The discovery of a new species in the verdant forests of Kerala is usually trumpeted in the papers by the Zoological Survey of India. However, the emergence of a new species in the urban landscape of Kerala has been largely undocumented. This hardy, agile and adventurous species is colonising ground rapidly and transforming cityscapes into its habitat. As yet unnamed, perhaps we could loosely refer to the species as homo fitness enthusisaticus.
Like all species, homo fitness enthusiasticus has several subspecies with the most dominant being sighted in the early morning haze that covers the city. Clad in bright Lycra, helmeted and visored like spacemen, they draw the puzzled and amused glances of the morning newspaper readers at the local tea shops as they pedal past. Chasing ever increasing targets-100k, 200k ,300k … they ride on, oblivious to everything but the wind on their face and the burn in their muscles.
Nipping closely at their heels or should it be wheels are the runners. This species, previously found only in the sports section of newspapers bringing laurels to Kerala at various athletic events, is now pounding the pavements of the city. Marathons, half marathons, midnight runs are all part of its territory and the sightings of both solitary members as well as larger herds is on the increase.
And just as early life forms moved from water to land so too this new species straddles both land and sea. Coastal waters as well as inland waterways have seen a proliferation of this amphibious form. Paddle in hand, kayaks at the ready, they cast off plowing through the water, a technicolor version of an old black and white reel of those yesteryear vallams.
While the sun is sought by some, others prefer shaded climes as their habitat and so has sprung up a host of activities ranging from the loud and fast paced dance exercises to the quiet and reflective yoga and even a blast from the past in the form of the martial art, kalaripayattu.
Somewhat surprisingly, it is the mature adult of the species that is more adventurous and energetic. On the rare occasions juveniles are sighted in the pack, they lag in enthusiasm, leading to the conclusion that adolescents exhibit similar characteristics regardless of the species... they seem to prefer the camaraderie of playgrounds or perhaps, the confines of the virtual world.
Yet another surprising but welcome discovery is the gender neutrality of this group. The cycling brevets, the marathons and the aquatic activities have just as many takers among the "she "of the species as the "he”. Likewise, the dance exercise classes once exclusively the domain of females, are seeing increasing numbers of males hitting the floor. A wonderful sign of evolution in our world!
But as always, there is a snake in this green and growing garden and it is the absence of proper facilities and safety provisions. Congested roads, poor air quality, rash driving, inadequate cycling paths and running tracks and a lack of knowledge of safety procedures are proving obstacles in the path of homo fitness enthusiasticus. That these issues need to be addressed quickly is without question. However, despite these travails, this new tribe seems to be flourishing and spreading across the state.
Of course, nature always seeks to preserve stasis or balance and so the growth of a species usually coincides with the decline of another. The pattern is not dissimilar in Urban Kerala; the rapid rise of homo fitness enthusisaticus has led to the sharp decline of a humble species known as the couch potato.
(The author is a writer based in Kochi. This column will appear every alternative Wednesday)