Pics/Shadab KhanTushar Gandhi started incorporating walks into his lifestyle after he was diagnosed with clogged arteries. Pics/Shadab Khan

As is usually customary with long-distance runners, Gandhi struck up a conversation with his aching body. “I felt that my feet were telling me, why are you torturing us? And I would tell them, just take a few more steps. We were like two entities, my grieving feet, and my soul that kept [egging] them on.” This story ends like every other heroic cinematic offering—Gandhi, who had never adopted any physical activity until this time in his life, completed the walk on April 5, and reached Dandi where “Bapu picked up the salt”.

He says rather lackadaisically, “Nobody was willing to bet on the fact that I would do it.” The reason behind his statement, we eventually learn, is that he has, of late, fazed people so often that he now remains unfazed by their reactions. His mammoth physical alteration, a slow and steady race that helped him shed about 40 kilos, has often led people to miss noticing him at social events, a development that evidently pleases him. He recalls with a laugh how the host of a political event had called him from the venue enquiring about his whereabouts when he, now, several kilos lighter, was sitting in the front row. Or how those who had told him to lose weight, now say, “Please don’t lose more.”

Tushar Gandhi started incorporating walks into his lifestyle after he was diagnosed with clogged arteries. Pics/Shadab Khan

It wasn’t until the 2020 lockdown was imposed that Gandhi’s lifestyle underwent an overhaul. While he was accustomed to assorted walking bouts following the 2005 task, it was only during the pandemic that his lifestyle truly changed. “I was diagnosed with clogged arteries. I have a history of diabetes and hypertension, and was advised to go for a bypass operation. Subsequently, I was told that I couldn’t return to my old habits. But, at home, my options were limited. As someone who enjoyed walking in the bylanes of Santacruz and Bandra, I didn’t like sticking to the treadmill. So, I began walking on my terrace, and that helped me get in shape.”

A rooftop, we argue, could also be sufficiently restrictive for a person accustomed to taking to the city’s streets. Ask him what kept him motivated to achieve the goal, and he says poetically, “Because I don’t like to speak to anybody while I exercise. Walking is like meditation. I observe my surroundings and listen to the music in my mind. In my head, I may play my favourite film song. Since I was also editing my book during this phase, the walks served as a break. I would think about the next phase of my writing too. Finally, there’s a lot to observe—the trees and the gang of crows that colonised them. I would observe their behaviour. Some kites had nests in the tall coconut palms. Behind my house, there was a mating couple. They were rearing their chicks, so, I would watch them. I also witnessed some spectacular sunsets.”

Gandhi at an event held in 2009. It was during the 2020 COVID-induced lockdown that his lifestyle underwent an overhaul Gandhi at an event held in 2009. It was during the 2020 COVID-induced lockdown that his lifestyle underwent an overhaul 

The fact that his long-drawn three-hour walking bouts helped him average 15,000 to 20,000 steps daily was a significant contributor to his achievement. But, the biggest driver of his weight-loss journey, he confesses, is the diet he subsequently adopted. “I consulted a nutritionist, a relative, Rima Rao. I have always been a glutton. Good food is irresistible for me. So, it was very difficult to adopt a disciplined regime. But, after the operation, I had no choice. Also, she took a personal interest in me. She devised a plan, and I stuck to it. I cut out butter and cheese, stuff that I thought I couldn’t live without, and became disciplined when it came to the quantity of my [meals].” In chronicling how arduous the feat was, Gandhi reveals that he found solace in bingeing on “food videos” on YouTube. “I’d watch all the food bloggers and see the tempting preparations. That was how I overcame my cravings. I kept telling myself, once I get into shape, I’ll be able to enjoy it all again.”

Did he enjoy it all again? “I did,” he reveals, confessing that he, unfortunately, “let myself loose”. Having dropped down to 82 kilos, he admits he hasn’t adopted the best practices in the last year, and has, hence, climbed back to over 90. “An important thing to consider, when you change your diet, is that you have to be very cautious. It is very easy to slip back out of routine. When you see great results, like I did, you begin to think you can take some liberties. You keep thinking that you’ll knock the weight back down, and this is the dangerous point. I’ve regained 12 kilos. If you want to change, the change has to be lifelong. Now, I realise, a cheat meal once in a month, is enough.”

We speak to Gandhi on the day he resumes his traditional walking routine, leaving his Santacruz home at 6.30 am, and covering the entire length of Juhu beach before returning home at 9.30 am. “I found an incentive to walk—a nariyal paani wala. I tell myself, complete it and you can enjoy  one coconut. It’s refreshing.”
During a recent international stint, he tried his hand at a sport he has long admired. “I took a boxing class,” he says, before comically narrating how the trial took a toll on him. “I have a friend who does it regularly, and posts pictures on Instagram. So, I said, this sounds interesting. I didn’t know that [I could endure] so much torture in 45 minutes. Simply acquiring the boxing stance, and punching and ducking without moving my feet, had me trembling. My calves were aching, my feet were sore, and I said I never knew such muscles could be exercised. I thought when you throw a punch, your fists do all the work. But it is the shoulders and the lower back that come into play. That was a revelation. In films like Rocky and Bhag Milkha Bhag, you see the [heroes] flipping tyres. At this gym, there was a half tyre. I said, this would be worth trying. And, until [the trainer] showed me the right technique, I couldn’t even make it budge,” he shares.

Goal-setting often plays a crucial role when it comes to a weight-loss maintenance programme, and Gandhi certainly has set a challenging one. “The year 2030 will be the centenary of the [Dandi March]. I want to be in shape to do the walk again that year. I will be 72 then; it will be challenging, but that’s the endeavour.”

118 Vs 82
What Gandhi weighed before and after his weight-loss journey

15k- 20k
Number of steps Gandhi clocks in daily

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