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Shaking it like Sheila, moving it like Munni

Sunday Magazine Feature
By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: December 30, 2012


Contact Bollywood Aerobics class’ instructor Fehmida Maskatiya at:

They gather every weekday morning outside an innocuous looking house in an upscale neighbourhood of Karachi. As 11am approaches, women of all ages from six to 65 clamber in hurriedly through the gate, each trying to outpace the other. Every minute counts. The earlier you get in, the better front row spot you get; the closest you’ll be to the instructor.
The women are an interesting mix — some sport trendy designer sportswear, others wear figure hugging leotards under the abayas and chadars that they hang on a rack before they enter the classroom. The room’s walls are all mirrored, giving an illusion that the room is bigger than it actually is. Dot on time, the class begins. No nonsense and no delays. It is serious business to all the women — students, working women and home makers alike — who have come there after squeezing out time from their busy schedules. All are here to dance their woes away, get rid of flab, rediscover their femininity and have a rocking good time while they’re at it. This is ‘me time’ at its best, and the place for it is Fehmida Maskatiya’s “Bollywood Aerobics” class.

Maskatiya is a warm, pretty and gregarious woman who is incredibly fit for a mother with grown up children. Dressed in her signature black dance-friendly sportswear, her energy is contagious and she is a hard task master when it comes to dance. This is no place for the slackers and the morose. If your moves appear half-hearted and bored, rest assured Maskatiya will notice and will make sure you give it a hundred per cent.

That’s because teaching dance isn’t just a business for her, but a passion. A natural born dancer, losing herself to the beats and steps always made her feel alive and happy, along with keeping her enviously fit. But three years ago, a point came when she realized that many of her friends needed to feel the same way. The women she met in her daily life had gotten so sucked into the whirlpools of responsibilities that they had forgotten how to have fun and take out some “me-time”. Her classes began some three years ago. That’s when she decided that she needed to share her passion with others. But before she could teach, she first had to learn.

Maskatiya then went off to Mumbai. “I learnt at the famous choreographer Saroj Khan’s institute, not how to be a dancer, but how to be a dance teacher, how to share with students the moves that come naturally to me. Here I learnt how to bring out their natural talent and help them shed their inhibitions, how to help them get into the groove,” she says. Once back in Pakistan, she wasted no time in starting up her classes. The trend of Bollyfit, as it is called, was a fairly recent idea at that time, but one that caught on pretty quickly in the fitness world. That’s not surprising when you consider what else was available at the time. After all, Yoga spells peace, but requires a regimen and a degree of discipline. Gyming is a great way to stay in shape, but less fun and, according to Maskatiya, it “does not give women the feminine curves and shape they are looking for. Most women want to be toned, slim and fit, but do not necessarily want manly biceps.” Bollywood aerobics was an answer for many women — fun, fitness and femininity all rolled into one.

While her own niche is semi-classical dance form, Maskatiya incorporates many dance forms into her classes, including steps borrowed from Middle-Eastern belly dancing for which her students even got coin belts for that extra bit of jingle. The choice of songs will vary from the raunchy “Halkat jawani” to Jennifer Lopez’s “On the floor” for faster moves that can burn up to 300 to 500 calories per session. As grace-builders, more delicate numbers like “Tere bina” from the movie Guru and some more vintage classics are included. More recently, the Colombian dance form called Zumba has been included for variety. Maskatiya keeps reminding students throughout the moves and shakes exactly which muscles they are working on. Stretches and cardio make it an energetic and fun moderate intensity workout. The only thing that seems missing, though, is regular warm-ups and cool-downs, which are optional and sporadic.


Regular workout shows results, with both flexibility and agility increasing. “My energy level has gone up since I joined Fehmida’s classes. I’ve not just lost weight but also am more curvy. Clothes look better on me. It’s exciting. I had given up that I could look this good again. More than anything, the woman inside me feels alive again,” says 56 year old Shabana Ali (name changed on request). Her daughter-in-law also dances alongside her, in a fun bit of female bonding. What’s really cute is that they’re sometimes joined by the little granddaughter too.
She is not the only youngster at the classes either. Mothers send their little daughters to the class for two reasons: to fight the increasing trend of obesity among children, and to help develop grace and a feminine touch while helping improve their postures. That grace, say some parents, is being lost and needs to be rediscovered.

As Maskatiya aptly says, “My greatest achievement is not just the fact that I see my students slimmer and fitter. What’s most exciting and gratifying to see them rediscover their confidence. Women multi-task and work and devote their lives to their families. My class is their emotional detox. A time for stress release. They walk out as happier women.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 30th, 2012.

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A few good “F” words for the new year

By Farahnaz Zahidi

new year fireworks

Last year sped by just like all the years before it. Glorious on many counts, it also had its downsides that come with the package of any given chunk of time. Standing in my balcony, braving the rare chilly Karachi winds against my face, I am taking inventory of the year gone by. Some unresolved resolutions are jumbled up in the knapsack of my mind while some new resolutions have also found their way in.

‘What are going to be my focal points in the year to come?’ I wonder.

Somehow, a lot of ‘F’ words spring up in my mind – good ones, I must add.

Family: They may be irritating, annoying and an eternal encroachment on my personal space, but they are what makes life worth living for me. They demand a lot, but also give much more in return. If there is anything that is the ‘real’ thing in life, it’s your family; and if the real stuff sucks out the best out of you, it also gives you the best life has to offer.

So in the coming year, more cooking for my daughter; more walks (and simultaneous talks) in the park with my partner in crime; more evening tea trysts with my mother, whose eyes light up when she sees me; more patient time-spending with my sisters, who feel I ‘need to be more available on Skype and phone’ ; more brainless laughter over childhood jokes and discussions about Pakistani politics with my brothers; more hanging out with my nieces and nephews (a price one pays for being the youngest aunt); more one-dish dinners with relatives, and lastly, more visits to the distant aunts and cousins.

I mention all these people because they will be the first to arrive if I am in trouble. I know for a fact that they will stand by me even when I have a runny nose and a swollen face owing to allergies.

Friends: What could make life more enjoyable than the company of a good friend? As the years speed by, friends become even more important than before, and here I mean all kinds of friends; the ones who pump up my ego by giving me a healthy dose of compliments on how I look and how well I write; the ones who can say anything directly to my face when I need to hear it because they have known me since I couldn’t even tie my shoe laces; the ones who will swing by my house uninformed, plop themselves on the jhoola (swing) in my lounge and tell me their sob stories till my head spins; the ones who will go all motherly on me and make me tea and kebabs when I go to them in need of a pep-talk; the just-for-fun friends with whom I go out to share crazy laughter over coffee; those who are ready to mentor me in unsaid ways; the ones who will accompany me to the Imran Khan jalsa; the ones who call me a day before the jalsa, worried sick that I am going to a public place, and tell me ‘it’s so dangerous, you idiot’.

So in the coming year, more time-spending with my besties, if that’s possible, because they are already a major time-drain – one that is so worth it.

Food: Being a hardcore foodie, this one should actually top the list, but this year I plan to have yummier but healthier food. More concentration on fish, fruit, figs, and fresh greens instead of the regular doses of nihari, garlic-mayo fries, cheese dripping pasta and cheesecakes that all go and deposit themselves straight on the ‘troubled zones’.

So food, my first love, you are (still) on top of my priority list, baby. I am going to relish your each morsel and not gulp you down in a hurry. I will enjoy my cups of tea steaming hot and not let them get cold while other things, like phone calls and door bells, get in the way and destroy the taste of my chai because I have to micro-wave it endless times. I will also not serve food in pots, pans and degchis. I will make an effort to garnish it with ginger, coriander, parmesan, and fresh cream. Food will be a work of art and a sinless joy this year (ok family, don’t get your hopes high!).

Fitness: Looking good, feeling that extra spring in your step, experiencing that non-lazy bouncy feeling that makes you upbeat every morning – that’s what fitness gives you. And this poor ‘F’ was so neglected last year. So here is a solemn resolve; more healthy food, more walks and aerobics, less stressing, and most importantly more sleeping on time. Intermittently, let me enjoy a few last days of couch-potatoing, brooding over useless stuff, and sleeping at 2 am.

Fun: Being a serious-about-life and I-will-make-a-difference kind of person has a downside; you become too purposeful for your own good and at times forget to do brainless stuff just for fun. Things like watching an old Govinda movie, going out impulsively to have chaat, sleeping in late and buying yourself an extra pair of shoes just take a back seat.

So, I plan to have more fun next year, which would incorporate all the above mentioned ‘Fs’ but also include writing just for fun; some frivolous blogging, not merely journalistic endeavours that reek of activism, but also stuff like food blogging and a bit of dabbling with utterly emotional romantic poetry that makes my heart sing. Sounds like a plan!

Faith: My mainstay, my anchor, which sometimes gets buried under endless chores and to-dos. I feel that my time has drifted away with nothing actually useful done when I spend less time in prayer and a strange weariness clouds my happiness when I talk less to Allah (on the prayer mat or otherwise). So more of prayers and zikr in the coming year, and of doing things that will please God, which will definitely entail making His creations happy; serving, loving and spending (both money and time) on people I come across in my life.

Hence, my ‘F’ list comes to an end with Faith, and my faith says that I do not know for sure if I even have the next 24 hours to live. However, I have hope in His Mercy, and I will strive to live a life of better quality in the days and years to come, and leave the rest to Allah.

New Year – Bring it on.

Published here:
Published: December 31, 2011