on the run..

Today, I chanced upon this snap in the archives.

There we were, in Pebble Beach. California. Or thereabouts. Driving through a Californian summer. Now and then, stopping to soak in lung fulls of the Pacific air and indulge in uninhibited visual gluttony, soaking up the scenery and the sights.

I did what other tourists normally do. Click pictures. Eat like a pig. Click more pictures. Make funny noises. Click more pictures. And generally gape.

Which is when, the eye caught the old man running. He was doing a steady pace. Not that I hadn’t seen an old man run. I run with several who, with their enthusiasm and effort, drive shame into me with seemingly no effort at all. But then, it was 2.00 PM in the afternoon and this old man was running. No other runner on the road.

By Mumbai standards, well that is a step higher than ‘weird’! For one, the heat will vaporize you. Another reason could be, no actually, that vapourise threat is reason enough.

But this was California. Here was this man. Running a steady doddering run, with an adorable spirit and a certain incalculable antiquity.

Memories came sprinting back, as I looked at this picture today. Especially so because laziness has been coursing my veins for a while now.

Well, well, it’s a long story. I have formed part of the problem.

Several readers know that I enjoy a good run. These pages have seen how it all started with an innocuous ‘come see what we do’ invitation from a friend who was into running. It took about the time it took for your eyes to come down to reading this line from the line above. That’s all. That’s the time it took for me to commence running. I was running and enjoying it!

This year the problem compounded.

In a fit of demented bluster, I registered to run a full marathon to be run in January. That is 42 kilometers for the uninitiated. To those that have only seen the Kenyans run on TV and make it seem as easy as turning in your bed, I can only say, that running the full marathon, for bloated blokes with a sweet tooth and sorry food cycles, is like aiming for the moon with a Diwali pistol.

But then, like other good things with grand intentions, the registration was made in right earnest. As soon as the registration was done, investments were made. A new watch was bought. A watch that displays kilometers run. Speed at which the running is happening, calories burnt etc etc ! By the way, as a bonus and almost as an afterthought, it also shows the time.

So I have all these details on my wrist. These days its not the tail that wags the dog. Details wag the dog! Somewhere, between all the calculations and math, the joy of running slipped. Damn, Numbers !

To exponentially compound matters, I realize that I have dutifully informed anyone who lingered in my company for more than two minutes that I am into running and the marathon will be attempted this year.

Typical responses have followed. Always preceded by a sympathetic look and a shake of a head, that seem to indicate the unspoken words of ‘oh, what has befallen you’.

‘It will be ok’. They say. Accompanied by an arch of an eyebrow and with as much energy that a scintillating bureaucrat puts in his face while dealing with a cyclone victim.

My runs have taken a nosedive over the last couple of months with an elegance of a Olympic diver. Slowly and steadily, lethargy has pitched a tent. Inches in the waist have grown like wild grass at the first sight of rain. These days, I feel the weight of a large earth moving equipment juggle in me, every time I run !

But you see, I haven’t been sitting idle. Ofcourse, I have been busy. Weekends have flown by like aircrafts doing practice sorties. Some have also crashed.

But all that is in the past. Today, this man woke me up. This old man that I caught half a glimpse of on a bright and sunny afternoon in another part of the world, has shaken me up.

There is one goal now. As far as the running, that is! To complete the marathon in January. Whatever time it takes. To run with no ‘time’ in mind. Running for fun. Running to just enjoy the course and see how far two legs can take me. That suddenly seems doable.

For all those, that have a sudden outpouring of love and want to gift me with sweets, payasam and such else, hold on, till January. If you are insistent, well, I will have one bite. Only one. Ok ?

In the mean time, wish me luck and watch this space.

Its in the eye !

Three quarters of the legendary ‘big fat tyre’ just beneath the chest is not only because of a sedentary life style or whatever else that the world will have us believe often. A good vision with a pinch of a vivid imagination can be as potent as well !

Now, you are either taking umbrage or laughing away at the nadirs of emptiness in the mind that i have reached. hmm Well, seriously… Take a look at this.

Here are whats called ‘murukku‘ in Tamil territory.

Not much technology here. Infact, age old recipe. Plain old flour coming from grain, going through different moulds to create basic designs. Of course, deep fried in oil or sometimes in mouth watering ghee !

There you go. Petals. Whorls. Plain surfaces. Labyrinthine mazes. A sight to the eye. All hoarding calories like a glutton engulfed with additional greed !

Invariably its the eye that spots these. The whorls and patterns draw the eye like parched land to rain !

The mind and imagination then kick in their work. The imagined taste of each of these awaken the slumber of hidden taste buds resting in the tongue.

The ears hear the crackle of the ‘murukku’ against the teeth, the melting of the ghee and the after taste after the murukku is long gone into the deepest recesses of the tyre !

( Yes, the mind allows thinking of the tyre to seep in only after the snack sinks into the alimentary canal ) !

And even as the mind is thinking of all of this, the eyes induce the hands to declare independence. The wallet comes out and in a while the rest of the world hears the crackle : the crackle of the murukku as the teeth work on them !

The rest is history !

Ah ! The eyes !

Also Ran !

It all started with a move to arrest the arrival of a paunch. Seemingly seamless. But pronounced. The seams of the trousers were bursting. Obviously all the sweets and fries had to show up someplace !!

High calorie food stuck to all parts of the body. Like a Fixed Deposit that was left to grow. The paunch was packing quite a punch ! Then one day, a friend suggested that he was ‘running’ the marathon. Running ? There was enough to being an ‘also ran’ in life!

Ten minutes on the treadmill was about what the feet could ever manage. Huffing, panting and almost sure that the 11 th minute would cause instant death ! This was June ’09. An internal war broke out. Resplendent slumber waging a relentless war on physical activity.

‘Running ? For gods sake, get real ! And four days a week’. Was a constant conversation in the mind. But when the favorite trouser didn’t fit, the missus had her hands on the hip and gave a look. A look that was a curious mix of pity, joy and sarcasm!

The next day, I signed up for running. This was August ’09. The schedule was given. ‘Mondays. Wednesdays. Fridays. Sundays. Reporting time : 5.45 AM’ ! The eyes popped. The ears didnt quite register. ‘Reporting at 5.45 ?’ That meant getting off the bed by 4.30 AM !

With a trepidation reminiscent of my maths exam, i prepared to howl in protest. The only words that escaped the lips however sounded different. ‘Sundays too?’ So it all began. Running.

But the mind was clear : I wasn’t going to go anywhere close to the marathon. I was just going to run. Run the paunch down. That was that. But the group i was training with had other ideas. Of course, my coaches kept it to themselves.

August ’09 : A couple of kilometers that the feet covered burnt a hole in the wallet buying pain reliver sprays and left the bedroom smelling of Bengay ! Perpetually. Gasping for breath was now not restricted to seeing stupidity at work. Parts of the body loudly announced their existence with stinging pain and stagnant aches. Knees. Muscles. Joints. Bones. All.

September was better. The pain was around. Less pronounced on the body. More on the mind. I wonder if it would be any different with you..when somebody a good 20 years older zips past and completes the distance in half the time !

And we ran on the roads. We trained in Aarey. Dotted with thick greenery. Rustic smell of cow dung and grass punctuating the morning air and of course, awesome sunrises more than aptly compensated for the mosquitoes that were perhaps next only to the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein !

We trained in Bandra on the road besides the Arabian sea (and Shah Rukh Khans home. Just in case the Arabian Sea was an unknown entity). Sundays meant driving to marine drive to run those distances. ( I promised the missus that i will not write about the lump of breakfast that followed. So)

October was even better. November fled by. Suddenly, It was early December. I was running 20 odd KMs. Slow. Steady. Huffing and puffing. But running. ‘Perhaps i can run the marathon’ became a refrain. As with most human minds, the monkey on the mind had moved on to the next branch. Finishing was not THE issue. ‘In what time’, became the big question.

Jan fled. Taking with it all doubt of ‘completion’ of the race. It was 17th Jan. I was after all running the marathon. The timing chip was tied to the shoe. The bib was pinned to the t-shirt. Off i ran the Mumbai half-Marathon ! 2 hours 14 minutes was on the watch display as i finished.

There were hordes of men, women and children cheering us on. Faces that i dont know. Voices that i hadn’t heard before. But words and gestures that i just cant forget. ‘Go Mumbai Go’ they screamed !

The slum dwellers who held out oranges. The sophisticated types who had household help offer biscuits, juices, water. The men and women who stood by clapping. I wonder what gets them to do these.

Oh yes. Our blogger bunch cheered on too. With cheers, wishes, presence, prayers and offer for payasam ! The one gent who traveled from Pune to click a snap and cheer on. The others that set a mail thread that went like a river in flow ! What a swell bunch of people inherit this earth ! How blessed am i to know and connect up with them all ! So much for an ‘also ran’ !

Phew. I am done. With this race. But two things remain. Which must get mentioned.

a. I am looking for one man with a blue T-shirt which had ‘are you tough enough’ written on his back. I will never forget this man. For at the 4th Kilometer he overtook me, looked into my eys and shouted ‘Dont GIVE UP’ ‘Dont Give up’.

With bewilderment plastered on my face, i waved him on. ‘Give up?!!?’ Whoever talked about giving up ? I had just started running. So, if you know that man, or you are that man…well, i need to talk to you.

b. The paunch…you know… well…the paunch also ran ! The cause for all of this running, is by and large ( actually by and LARGE) at large ! Theres been no impact at all ! The missus thinks running 42 kilometers will perhaps wear it down.

Ofcourse, like all times, i differ.

Off Rice !

For some time now, i have been off rice. I can see the eye brows arch and the quizzical looks come up your face. In yet others, i know ‘there-is-no-limit-to-fibbing’ look on faces. You know, my weight has been bothering me for a while now. Yes. One of those numbers.
But hey, the essence is this : I really am off rice. That is a Himalayan peak to climb for a Southerner like me. Who believed that Eve felled Adam with rice. And the Western world chose to call it apple, because it would be easy to hold !

Today, when rice is served on the lunch counter, i turn away with a speed that would shame a north Korean missile. Lest i change my mind. The change of mind does happens Occasionally. But OCCASIONALLY. OK ?

To stay away from rice is a huge struggle. And that is an understatement. Rotis and Brown Bread can sound fancy to the health conscious world and the dietitian, but nothing comes close to ploughing your fingers through Sambhar laden rice.

And it is in such times, that i feel that the world conspires to test my resolve. It starts with the person at the lunch counter serving food at the office canteen. “Sir, some rice for you. It goes well the Dal”. And i look at him with a ‘when-did-they-find-that’ look, hoping that he would stop right there. He doesn’t. And you know what happens.

And now you have branded rice. This is a huge sack of rice. Yes. Raw rice, to be more precise to be cooked. In smaller instalments. Thank God for small mercies. This brand of rice is called.. ‘Golden Pari’ ! ( Golden Fairy). And has a bollywood heroine in dream sequence, with wings et al, as a brand logo.

Ok. Ok. a nameless Angel. OK ? And she is a symbol of purity. I see it as part of a global conspiracy. To test my rice resolve.

Yes sure. The women that i hold dear have used my alimentary canal as additional artillery. Well, I mean, my missus, mother and mother-in-law are all golden paris….. But you know, rice has stayed mainstream.

The problem really, is the pleasure in eating more and not knowing when to stop. There is a sudden urge to throw the chap who connected rice and carbohydrate to G20 protesters. Huh.

Rice. Rice. The damn thing sits for two minutes on the lips and for a life time on the hips. Sigh.

And No. I am not giving up. I am still off rice.

Aching Thigh !

For, here i am. With aching thighs. And a knee which announces a flex of the leg with a sound that is getting louder by the day. I still can walk. And run a kilometer or two. Thank all the Gods above for their big mercies.

But frankly, the ultimate strength lies in sitting with your backside close to hard surface. But not on it. Yes, In my mind, to squat is to have special prowess. And No. I am not kidding.

At another of those dull days, i wait, with my laptop bag strung across my shoulders. I wait by a Mumbai highway, for a friend of mine to pick me up.

There is a family that waits alongside me. The weight of the world seems to be on my shoulder, as the friend calls up every 7 th minute to tell me he is 5 minutes away. I yearn for a chair. I cant sit. Forget my backside, the thought of placing the laptop bag on the mud and dust of the highway, is non existent.

And then, i hear the lady of the family standing next to me tell her husband that her legs ache. And the next minute, she sits down. I mean, she squats. And there she was. In that position for many more multiples of ‘7 minutes’ till my friend finally showed up and i left the place !

Her sitting position was perhaps the most hygienic possibility. That you almost sit. I mean, your backside, gets as close as possible to a surface. The knees bend. The calf muscles touch the thigh. And you are not standing. Well, by those definitions, it definitely was sitting !

Phew. I wonder how many of you can do that. Many of my cousins who live in the rural hinterland, sit in this position with ease. For hours on end. I guess their daily morning routines give way for practice too.

But the fact remains, that if the next bus / train / friend doesn’t show up on time, i am going to walk about fiddling my finger and running my hand through imaginary strands of hair. While some chap will squat elegantly, right in front of me ! For hours on end !

And i would swear to myself that the next post on my blog would be on inadequate infrastructure !

And here is the icing on the cake.

You know, I try and go to a gym. And the instructor asks me to squat and get up ! 20 repetitions. And charges me for his supervisory act. I know i am missing something.

For, here i am. With aching thighs.

Looking at and away !

I sit there. In that red seat. Sweating. Huffing. Gasps of air escape my mouth. Steady streams of sweat appear from nowhere and fill all of my forehead, face, shirt and all else. I have just completed a 3 KM run. And in record time. ( And that means that a time has been recorded, nothing else).

My tryst with the treadmill in the gym continues.

I look up. And look around. Thoughts race in my mind, as the lungs hoover-up all the oxygen, and the tired legs pine for rest, just like a hero in a bollywood song. All of strange wails and deep pain : exhibited through a sound and dance routine !!

In a distant corner there is a fit gent. With big bulging muscles and minimal clothes, lifting what seems to be half an universe. He goes, twelve, thirteen… I realise that there is one person who is gritting his teeth. And that is me.

Many hard short grunts later, he completes. And looks at his bulges in the mirror. A fulgent, intense stare. I suppose in satisfaction. I will never get there i tell myself. And I look away. The load that i attempt to lift, perhaps would require his index finger. Ok. It may require slightly more. But only slightly.

At that moment i wonder if at all there were some technique to convert all of this into some productive result. For instance, a body builder lifts weights and part of a building gets built. Through some conversion of energy technique ! How more far fetched can i get ?

My eyes search for some other human form.

There he sits in another corner. He sits listening to the gym’s trainer lecture him about the need to do more. Eyes drooping, sweat emerging from all conceivable pores, water bottle in hand he tells the trainer that he is going home for today. I look away. And as i look away, i notice his T-shirt and it is difficult to miss whats written there : impossible is nothing !

In another corner, a boy and girl engage in conversation. The sweat remains absent. The T-shirt carries the iron’s fold. But they are there too. Dabbling with some weight and lurk around the corner. Conversing and laughing. I look away. And as i do, i notice his T-shirt shouts, ‘Just Do It’ ! Well, was that explanation or seeking of right !?! Whichever way, it fitted the picture well. I look away.

Catching minutes from thin air, i seek for more ruses for rest as the hearts palpably beats less faster. I decide that to read some T-shirt messages say. And so here are a few :

a. If Attitude Were Money, I am worth a billion.
b. Would they ever invent muscle dentures ?
c. bUmP
d. Mexico ! ( I dont know what that meant )

And as i ponder about ‘why Mexico’ the gym instructor appears. With an arching eye brow and a sardonic grin he asks, ‘tired ?’ I shake my head, and look away.

And just as i do, i read whats on his T-shirt

‘Get On With It’ !

And so, life goes on.

In praise of the leaf !

Being born a South Indian has many de riguers and ‘typical of’ comments associated. Right up there, amidst the top percentile is the practice of eating out of a banana leaf.

For years, i used to dread eating out of a banana leaf. The reason was simple. The leaf didnt have the boundary wall that a plate offered, and you had to be careful, not to spill food on you. That was the quintessential slip on its way to the lip, that caused a ton of anguish and another of reprimand from your folks !

The other reason for dreading the banana leaf was because it used to offer expanse ! Expanse enough to make many heaps of rice appear like a spoon full. And of course, complimented by many mounds of vegetables, served by what i recall as a set of people who seemed so passionate about getting men and women to believe that ‘pear’ was an exotic shape !!

Where best to see this but marriages. Every guest had so much rice that sometimes used to give me a complex. On two counts. Both on account of speed of the clean up operation and the quantity of the clean up ! For within minutes, the leaf used to be shimmer ! And the green would show. And there i would be, huffing and puffing to see if i could finish the first serving. Morsel after morsel !

The banana leaf has always been a tradition that you couldnt miss if you travel to the south of India ! Biodegradable! And very special ! And of course, quite an honour !! And by the way, the food takes a new taste when served on the leaf !

For all those years that i steadfastly stayed away from it, i miss the good old leaf these days.

Today, when i nibble at my chappati thinking of how many calories went in with each swallow, the carefree, boundary less banana leaf seems to bring a new definition to the word ‘temptation’ !

Inside my head, i try hard to close my eyes. And think of something else. The futility of the excercise make me realise how difficult it can be…to turn a new leaf !!

A sweet brand

Sudipto brought me sweets from Kolkata. Bengali sweets have made a major contribution to the build & single packs of my body. They are a craving beyond all material craving that the world can offer. And, as a close friend Sudipto understands !!!
This time too, they tickled the taste buds endlessly, leaving an indelible craving in the mind and and a near permanent addition to the hip. When the sweet was served, i spotted ‘MITHAI‘ engraved on it. My curious mind, examined each piece that was served. All of them carried this engraving. Why did they label a Mithai as Mithai, i wondered !

I thought of Nuclear Radioactive material which get labelled.
I thought of safety equipment which get labelled so. Hazardous chemicals get labelled.
Examples abound. You get the hint. Dont you !

But to see ‘Mithai‘ labelled as ‘Mithai‘, that too engraved on the sweet was a bit of an intrigue.
My mind worked overtime as thoughts ran in all directions as a fountain in bloom!

Did they think this sweet would be mistaken for rat poison or something ? Perhaps they wanted to label it in order to separate the mithai from the other genres of offerings from the store. Perhaps they wanted to have a sweet way to learning the English language during the years of the Raj, and it kind of stuck.

Such other sundry thoughts occupied my mind. And this was, long after the sweet rested for those fleeting moments on the tongue and was well on the way to be deposited on the hip (and god know s in which other body part )!

Little did i realist that the mystery would be solved in the stealth of the night, by the dim light of the refrigerator, just as i was giving in to a sweet pang. Or rather, the Bengali Sweet pang. Thats when i cared to read what was written on the box !

Mithai was the brand !

How neat ! It took me a while to figure that i had not thought of that option at all. A generic name for your brand name. It sure must be ringing in the cash registers if they were pioneers in the field. But why didnt i think of it ? Many facets of the human mind & its contours lie in its unseen whorls !

I have since made peace with myself, enjoying Mithai’s Mithai piece by piece.

Poles Apart.

The last few weeks in the gym have been trying. Trying on the limbs. Trying on the mind. All that trying harder has simply meant harder effort & a focused mind. And no visible result.

Strategically placed on the walls, are photographs of some six pack or eight packs or their incremental variants. The enlarged images are supposed to give you inspiration. They, on the contrary, end up giving a huge complex !

The one huge pack that stares back at me from the mirror is firmly placed and has been built over the years. And that geography is not changing in a hurry ! Tectonic shits can happen with continents. But, i guess, this is one body mass that has far deeper roots.

Fleeting glances have rested on well toned abs and muscles of appropriately clad men and women. As their muscles get flexed and the machines get worked on, the complex grows. The rate of growth of this complex is in no way connected to inflation or such other ‘growth’ trajectories. It outbeats all of them !

When the six packs on the wall descend to come alive in people next you, there almost a prayer that escapes the lips for the earth to open up !

Eating ‘naachini’ roti and drinking strange ( read karela and amla ) juices and sweating it out, is perhaps having a deeper impact on global warming and the macro economic picture, than on my body.

The trainer says the result will come. Focused questions on ‘when’ ( subtle indications that the ‘results’ better happen, in the ‘here and now’ ) have had the trainer suggest liposuction and such other subterraneous methods in the past to fellow ‘one-large-packer’s! That hint registered. Long back.

Many crunches, presses, lifts, bends & stretches later, the formidable single pack remains as formidable as ever. But the efforts continue in right earnest. Hope, they say, springs eternal. Some day, the concentrated capitalistic, single pack, acquired & amalgamated over years, will slowly dissipate. The mountains are broken stone by stone. No. Thats not a metaphor !

And then, comes this news. That the Chinese are taking to pole dancing. What was once done in dimly lit back strip joints is now seen as a ‘social’ activity.

If all of the current regime doesn’t work, pole dancing. Yes. That will do the trick for me. Thats the assurance i have given myself. And the prospect of heaving my lopsided body around a pole inst a sight to relish for my own eye.

But that is the whole idea. My grand plan. That is the thickly veiled threat ! That is the threat that looms large at me.

I haven’t abstained from sweets or sweated out better, ever since this emerged as an ‘alternative’ !

Finess Programs

Organisations continue to thrive and progress. Because of people. Despite people ! It has been the collective might of many an effort which leads to cumulative results. Many a times, surprisingly positive!

There have been intense discussions which pervades all organizations. I am sure in yours as well. Am sure there are corner room / washroom / coffee machine / parking lot conversations which go like

You know, HE got a promotion for THAT
Dude, this company aint go so far man
Are you looking out as well
You know what, I heard your friend is in the firing line
Did you hear the news about the Mr. XYZ
God knows who will bring the money.
She is so slimy..

All of that and more. Well, its all perception they say. My only angst is with the very tongues waxing eloquence with quotes as above, in private, singing praises so that everything seems hunky dory to the world outside. In a sense, there are no permanent friends out there. No permanent enemies out there. Everything is transaction based.

But I have made some great friends out there. Great people who have reached out and we connected well. People who reached out without pushing their luck and knifing me in the back.

I guess the opportunity does exist. One must be discerning enough to spot it reach out to people. It isn’t easy, for one does get let down. But then, for every 10 that lets you down, there must be one, just like you : looking to forward to connect !

Go try find him or her. Good luck. The process is so ‘experience giving’ ! And, oh yes, the result so very fulfilling. By the way, there is plenty of exercise equipment in the gym. Just in case you wanted to be on a fitness program !
PS: Picture courtesy, CV Ramana