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April 21, 1997


Hup, two, three, four...

Chindu Sreedharan

Sheetal Maniar Believe this, my brothers, if you will. This girl, this young girl, Sheetal Maniar -- medium height, medium built, 21 years of age -- can stomach much more than you or I. Much, much more, in fact.

Ah, do I see eyebrows shooting into hairlines, do I hear scornful "Like what?"s spat out through lips pursed in smirks of disbelief? Do I?

Yup, I do.

O, ye of little faith, check with the Bombay police, if you don't believe me. Yeah, check it out with them; they should know. After all, three of their regulars -- smart officers with khaki-covered beer bellies overflowing down brown-belted waists -- stepped on the lady's stomach at the same time, and she took it with nary a whimper.

Now, tell me, how many of you can boast of supporting three 65-kilo-plus policemen on your abdomen? Not many, eh?

So you know what is special about Sheetal Maniar. And want to know more, I guess. Well, here goes.

A session for the Bombay police This is the girl from whom the Bombay police, and a lot many others including the Revenue Intelligence sleuths, the anti-corruption cops and the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited officials take lessons. In fitness and, occasionally, martial arts.

Her debut as a full-time instructor came with last year's potbelly seminar for the Bombay police (the stomach-stepping incident occurred then) where she had the cops sweating it out for three days. "They were a bit hesitant about taking instructions from a woman at first. But once they found out that I really knew what I was talking about and could do one better than them, they were very attentive," she recalls.

The first day, Sheetal says, was real hectic -- she was demonstrating exercises the whole day. "I don't know how many push-ups and sit-ups I did that day. The next day, I couldn't even move," she recalls with a wry smile. "But the seminar was on and I couldn't back out. So I went ahead and continued with the sessions!"

Sheetal, who has as much trouble doing 300 sit-ups and 200 push-ups at a stretch as you or I would have slipping on a pair of moccasins, is, by her own admission, a fitness junkie. "I am obsessed with it," she confesses. "You know, when I was a kid, I was a real weakling. I had asthma and all sort of physical troubles. I was terrible at sports and had no stamina at all."

Demo for CBI officers Luckily, when she was 17, Sheetal came in touch with Drs Deepak and Seema Rao, who were then fitness consultants with the Bombay police. They immediately took her under their wing. "They were staying right next to my house and I started training with them. They are the ones who have taught me all I know."

Later, the Raos moved to Pune. And Sheetal, who by then had graduated in commerce, started instructing the cops. "Fitness," says the lady, "does not stop with just muscular development. It should aim to attain more -- like a sense of overall well-being. And, for this, strengthening exercises alone are not enough. Diet is equally important is diet." Which, precisely, is why Sheetal lives mainly on raw vegetables and sarvadhan (a mixture of raw flour, rice, green pulses and water).

''Lifestyle programming," she goes, "is essential for fitness too. For instance, did you know that all degenerative diseases like arthritis, disc problems, spondilitis, heart problems ,etc, can be prevented and cured by conditioning your lifestyle?"

Now that she has established a reputation for herself, she finds herself conducting fitness seminars and private sessions for individual clients. Many of whom are ladies who are simply overweight, but there are those unfortunate few who are being treated for specific diseases. Like that 50-plus gentleman in Borivali with the heart ailment and the 53-year-old, 117 kg heavy lady in Worli with liver trouble and arthritis.

Sheetal Maniar "I have already cured a slipped disc patient. She was only 32 and could not even get up from bed. Now she is walking around," Sheetal says proudly. The personalised programme which she provides her clients has one thing in common -- the seven-minute workout. "This," Sheetal explains, "is a set of exercises which takes up just seven minutes. Beginning with the neck muscles, the workout exercises the shoulder, abdomen, spine, chest, back, knees and ends with deep breathing exercises."

Last year, Sheetal introduced aeroboxing -- a fitness programme similar to the British boxaerobics -- in India which combines boxing, self-defence techniques and aerobics. "Punching and kicking in tune to music provides an outlet for the individual's inner frustrations; there is a tremendous release of mental tension," she says. "And it burns more calories than even jogging -- 12 calories a minute as compared to running which burns only eight or nine calories a minute."

With her growing popularity, Sheetal finds herself hard-pressed for time. Every morning, she is up and awake at 5.30 sharp. Exercise till 6.30, a hurried bath and breakfast later and she on her way. By 3.30 in the afternoon, she is ready for her usual one hour swim at the Police Club. Then, it is back to work. Till 10 pm, mostly. Then she is back with her father, mother and younger brother.

When, you wonder, does the lady relax? Or doesn't she ever do that? "Well, I am really hooked to fitness, you know, and that is what I do more or less all day. So..."

And now, my brothers, you know as much about Sheetal as I do.

Sheetal Maniar's photographs: Jewella C Miranda

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