So he asks, did you do the ‘foool marathon’. I nod in agreement. “You actually did the foool marathon” he asks three quarters in disbelief.
Savagely moving a large lump of paan from one cheek to the other making visible a coloured tongue with a resplendent red, as he sucks in air, producing a hissing sound. For a moment, the sound reverberates across the the space in the lift we both share.
After 42 kilometers of running, I am finally in my apartment and taking the lift home. This is a man that I know.
We meet in the lift often. He hisses for a while longer. I fear he may suck all the oxygen out of the lift. He runs his hands over his pronounced paunch. “Will I ever be able to’, he asks. I have just about energy to tell him, that that’s exactly where I started two years back.
Regular readers here, know about my running and the pompous spin that I give to a rather pedestrian pastime. Okay, strictly not ‘pedestrian’. This after all is about running.
‘Demented bluster’, lead me to think that I indeed could run the full marathon and register for the 42 KM. Announcing with fanfare and chickening out before implementation is what the government is teaching by example. I announced it too. Not out of great admiration for the government, but it was frankly a very convenient option! I could always quietly slink away.
The blokes at Striders had a different plan though. Challenging, pushing in an ever so non obtrusive manner, ‘slow & easy’ manner that it would fit in the category of non-invasive surgery. Of the mind.
The kind that the missus would call ‘magic’ because, her pretty much invasive attempts to get me to other things like stack up read newspapers in a manner that could be called ‘mildly orderly’ has only resulted in massive inaction that could befit a lump of limestone. Or something of that ilk. You get the idea, right ?
Practice happened over the last several months. Regular travel made me regularly irregular. But running is an activity for which all that you would ever require is a pair of shoes. So I ran alone wherever I went. Often inviting the attention of curious onlookers sipping in coffee from roadside stalls in remote corners of India.
More often than not, inviting the attention and unrequited anger of stray dogs. I presume they were mad at me. Perhaps my speed was incongruent with my heavy breathing. They would wake up and holler as though they spotted Veerappan or someone. Upon seeing me, some would whimper and growl. Mostly in pity I presume. Most others would just not bother to do that either!
The group at Powai I train with is an awesome bunch. Sticking together. Often chatting, laughing and infusing an excitable energy. A special mention must be a made of all friends. Hitesh in particular, who runs barefeet : my running partner! He is a much faster and far more experienced bloke that ran alongside for most of practice and the race too.
On D day, I did run. 42.2 KM. Surprising myself with a time of 5.07 hours. But that’s not the story. Or rather is just one part of the story.
The story of how Mumbai turned out to cheer us is, is the big story !
Expecting beautiful women ( and handsome men), evidently just out of bed , take notice of balding, paunch carrying projectile, would come close to ‘a wonder of the modern day world’! But to see them cheer for me ( yes, I looked all around in surprise, I was the only character in 50 meters), was, mildly put, very exciting.
Or for that matter. Slum kids who lined up the roads of Mahim, who erupted into such dizzying shouts of joy when a runner give all of them a high five, as they held out outstretched hands.
‘Bhagho Uncle Bhaaaaaaago’ ( run uncle run), they screamed. From the stress on the ‘bhaaaaggoooooo’ their estimation of how fast I was running was apparent.
I ran, holding out my hand to the kids. What caused them excitement to have a stranger running and giving them a high five is something that is beyond my brain, but boy, it sure did energise me like no other sports drink or energy drink can. Taxi drivers cheered. Old men shouted slogans for me. Some men stared in disbelief. Even cops clapped and gave us a thumbs up sign.
These as you can see, are beyond the realms of everyday life.
Running is an exercise as much for the mind, as it is for the body. Especially long distance running ! And sometimes when you run with a complete stranger, even for a few fleeting moments as he passes you or you pass him ( or her), a strange bond is shared. Acknowledged a few times with a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘keep going’ or a ‘well done’.
At other times, the silence is broken by an exchange of heavy breaths or the sound of feet pounding the pavement. Not a word is spoken. Not a gesture exchanged. Yet, conveying much.
Ofcourse, there are exceptions like the ‘elite runners’. Those Kenyans, Ethiopians and others. Who by the time I finished the race would have fathered two kids and sent them to college. But the point is not about speed. The 42 KM is one heck of a distance. The body knows that. The point, is about the mind. That opaque thing called ‘mind’ has travelled a longer distance.
Heres a world of thanks to all friends who called, texted, wrote on the FB wall, clicked on the ‘like button’, sent messages on the BBM and for the few who actually travelled all the way to South Bombay to cheer… I have nothing but a gaping sea of gratitude. You made it possible.
This is a world where the following are common : Running for office. Running away from problems. Running away with the neighbour. Running from the media etc !
But the real running, the running on the road holds untold charm, an almost surreally unbelievable sense of freedom and wins some amazing friends.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it !
While in the US, it was a treat to be on the road. Almost everybody observed traffic signals. Their economy may be growing at 2-4% but the traffic signals work. In true American style the minimum gap between vehicles in the USA, would seem like the distance between Sun and Saturn for the average Mumbai motorist.
Although I was there in American soil for only a few weeks, I can hold court like a well entrenched native with impunity, especially if the topic was a comparative narrative on the difference between driving in Mumbai and driving over there.
So, this friend from the USA, sat next to me as I drove, on roads that sported less than normal traffic on that particular day. Within five minutes of her first ride on Indian roads, I saw her hands shiver. In the seventh minute beads of sweat began to appear. In the eight minute, from the corner of my eye, I saw her hold on to the inside of the door handle. In eight and a half, her face was buried in her palms.
It was obvious it was about the road. For my hands were firmly on the wheel and I hadn’t spoken a word, other than professional conversation. My mind was racing at a faster speed than the motorbike that held an aunty, uncle and two kids that hung out of the bike rather precariously, and were looking into the window.
Obviously a ‘phoren’ woman, face buried in her hands with a chap that sported furtive looks can be fertile feeding ground even for the dull variety. All four of them were peering into the car, waiting for action.
In a brief while, it was but obvious, that every eye atop any moving object on Western Express Highway was trained on our car. Not wanting to run the risk of being featured on some news starved news channel with a silly ‘breaking news’, I pulled over. And hesitatingly asked my friend if everything was ok?!?
‘The cars are coming too close here’. She said. In some sense, I was relieved that she didn’t get to see the aunty+Uncle + one kid + another kid precariously http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/arthritis/ hanging, all peering into the car. I was certain she wouldn’t have seen a circus act of that order!
We struck a deal. I would keep the car to the extreme left, that would come close to eliminate the possibility of a Ferrari hopeful overtaking on the left. Where she was sitting. After all of this, she offered “I’ll keep my eyes closed”. An offer, that was readily and graciously accepted.
After some agnonising moments, we discovered the root cause. A broken down truck, laden with steel rods. Sprouting a few twigs amidst all the steel. The twigs, any average Indian motorist would know, is a sign that warns other motorists of a broken down vehicle!
She went from ‘awe’ to ‘open-mouthed awe’ to ‘insanely open mouthed awe’ to ‘shaking heads in disbelief insanely open mouthed awe’.
Where in the world did we think of tying up a twig and a clutch of leaves onto a vehicle that had a breakdown ! Whatever happened to ‘hazard lights’ and the ‘hazard triangle’ to warn other motorist. Questions fired in quick succession.
I replied calmly. It was simple. Common sensical. Isnt it. I wouldn’t expect twigs to sprout from a lorry loaded with steel rods. That is abnormal. An obvious implication that something is amiss here and therefore the vehicle is stationary.
So, the minute your car breaks down, you don’t run you battery down with hazard lights and such else. You just reach for the nearest twig or a clutch of leaves and append it to some part of your car that is visible to others.
Which left her in a state of mild sedation, occasionally mumbling about Indian innovation and such else. I presume its going to take her a while to recover.
Until then, ofcourse, if you are travelling to India, a vehicle sprouting twigs is not a symbolic protest about global warming or something. This is a different kind of a breakdown. Ok ?
It meant a year of practice. In the thick of Mumbai’s summer time. In the middle of monsoon shower time. Waking up at hours that invite the best of slumber and watching food intake like a hawk hunting for prey. . . Running. In groups. Alone. Sunday. Monday. Wednesday. Friday. Week on week. Month on month.
Striders armed with a group of dedicated coaches, and a ‘crazy bunch’ of fellow runners that inspires this commitment with a commitment that makes my commitment seem like a piece of cake. Speaking of cakes, that was avoided too. Sigh.
With all of the above, and last years 2 hours and 14 minutes finish, plus some 30 + KM runs that were done this year, the 21 KM was all and truly under the belt. Or so was the thought.
No story goes without a twist.
The day before D-day, the body quivered to a strange ‘shivering’ that blossomed into a full fledged fever. If you had to talk about Murphy and timing at any forum, this will fit the bill. Purrfect !! There was no choice but to rest the fever through.
The D-day arrived. The first five kilometers were a breeze. On time ! And then, the fever just returned with a vengeance that befits an untamed stallion running amok. Only now, embellished with cramps on the shin and calf.
Every step a pain, a searing headache to compliment the body pain and a soaring temperature within that seemed to keep pace with global warming, this marathon was well on course to become an unmentionable washout!
A new goal emerged. To finish. Medical help. Walking. Limping. Running. Meandering along. With fleeting thoughts of how ever distant the finish line seemed and if I would finish at all. Truly well meaning friends had suggested, ‘dropping out is better than dropping down’. Somehow, both options weren’t alluring.
That’s the sordid part of the story. Perhaps sounding like a ‘heroic’ spin to a rather pedestrian timing. Which today was 2 hours and 45 minutes or so, by which time, the body was fairly disoriented and feeble. But satisfied that finish line had indeed been crossed. Yes. I finished.
Yes. That’s the sordid part of the tale.
If that seemed like a huge solo effort, well, there cant be a falsehood further from the truth. The crowds that cheered on. The children that distributed bananas and sweets. The men and women that kept waving with some variation of a ‘you can do it’ chant. Not to forget the Striders teams of coaches that were ever present. While running buddies kept pushing.
Speaking of them, a certain lady who is part of our crazy bunch deserves more credit than what this paragraph gives. Running alongside for the last 8 KMs or so, sacrificing her pace and timing with words that will resonate for a long time and serve as proof for ‘true spirit of sport and friendship’….“ Am not letting you run alone in this shape”!
Several friends finished well and truly ahead. There is a true delight to see their timings. Its such a fulfilling feeling to see that all of us finished. Many on their own. Others as groups and yet others like me with SOME help !
Thank you everybody for all the support and cheer right through the preparation. The family was festive and supportive! Several bloggers texted. Others called. Friends cheered on, many times using ISD calls ! Sending supplements and such else, woven with wishes and prayers !
If wishes were horses, things could have been different with the body today. But then, wishes are never horses and the running has to be done by every person who chooses to. The low feeling that clouds me will go away. Eventually.
And I know of only one way that this feeling can slowly evaporate : Practice starts Monday next.
Phew. Thats about the distance that can be travelled on this blog to sound profound !
Coming back to the mistake domain, survey this signboard, seen somewhere in Tanjore.
Speed breaks heads ! Reckless speed breaks many heads! The Superintendent of Police of Tanjore has better things to do than comming after you with his pet lathi and pocket revolver to split your head, when you exceed speed limits. This is pretty much a do-it-yourself excercise !
Or take this signboard from Lonavala.
Throw in a fretting driver, who will haggle over the authenticity of the meter reading with a ferocity best otherwise seen of a screaming TV channel going after an insipid cricketer ! Add a dash of driving ( acrobatic ) skills that would have Schumacher and his tribe cowering in the bushes.
What would you have ? RickShow indeed ! 🙂
Or for that matter, sample this, found on every other wall in a fancy apartment complex where fancy heavy duty friends live. Every attempt has been made to let this blogger know that these are two different instructions on one piece of paper.
The complex is fully loaded. With four wheel drives, high profile designations and pockets that run deeper than the Pacific ocean ! And sometimes people with more jewellery on them than clothes. (The last part was an exaggeration, but you get the drift. Don’t you?)
Of course, there is not much of room for humour with the dour security chaps out here. With their stern looks, dry instruction and menacing walk, you must be out of your mind to spit and drive slow !
If you must spit, drive fast ! OK ?
Mistakes huh ?
You had to wear something called ‘uniform’. You had to carry something called a ‘school bag’. You had to go buy books & notebooks every year. You had to wrap your notebooks with brown paper and a ‘label’ with space to write your name !
Of course the wrapper and the book were a Hollywood couple of sorts. Parting as soon as they came together !
You had homework to do and exams to write. You could never understand Trigonometry or why that man shouted ‘Eureka’ although you kind of had a vague image of him running naked through the streets !
You revelled in English while your best friend was alive only in the Maths class. He thought Shakespeare was the devil in disguise and you thought ‘Differential Calculus’ was the devil without any !
Yet. He managed to beat you in English. And you beat him in math ! You thought it a big mystery and began to respect the devil a lot more.
You had holidays. Of a full two months. Where you had nothing else in your mind but cricket in the hot sun. You played and any ‘whining’ about the heat didn’t register !
You had favourite teachers. You had your favourite partners.Your friends were the world to you. You would do anything for them. Of course, your parents were God. Most of the time !
You didn’t understand money or loans as much as you understood good food and a great time.
Neither did you understand when some elders said, ‘enjoy your time now. You’ll treasure it for a lifetime’.
And then you grew up.
Looking back every now and then, wishing it was then, instead of now.
It principally involves having one leg…no. Perhaps one half of one toe on the footboard of a bus, and clutch any part of the bus with an intensity that would do a lizard in a earthquake ridden building, proud. Just hold on.
And gather all the strength from wherever. And of course, you are not alone. There are many others that are going shoulder to shoulder, toe-to-toe with you. Actually, that should be ‘any-body-part’ to ‘any-body-part’ with you !
And of course, there are accidents. Life and limb are lost.
And Tamil movies have eulogised this sequence as one where ‘love blossoms’ ! As the heroine exchanges love struck glances from inside the bus, and the hero stays suspended in air. The movies of course, don’t show the suspension-in-thin-air as a harbinger of what awaits the hero after the marriage. Of course !
You have had many classmates in college doing this routine. Every single day, commuting to college and back. Looking for the most crowded of the buses. To demonstrate how much they can stay suspended!
They ridicule you. For you would never do it. Telling you that you dont have enough courage. You know deep within, that they perhaps are true.
And you meet some of them. Many years later, long after they married. To women that didn’t travel with them in those crowded buses. They are a balded. Have children. They earn a good living. And speak of ‘those’ days with affection riddled nostalgia !
And say. ‘We were plain lucky to survive.’ And one of them casually lets go. “As a matter of fact i couldnt do much with the meagre money my dad made. Life had to be lived. Heroism was the cloak to sport’.
He smiles. And goes on. ‘See it made chaps like you envy us !’
You smile a weak smile. And think of your the parent lottery you won when you were born. To the folks that you were born to.
And you see change all around.
And you look at the buses now. And find that some sport a fresh tilt to them. Even now. And now you know, that the tilt has many reasons. Wooing was one. Just one. ”Living'” was the big one that you didn’t think of. Back then.
Living. Sometimes, at the expense of life.
Children and their abilities to question are legendary. Coming from a clean slate, an inherent curiosity to know more and just be present in the moment.
Amongst the kids of friends and family, many questions abound. And some stay with me. More in that moment as their parents struggled for answers. Here are a few recollections.
- ‘Why do you have to stand straight ? Can you just crawl around ?’
- ‘Who invented walking ?’
- ‘Papa, why don’t you wear a blue cloth on your head like that man ? ( Pointing to Manmohan Singh)’
- Upon seeing a Korean Air plane, which is blue in colour : ” That is the only plane that flies in the sky”.
- Papa, do you really work when you go to office or sleep like you do on Sundays ?
- Mamma, ( looking at slum children ) can i play with them ? Why not ?
- Uncle, are you the one from office, that my dad complains to my mom about daily ?
- ( After watching Animal planet ) Animals are wonderful. So much better than my school teacher. Isnt it ma ?
- If the rose can be red in colour, and it so good, why cant everything be red in colour ?
- If i will be big one day, there will be somebody small also ? I need to teach somebody like you are teaching me.
- After watching Discovery Channel : “If all people are the same, why do we have to fight ?”
- Watching a news telecast : ‘These people have no other work’
- Upon being asked what his name was : ‘You are the 10th person asking my name today. Please ask that uncle in that green T-shirt’.
- Mamma, if God invented the world, he invented ice-cream also ? Are you sure, God invented vegetables also ?
Children and their questions / statements have always promised a hope for the future. That things indeed will be different. And to date, that’s a promise that never fades. At least as long as us adults don’t interfere ! That is !
Here’s to a great year of education ! And the next time he or she, comes up with a question, no matter how silly, no matter how odd. Perhaps its important to note that many answers to his or her future stays pregnant in the questions themselves !
And of course, one last question asked by a certain R. The mother had no answer. Can somebody help her.
“Why do girls sit and do ‘su-su’ and boys have to stand and do ‘su-su’ ?” [ ‘Su-su’, is accepted child / adult speak for pee ]
This post concludes the three post series on the kids world of today
He has sat with this post on draft mode for two days now. Caught between travel and work, he just cant seem to get words into his keyboard. So he writes. He rewrites. Shakes his head in disgust. He shuts the computer down in a huff. And then walks away.
Comes back. And repeats this process many times.
His word tap sputters and coughs. Much like the municipal taps that supply drinking water in a suburban town. Much noise. Much hiss. Occasional drip. But no steady flow of water. He wonders why words have deserted him these days. Perhaps it is to do with the joy of meeting them.
With little patience left, bearing a tired body and weary eyes, he decides to be authentic. And presents his sputter – sputter – cough right there. Much like municipal tap in peak summer !
They met. Those bloggers. Once again. The first time around, was when they put the face to the home page. This time around, they put a soul to the face ! Comprehensive description has been blogged here. And here. And here.
Exchanged in good earnest were the following. Chatter. Banter. Some gossip. Opinions. Thoughts. Advice. Wishes. Leg pulling. And some sizzle.
On a Saturday afternoon, they began where they had left off. Like old school friends. And left off again, easily, when they had to move. Sure they would meet again !
They went dutch. Like last time. Pooled in money. Counted notes like high school kids who had just bunked class and went to a fancy restaurant with pocket money saved for months !
Total clean fun. Simply sizzled !
He thanked the stars and the Gods above. For a group of friends like this. They not only read his blog, but leave comments as well.
And then, they come together and spend time like old friends. People who share a similar journey on the blog world.
And as if that was not enough, ofcourse the gifts flew in as well. One of them brought a neat writing pad for everybody.
And another had made a mango dish, packed it in a bowl and presented it in a handmade bag.
And ofcourse, he better thank his stars. For the friends. For the internet. For their reading. For their leaving a comment. For their taking time off to get together.
And when he reaches home, his missus, tastes the mango dish and says, ‘finally. Finally. Finally, your blog feeds me’ !
Phew. Now thats the closest he has ever gotten to official recognition for his blog. And so he believes God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world !!
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.