Saturday, 31 December 2011

Visit to the Hampi ruins

I had a day out visiting the ruins of the Vijayanagara empire at Hampi, about 12 Km off the town of Hospet. Hospet is about 150 Km by train from Hubli. I reached officer’s rest-house at Hospet at 10:30 PM on 28th night night; the train was half an hour late. Daughter had arrived at Hospet earlier in the day to spend a day with her school friend who was visiting Hospet with her family. Settled for the night, but, sleep evaded me. I must have slept later than midnight. I had fixed up to pick up my daughter from her friend’s place at 6 AM. I woke up groggy eyed at 5 AM, after a bath, I landed up at the hotel at 05:30. We walked back to rest house for an early breakfast. We picked up a sachet of milk from a roadside store, was charged Rs. 2/- extra over the MRP. I was in a generous mood; the royal town of Hampi was having its influence over the stingy bean-counter. Daughter was full off her night’s conversations with her friend; she had slept at 2 AM.  Both resolved to make the best of the day available to us for the Hampi exploration; I had revised the material on Hampi tour printed out from the internet the previous night. Literature had made it clear that one day was not enough for doing justice to the place. We decided to do our best and reserve the balance for the visit next month.
 After a hurried breakfast over bread-jam, banana and fresh milk we left the rest house to walk to the bus stand a distance of about 1.5 KM. We warded off the attempts by auto-wallahs to take us for a ride. The city was like any small town in south India, I kept my eyes skinned for the royalty of the place to appear suddenly before my eyes. There were ubiquitous queues of ladies with coloured plastic water pots. I cannot see how poets of yore could see beauty in maids fetching water in pots, to me it seems to be an act of subjugation by us males. We were lucky to catch a bus just moving out to Hampi. We settled into a comfortable seat and paid the conductor Rs. 30 for the 12 KM ride to Hampi. The road was very narrow and bullock carts and all forms of motorized transport fought valiantly to go ahead of each other. Coconut trees and fields on either side made it look prosperous. Water shortage in the town was paradoxical considering the stretches of water intensive sugarcane crop lining the road. Was it commercial cropping taking a toll of a much more basic need of drinking water?
The road showed signs of scattered temple ruins along the way, maybe, hiring a bicycle at Hospet and covering the spots on the way to Hampi would be a better idea. We crossed the board indicating Dorji bear sanctuary, it announced the best time to see bears as between 1300 hrs and 1800 hrs. The bears seemed to be attending classes in the first half! The snaky road suddenly led us in front of the Virupaksha Temple, the main shaivaite temple of the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. It seemed to be reasonably well maintained from the outside. The lord of destruction had managed to save his abode on the earth from the marauders, or, was it the simple and the rustic ways of the lord of the cosmic dance which was not attractive enough for what the marauders were seeking to plunder? We approached a tourist guide who flashed a identity card issued by the Karnataka Government, Department of Tourism. He told us we can engage him for the whole day and that if we hire a bicycle for him, he could accompany us for the whole day. It all looked too good to be true, when he told us the price tag of Rs. 1800/-, I all but fainted. Maybe, if we go as a bigger group, it would become worthwhile!
There was a huge queue of school kids with their teachers in tow to keep count of them crowding the temple. The entrance fee was a miserly Rs. 2/- per head. Free entry to the temple was allowed between 0630 hrs and 0830 hrs. Whatever may be the inflation and cost of living, citizens of Hampi will never want divine audience! The kids were initially disciplined and standing in a queue, but, seeing elders pushing their way, they learned quickly. The teachers egged their wards to excel in this race too. I could not control myself, instead of taking on the kids; I tried to reason with the teacher explaining to him that kids may improve their after-life by jumping the queue to reach the lord, but, he would have failed in his duty to produce a good citizen. My advice was lost on him and my daughter gave me a ‘I told you so’ look! The idol is a small lingam, maybe, with shaivaite temples, the smaller the better. The idol at the more famous cousin at Kashi Vishwanath is a case in point. This is the only temple where pooja is still performed. My daughter realized the futility of having come in shoes, frequent taking off and putting on and the tension of losing it was spoiling the divine experience. I jumped at the chance and offered her my hawaai slippers and went barefoot. The Sun was kind and at his rate of heating, we could complete our temple visits before the rock surface would make walking barefoot unbearable. The feel of the bare foot on the cold rock surface was heavenly. The artisans of yore had thoughtfully pockmarked the surface for better grip. Maybe, walking barefoot was common then!
We came out and walked over to see the two Ganesha idols and the Krishna temple. We crossed two portable toilets with doors matching the architecture of the buildings there. I felt good about the local administration.  The Kadalekalu Ganesha (literally the Bengal gram shaped one) was so named for his middle of the shape of the Bengal gram. It is a 4.5 mtr monolithic structure. The pride of Ganesha, his prosperous middle had fallen prey to the marauders, maybe, he was wearing something valuable around his middle. He should have stuck to his original belt of a live snake; it would have warded off the looters. Still, the Ganesha was majestic and the way it suddenly appears before you in the dark interior is very pleasant experience. After getting our customary snap before him, we went in search of his other image, the Sasivekalu Ganesha (literally the mustard seed shaped). Looking for him we serendipitously reached the Hemakuta temples. The temples are all in ruins and the idols have been taken away. We asked people around and with lot of leg work we located the ‘Mustard seed’ Ganesha. This idol is without a blemish and very elegant to look at. We moved on to the Krishna temple which glorifies all the avatars of Lord Vishnu and the main idol is said to have been brought by King Krishna Devaraya from Orissa after his Utkal campaign. There we met with a lady of undecipherable age. She came to us seeking help to locate the ten avatars of Vishnu. We also were struggling to locate them. Finally enquiries from the cleaning lady there in a spattering of local language got us to the pillars. Maybe, more economical options should be offered for the guide services, Still, Rs. 1800/- was not in my means! I didn’t complete the story of the toilet complex, apart from the exterior, the place was stinking and there was no place to relieve one. The local administration did not disappoint us, the regular affliction of a tourist site was there here also!
We returned to the main Hampi street outside Virupaksha temple, Yesss, the famed street where legend has it that diamonds were traded there during the reign of the Vijayanagara empire. More than the prosperity of the place, to me, it spoke of the high moral and ethical caliber of the people who could buy diamonds off the street, like, from we do from vegetable vendors of date.  We now require BIS and Hallmark to vouchsafe quality and weight, really, India must have been a land of milk and honey. You feel all the more sad for, not the physical wealth plundered by the invaders, but, the society of such high values to be reduced to what we have degenerated today!
It was 11 o’ clock now, we were on course to complete the Vittala temple and return to Hampi Street for food by 1300 hrs. We walked to the monolithic bull crossing the full length of the street; the shops have now become residential places with petty shops selling eatables and tender coconut. What a come down from selling diamonds! We went discussing along the street, as to the shock the subjects of the peaceful and prosperous kingdom would have had when the marauders would have done with them. To me, that was a bigger damage than the physical loot of treasures. What must have motivated this savagery Envy? Greed?
The bull had his face squashed, but, looked majestic for its size. The distance of the bull from the main temple in front of the Virupaksha temple (it’s customary to have a bull in front of a shiva temple), the scale of size of the temple complex overawes your mind.
From there we crossed over to a trail with a marker pointing to Vittala temple. We found a man trying to sell some artifacts to two foreigners. They were, it seems, not settling anything less than the promised diamonds! There were huge boulders and overgrown bushes; we did not need an invitation to relieve ourselves, each standing guard for the other by turn. The long walk finally led us to a temple complex; we had our doubts on the way, finding the path very desolate and no soul in sight.
True to form, at this temple of lord Vishnu, the tickets were priced at Rs. 10/- for Indians and USD 5 for foreigners. The foreigner lady, Christine (my daughter had got her name when she was telling it to pestering kids at Virupaksha temple), accosted us at the gate asking me to clarify to the guard that she being a diplomatic person (she was from the Polish Embassy) was allowed to pay in INR. Our intervention helped her. The main Mahamantapa of the temple is under renovation; hope they do justice to the original construction. This being a temple of later vintage, the designs on the pillar were more intricate. Here we saw the trade mark chariot with the intricate wheels which are symbols to depict Hampi to the world. We took a snap in front of it. There were a bunch of art students trying to sketch what they saw; surely, they must be positively impressed by the skill of their ancestors.
Nearby, we located the Vishnu temple with inscriptions and the Kings balance (it looks like a scaffold for carrying out crude hangings, minus the balance; maybe only thing of value to the raiders). The king used to get weighed here against gold coins for distributing to the needy. Contrast this with the Big Bazaar at Hubli now offering parents to play kings by letting them to offer clothes, etc. weighed against their kids once a week.
On the way back to Virupaksha temple, we located the Sugreeva’s cave. The legend has it that this is where Sita stayed and was abducted from by Ravana. We cooled off at the banks of river Tungabhadra and watched kid goats gamboling on the green grass on the banks. This is where we decided that we were too tired to now do justice to the Royal part of the city; the late night we kept the previous day was telling on us. We took a decision to take a bus back to Hospet city and after food rest in the rest house before catching the train back to Hubli at night. The royalty will have to await our visit next month. On the street back to Virupaksha temple (this was a different one from where we went earlier); we saw exotic dishes advertised on the shop front. We played safe and after a tender coconut, we trudged back to where the bus dropped us in the morning. Eager auto rickshaw wallahs (these are shared auto’s) pursued us, but, the thought of bumping in the rickety auto with mixed company; with no separate non smoking seats was scary. We decided to wait for the bus. We met a young boy leading a pup on a plastic string. The pup tried to get friendly with me and my daughter; maybe, he smelled Biscuit on us. I asked the boy the name of the pup, he said ‘Raju’; when I told that was my name too, he became instant friends with us. It was nice to see that neither the pup bothered about the economic status of his owner, nor, the owner about the pedigree of his pet. Maybe, they will have to grow up to get corrupted with the concepts of class, creed and economic status.
Shortly the bus arrived and we got on and triumphantly took vantage seats. The driver got off for a break of undeclared length and we started getting tired and restless. We thanked ourselves for deciding to drop the second part of the visit to next month. After a little while the bus moved and we dozed uncontrollably. On the way back we were blocked by bullock carts overloaded with sugarcane. Some of the bullocks were staggering and frothing at the mouth. The cruelty to the dumb creatures made me sick; the animals should be fed better and treated better, if not for empathy with the living soul; at least for economic reasons for prolonging their working life. Persistent horns from our driver finally made them give way and in time we entered the bus stand to the overpowering smell of urine, welcome back to modern civilization. I had spotted ‘Shanbag restaurant’ while entering the bus stand, I remembered the rest house attendant had recommended it for food to me. We went and had Thali meals there; at Rs. 40/- each were wholesome, filling and value for money. We walked back to the rest house and crashed to sleep at 3:30PM after giving a report to wife on the railway phone. We surfaced back to life at 7 PM, we had a good hot water bath, had tea and lazed till dinner time. It was nice to be stuck with daughter without the intrusion of a TV for we had a good discussion after a long time.
We set off for dinner at 9 PM, we had seen a Udupi restaurant ( Hotel Mayura), while walking back from the bus stand to rest house in the afternoon, which, we decided to try for dinner. The food was excellent, I tried the thali meal and daughter went for a plate of Idlis followed by a Masala Dosa, the bill was only Rs. 81/- and food excellent and service good. The bearer looked pleased to receive a royal tip of Rs. 10/-. On the cash counter we asked the guy to open a branch at Colva (we were fresh from the harrowing time for food at Goa, where we had to survive on curd rice and bread-jam). I think this honest and wholesome praise made his day. I don’t know whether he will take my suggestion of setting up shop at Colva seriously, though.
The rest house attendant after collecting the due charges for the stay asked and took a tip of Rs. 10/- (insidious wages of engaging contract labour at Railway rest house). We returned to Hubli at the scheduled time of 04:30 AM after an uneventful journey. We walked back to our colony to an enthusiastic welcome from Biscuit. Truly a wonderful trip, I am looking forward to the next part of the visit to Hampi, touted as the height of human creativity and human depravity.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Saga of the Sun and the Sunflower… Contd..

The day started early today, Biscuit’s walk was advanced to 04:15 hours, so that i could be back in time to be able to drop daughter off at the 6 O’ clock train to Hospet. She was to meet her school friend for a day with her family before I joined her tonight for our cycle tour of the city of Hampi tomorrow. I could start my run only at 06:15 hours after keeping the car in the garage and staving off Biscuit’s efforts to join me on my morning run.
The roads were lit up with natural light and the sliver of a moon had no takers. The gang of the four stray dogs was mixing up the garbage, after overturning the bin, with the vigour of an election official mixing up ballot papers to save the electors from the wrath of the losing candidate.
There was a spring in my step today, maybe, the viral fever had run its course and I would have a comfortable, if not faster, run today. I quickly reached HDMC limits at KM 3 eager for the climb to the next kilometer. I could make out the faces of the morning walkers and their quadruped companions today. I warmly greeted the nuns of the missionaries of charity returning after their night of attending to the sick and the needy.
The climb felt nice today. Truck drivers outside the petrol bunk were ready for the morning run after the night at the petrol bunk at KM 5. I could make out the forms of the drivers crossing me from the opposite side and the waving was enthusiastic from both sides.
A mini-truck had run off the edge off the road on the opposite side of the road. The few wooden cartons spilt on the roadside showing newspaper packing, betrayed some fresh fruit consignment. There was no sign of the driver nearby, hope he escaped without much hurt and had only gone to fetch reinforcements into the city nearby. He probably did not fear any vandalism so early in the day, so far from the city. Sai baba temple short of KM 7 was still closed but the pujari was up and getting ready to wake up the lord.
The crimson visage on the right on the horizon announced the arrival of the Sun. It took a long time in coming; the red ball climbing out of the crimson juice gave a look of red gulab-jamun coming up in the hot syrup. Having come up, it was content to direct proceedings of the day from behind a thick veil of clouds. I was thankful for this considerate act of the Sun, it seemed to spare my weak constitution after the bout of the viral.
The villagers were up and about and the crowd was busy collecting their share of drinking water at the culvert mid way between KM 8 and 9. The bus stand had a fair number of customers waiting for the road transport bus to the city. Nearby a band of Aiyappa devotees in their customary black clothes were setting up a fire to cook their day’s meal before trudging on to keep their annual tryst with their deity.
The brother sister duo met me outside their house at KM 10 but were shy to openly acknowledge my high five, conscious of the crowd of people up and about. I just waved to them and moved on. More intimate greetings will have to wait for an early run day.
I met the three ladies returning from their morning walk, my greeting was solemnly replied to by the matronly lady, her younger companions shyly acknowledged me after getting a nod from their elder.
The fenced in plot of land was looking desolate with weeds over-running the plot. The contrast of ripe grains on the fields around it attracting the chirping birds in return for a few grains was a clear lesson for choosing a purposeful life than one for just making money. The huge plot of low-lying land on the right fenced in for collecting rain water, looked like a state government’s attempt to collect rain-water for creating an artificial pond. The fence still looked out of place, there was, however, no sign of the owner of this fenced in plot.
The fresh patch of the young sunflower plants was resplendent in their bright colours and the wards seemed to be enjoying their winter break, despite the sun having gone behind clouds. The patch of mature sunflower plants were standing mournfully with their heads bowed low under the weight of their full pod of seeds. The sun seemed to respect their position and smile indulgently from behind a veil of clouds. Few younger plants among the seniors were still glaring at the sun for their full quota of rations. The patch looked happy to have survived another day but seemed resigned to the inevitable fate by the hands of scythe soon.
The birds were feasting on the ripe grains directly off the stalks, much as if they would prefer to deduct their quota at source, not being sure of the piety or munificence of the humans. A lone crow was pegging away at a Jowar cob, preferring to have his straight off the cob without any dressing. The farmer’s ruse of covering the ripe cobs with plastic covers having been neutralized by the intelligent crows. The farm scientists must come up with something smarter. On the other side of the road, an army of birds were shamelessly plundering the crop, the scare crow looked helpless much like a corrupt policeman, who, despite his smart uniform was not able to enforce his writ due to lack of moral authority.
Extended family of hens was out in the sun, opposite the masjid at KM 9, diligently prising out reluctant insects for community dining while getting their quota of vitamin D. The smoldering remains of the fire on the wayside outside the mosque reminded me of the late hour, the moulvi must have gone inside the masjid to attend to the higher order needs of his band of devout.
The freshly hewn maize field with manure spread over the soil gave the look of mother earth wearing a mud-pack and bearing the stench more for the health of her children than for the skin deep looks. Stacked up iron rods, sand dump and deep trenches in the plot next to the maize field told the story of some farmer who having sold his primary livelihood had moved on to try his luck in the city. Seemed to be a case of shelter for adjoining city dwellers tempting the farmer off his livelihood.
A rescue truck had driven near to the fallen truck and the precious cargo of Oranges being transshipped to the bigger truck. The fallen truck still had his face in the dirt ashamed at his act of having staryed from the straight and narrow.
The gang of four stray dogs, who meet me near the garbage dump at the start of my run, met me today at KM 4, they were playfully bantering along unmindful of the highway traffic. It was as if they were showing me the extent of their empire. Further down I met a Pomeranian dog on leash walking resignedly with his head bent low, as if, ruing having given up his freedom for security of food and shelter.
The sun now came out with full vengeance burning my neck and back. He seemed to suggest that his sense on friendship towards me could no longer keep him behind the veil of cloud, duty being duty you know.
There were no kids today to greet me on my way into the HDMC municipal limits, The loud announcements of the Sanskar school PT teacher coming over the boundary wall, told me that my young fans were being subjected to mass PT.
Further down the road, outside the SBI school, after shouts of School Saavdhan and School Vishraam, I could hear them dutifully breaking out into the Vande Mataram song. Thankfully for me, some late risers on two wheelers with their mothers called out to me despite their hurry to school. The children looked happy for a ride hugging their mother from behind. The mother’s looked harassed due to this additional demand on their already rushed morning schedule.
Less than a kilometer from home, I saw a cold chain truck with its back right into the front of the Reliance Fresh store, recouping freshness for the day.
I completed the run in 3 hours 17 minutes and 16 seconds, I have done faster, but, this was satisfying after yesterday’s break and day before yesterday’s disaster of a run.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Saga of the Sun and the Sunflower… Contd..

Back after a few days of Sun n Sand at Goa. Fever must have struck me last Wednesday itself; I realized it after I felt the water to be very cold. This was my first visit to Goa when I behaved like an oldie and walked on the beach instead of swimming. Today morning also looked doubtful, but, Avnish’s comment about the sunflowers did the trick. I decided to do it today. Biscuit took his time with his morning walk, my daughter must have gotten over her jet-lag; she slept through my calls and Biscuit’s face-wash.
Despite my being not fully up to it decided to run; the moon was absent, maybe, sleeping off the late night Christmas revelry. The stars seemed to be bravely holding forth, much like what the enthusiastic senior school students do when standing in for teachers on the teacher’s day. It was pitch dark and even the early morning tuition kids were conspicuous by their absence. The street dogs were up early today and were trying to keep warm by practicing hand to hand combat on a sand dump, much like the Australian team practicing rugby before the Boxing Day cricket test.
The trees on either side of the road shrouded in darkness looked like a Russian guard of honour, an occasional truck from the opposite direction lighting up the trees. A train on the track at a distance was going with the whistle constantly hooting, much like a young kid whistling to avoid showing his fear of darkness. Today my singer friend seemed to have taken a day off.
I lumbered along the steep climb from KM 3 to 4, my throat drying up and legs feeling like lead. The thought of another 26 KM of this looked daunting. I took two big gulps of water from my bottle and plodded on. The lone electric bulb announcing the all night petrol bunk at KM 5 was valiantly fighting off the darkness and looked very welcome. Two HT electric poles looked like my wife and daughter with hands on hips reminding of my foolishness in taking on the elements today. Further down the road, the series of HT electric poles with heavy wires running through them seemed like the chained prisoners at the deck from the movie Ben-Hur. A tall Mobile tower with antennas’ looked like the drummer beating a slow march in deference to my state of health.
I reached the Sai baba temple between near KM 7. The doors were closed and a single oil lamp was flickering in the hope of surviving till the presiding deity woke up to sunlight. I said a silent prayer and moved on. At KM 8, the number of people gathered to fill up drinking water was very few today. I could make out the form of the mosque at a distance; it seemed to be pleading for tolerance amidst the many temples playing devotional music around it. There was no sign of the moulvi or the dog with one ear. The bus stand and the tea shop before KM 10 wore a deserted look. I had taken one hour and 5 minutes to cross the first one third of the distance; hope I am able to complete my tryst with the sunflowers today.
The horizon had surreptiously changed colours and crimson hue announced the Sun’s imminent arrival. A lonely dog sat facing east to welcome the Sun. The Sun furtively peeped out as if, having escaped from the cold north, it was thankful for an easy posting in the south. The short variety of cotton plants looked like sticks with spit globules stuck on them. An old man completed the picture walking effortlessly from the opposite direction with a bulky bushel of maize balanced on his head. He was singing as he walked swinging both his arms. His wide smile warmed my heart.
Between KM 12 and 13 I saw a fenced up barren plot proclaiming ‘This property belongs to…’ akin to a lonely speculator amidst the toiling farmers fields around it.
Trucks were now approaching without their headlights and I could make out the drivers in the cabin. Few of them waved me on. A tractor trailer emitting copious smoke and belting out local music looked like a B-town double of Dev-Anand of 60’s unmindful of the ban on smoking scenes now. I had laboriously made my way to KM 13 and the sunflower patch was within striking distance.
I discovered a small patch of young sunflower plants, between KM 13/14, fully resplendent ahead of my regular sunflower patch. They looked like having woken up in their Christmas finery, which they did not have time to take off after the late night revelry. They seemed to be pleading with the Sun to be allowed to stay on in their new clothes a little longer. The regular sunflower patch had not woken up to the Sun and stood with their heads bowed, as if they were repenting their excesses of the previous night, and were wary of the approaching mid-terms. A few Jowar cobs which had escaped the farmer’s scythe in the plot next to the sunflower patch had two crows sitting on the cobs rubbing their noses to the cob. They looked like they were testing the mike and were waiting to break into their version of the song ‘Kolaveri Di’ once I turned my back on them. Having reached the half way mark and having seen the sunflowers made me happy, but, the thought of running back as much distance scared me. I had taken one hour and 35 minutes for covering half the distance, the slowest so far by me.
The scattered sunflower plants between KM 13 and 14 looked like wandering kids who have come out to play without changing from their previous days clothes. How I missed these plants in my earlier runs or if they had suddenly flowered during my 4 day break last week is a mystery, they however, made my run worth the effort today. The Eagle was not visible today, maybe, it didn’t want to shame me on my poor run today.
The markers of the telecom companies showing the location of their OFC cables at KM 13, gave an impression of corporate honchos of telecom companies planning their post-bail strategy away from the media glare and the rough and tumble of Tihar Jail.
The Muslim kids at KM 10, my regular fans, gave me a high 5. Some more crowds of people had gathered with coloured plastic pots for collecting water at KM 9 now. Freshly turned plot of the maize harvested field between KM 8 and 7now glinting in the sun gave the impression of a pre-maturely aged mother, resigned to another round of bearing and rearing.
The warming sun set my frozen hands tingling and I could feel the heat on my neck. Sai baba was resplendent in his finery having been washed, clothed and fed. He seemed to be reveling in the devotional music blaring at full volume. I did not want to disturb him, said my silent prayers and ran along. My feet were really leaden now and breaks for water were becoming very frequent. Having crossed the temple without refilling my bottle, I had to make the last few gulps left to last the remaining distance.
 I somehow reached civilization at KM 3 and now I was sure that the oncoming stream of school kids would take me home.  I trudged in to the colony gate at the stroke of 9; the health drink vendor who peddles karela juice outside the golf course was preparing to wind up shop for the day. I poured the remaining drops of water in the bottle on my head and entered the colony road. I had taken 3 hours, 33 minutes and 16 seconds to complete the run. Hopefully, I would do better tomorrow.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Story of the Sun and the Sunflower

Got back to base after almost a week, the body having got used to easy living, revolted at the alarm going off at 3 AM. Finally, the training won over temporary lethargy. Biscuit refused to accompany me to the hall and kept sleeping blissfully. Luckily for me, my daughter’s jet-lag afforded me her company in the morning. The spinning session was disappointing, maybe, due to the long break. Morning Raaga and Kolaveri Di songs played by daughter helped. Biscuit joined us at 04.30 AM and he was thrilled to have my daughter’s company for the morning walk in the golf course. The walk was long and Biscuit seemed to want to exploit my daughter’s company to the hilt.
Despite body telling me to take a break and start again after the Goa vacation on Saturday, weighed down by guilt at the prolonged break, wearing the new shorts brought from US by my daughter, I trudged off to the start point. Biscuit seemed to tell her of the futility of trying to stop me when I am in one of these Kolaveri’s.
The moon was just a sliver of light and the morning air quite chilly. The moon seemed to be just following me out of a sense of duty with no enthusiasm. It gave one the impression of the thin attendance in Government offices ahead of the year-end break. It seemed to forbid me from making any polite conversation. Even though I was about half an hour late by my usual standards, the streets were deserted, barring a few kamikaze parents on two-wheelers ferrying their bored wards to tuitions. There was a very thin attendance of the intrepid morning walkers.
My legs normally fall into a rhythm within a few kilometers of the start, today, the legs seemed like they were made of lead. I took my first sip of water at KM 3, indications of the shape of things to come. I continued to plod on with determination to meet the Sunflowers. I met my singer friend at KM 5, he must have finished his calisthenics at KM 7 and must have caught me on his way back. My wave was perfunctory. Nobody seemed to have missed me. Even the usual street dogs and the Pig family were conspicuous by their absence.
A lone Christmas star outside a house was valiantly fighting the darkness of bigotry and intolerance around it. It made me cheerful. Sai baba was still in purdah, looked like he had delegated his serious cases to Christ and gone on a year-end vacation. The vacant maize patch was giving a eerie look in the darkness.
An overturned truck at KM 9, had two people next to it warming themselves on fireside. My enquiries revealed that the accident happened yesterday night, and there were no casualties. The usual crowds of people who assemble to collect their daily supply of drinking water were going about their business quietly. There was no sign of the Maulvi or the dog with the infected ear. Maybe, the dog, afraid of Betadine had relocated to another part of the town. Maybe he just wanted ‘Dua’ and not ‘Dawa’.
No sand laden trucks today, few truck drivers waved to me and I started falling into a rhythm. My pace however, was very slow. I doubted, if I could make it to the Sunflower patch or if I have to use the services of one of the friendly truck drivers to abort my run. I banished these negative thoughts and resolved to complete the run. I could always rest at Goa tomorrow, I rationalized.
It was nearing Sunrise time and I approached KM 10 with the trepidation of a husband who having left after a tiff with the wife in the morning is not sure if ‘All is Well’ at the time of the return. Readers will remember that the sunflowers had a tiff with me when I left them last Wednesday, on the issue of invasion of their privacy. I need not have bothered; Sun came in its full glory with flushed cheeks, meeting me almost a mile ahead, as if to assure me that all was indeed well back home.
With this self assurance, I tried to push myself to reach the mid-point quickly, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.  I huffed and puffed and finally reached the bend eager to get the first glimpse of the sunflowers. They seemed to be in a holiday mood, most of the sunflowers looked like they were wearing colour dress instead of the usual school dress. Some of the flowers in the front row seemed to have put on the usual school colours of yellow scarf and mufflers. They seemed to have completely forgotten about the previous tiff, just as one would expect from kids of that age.
On the way back, they grudgingly, much like a tired housewife gives in to the demand of a domestic for undeserved year-end leave, agreed to my message of my vacation to Goa till the weekend. I took leave of them and quickened my pace to complete the second half of the run.
On the return journey, the brother and sister duo at KM 10, gave me an enthusiastic high five and pushed me along. The overturned truck had quite a few onlookers, among them, a bunch of school-kids having their first glimpse of the underside of a truck. Future Mechanical engineers in the making!
Come KM 9 and I found the Maulvi outside the mosque who gave me an enthusiastic wave and helped me along my way.
The vacant maize patch now awash in brilliant sunlight looked like a mother resting between two rounds of feeding of hungry kids, recuperating from her previous exertions. The weeds cut and stacked on the side of the field looked like slain terrorists remains, much in contrast to the maize bushels of the last week. They seemed to realize the futility of the destructive path taken by them.
Come KM 7, and I found Sai baba resplendent in new clothes smiling at the passers by. I mentally apologized for having thought of him having delegated his cases to Lord Jesus. Rest of the return trip had the usual school kids waving at me and egging me on my return trip. I finished the run of 30KM in 3 hours, 17 minutes and 4 seconds.