Muscular India: Masculinity, Mobility & the New Middle ClassThe gyms of urban ‘new India’ are intriguing spaces. While
they cater largely to well-off clients, these shiny, modern
institutions are also vehicles of upward mobility for the
trainers and specialists who work there. As they learn
English, ‘upgrade’ their dressing style and try to develop
a deeper understanding of the lives of their upmarket
customers., they break with an older kind of masculinity
represented by the pehlwans in their akharas. Equally, the
gym aspires to be a safe space for women—a break from the
toxic masculinity they must deal with outside its walls.
Yet, the more things change, the more they remain the
same. Class barriers are less permeable than they appear.
The use of bodily capital to breach them is more fraught
with danger than one might anticipate. And the profession
is riddled with pitfalls and contradictions.
Michiel Baas has spent a decade studying gyms, trainers and
bodybuilders, and finds in them a new way to investigate
India. He walks us through the homes and workspaces of
these men—yes, they are almost all men—to bodybuilding
competitions and also into their most intimate worlds of
ambitions, desires and struggles. An unusual study of an
unusual subject, Baas unveils a fascinating world, hidden in