Thursday, 20 December 2012

Farewell Thanki

I entered the start/finish point for the 10th time to a thunderous welcome. The audience matched my gesture of ten fingers to signify completion of 10 rounds signaling the completion of the Full Marathon and the announcer welcomed me in his distinct style. I had finished the midnight marathon in 3hours 53 minutes and 13 seconds. I carried on for a few more meters to meet Pani Sir, my daughter (Who had finished her Half Marathon earlier) and Brojen, my cheer squad for the night. I was extremely tired, sleepy and freezing.  I looked up to the sky in silent prayer; I know Thanki would have been smiling down at me and my daughter for having participated.Earlier the previous day, Thanki (this is how my daughter used to call my father-in-law, Venkatraman, Venky for short and the name stuck), lost his short battle with Cancer at 4:45 AM in a city hospital.

My daughter and I reached the venue about 30 minutes before the start, my brother who had flown down from Kolkata after attending a conference earlier in the day, joined us. It was extremely cold and we were yawning and shivering. I was even questioning myself if it was prudent to have reached the start point to participate. Soon DM and fb friends started greeting and the mood set in. There was lot of interest as usual in my khadi gear and bare foot! The race started at the appointed time. I took one full loop to warm up and shed my top. The crowd congregated near the start point kept up a chant and it pepped me up. The course was a little harsh on the bare feet at the start of the loop and immediately the gradient which though not as steep as the Naidu’s Cyberabad made up for the gradient with the length. In the first few loops I ran through the climb, but, I was feeling the strain. My ego did not let me walk in the following loops. I found my daughter walking and my brother was slipping behind. I got a doubt if I was going too fast and would I last the entire distance. Thankfully the food was holding in my stomach. I had had a late dinner of south Indian spicy food as late as 8PM. I was doing everything which was against the manuals and what experts would advice for a Marathon.

Pani Sir with his notebook in hand (I am not sure if he kept my loop timings) and his pacemakers team cheered me after each loop. Many runners wished me on the way and made the going easy. The weather ensured that there were no water breaks till I finished three loops, though, I had to stop for a biological break (the organizers had thankfully kept a portable loo near a watering point). My legs started weariying after the half way mark. I was torn between whether to slow down or get it over fast. Cramping looked a distinct threat, I could see increasingly people on the sides stretching to avoid or cure cramps. My brother had fallen behind, but, was cheerful whenever we crossed. The crowd had caught on to my game of raising the number of the loop completed every time I crossed the start point. I picked up energy bars on the run and made friends with kids by offering them the same. It was nice to see young children enthusiastically cheering well past their bed time. I completed the ninth loop and 3 hours 30 minutes had elapsed from start, my daughter’s smiling face welcomed me at the start point. Brojen set me off with cheerful words egging me on for a sub-4 finish. I was doubtful, Amma was more kind than Yeddy in torture meted out to the bare foot runners. My only concern was to finish without a cramp. I crossed my brother beyond the half way mark and I pushed on trusting short period of more torture than waiting for the cramps lomnger on the course. Pani Sir’s welcome after the finish and a thoughtful bottle of water collected by my daughter put some life back in me. Lots of people came to congratulate me and I am reaping the benefits in the number of friend requests on DailyMile and FaceBook even till today as I write. My daughter and I limped back to the organizers desk for collecting my finisher’s medal and waited for my brother to finish. After saying a quick goodbye to my brother we started off for home at 4:45 AM.

After a hot water shower, I got barely half an hour in bed to warm myself before I had to join my brother-in-law to go to Srirangapatna to consign the mortal remains of my father-in-law. The journey through the crowded roads leading upto the river river Kaveri with my bro-in-law tightly holding on to what was left of his father was playing out my association with the man who handed his precious daughter to be my better half! It was ironical that if Karnataka decides to give water to TN (with necessary promptings from the SC), my father-in-law’s remains will reach Kumbakonam downstream to where it all began, my f-in-law spent his formative and most part of adult life in Kumbakonam.

I have known this man for now close to twenty two years. Now a father myself of a lovely twenty year old daughter, I can understand that it’s the most difficult thing to accept any young man as good enough to be your precious daughter’s (and a first born at that) husband, even if our religion places the son-in-law to be the lord Narayana itself! Our initial formal relation blossomed into what was to become a Mutual Admiration Society by the time he took his bow out from the world stage. He mellowed over time from a tough loud voiced father to a good friend. I admired his love for travel, adventure and good food (even if diabetic). Nothing exemplifies his single minded devotion to challenging himself than his taking part in the TCS 7K walkathon after recovering from his open heart surgery. I am sure he would be pleased that my daughter and I kept our appointment for the Midnight marathon and finished it for him. He made friends with kids easily and he was extremely extrovert and helped me become a more outgoing person. I am sure he must be among friends and enjoying good food by the time this hits the press.

Midnight marathon done and now onwards to the Mecca of all marathons the Mumbai marathon in less than a month!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Madras Nalla Madras

I had been keeping away from Marathons conducted in Chennai (nee Madras) after I read a few reports about how badly they were handled. Sudha Mani fellow runner from Chennai made a pitch during Hyderabad Marathon this year about how the Chennai runners would be organizing this year and that it would be nice. I registered and my daughter also followed suit (even if it meant air lifting her from Delhi after her internship!). My wife refused to join us as the visit was too short, a little over 24 hours only! This let the Gandhi wannabe the freedom to indulge in Sleeper class travel. My daughter’s flight was to reach at 1 PM and it gave me a little more than an hour to park my luggage at the railway rest house and rush to the airport (if the train kept to time!).

I was worrying about staying in the Railway rest-house near Central station and the problems of travelling early on Sunday to IIT for the run. In answer to my prayers, Bala, a good friend and a runner from Chennai, called the day prior to my leaving and requested (to be frank ordered!) that we stay at his place. He also offered to have our kits collected (not for nothing he is christened bib-Bala!). My wife got into the act and our kitchen garden was harvested for taking to Bala’s home. I felt like a country bumpkin carrying garden fresh vegetables to my city cousin!

I caught the train on 30th night after an early dinner (even by my standards) and despite meticulous packing by my wife, I boarded without a sheet to protect me from the elements. My wife got into mission mode to see how she could get me the sheets for my return journey on Sunday. I was allotted a side lower berth and the two backrests did not sit evenly causing me discomfort when I lay down. I put down the steel shutters and the glass window and bravely lay down to sleep armed with a flimsy towel which could cover only one half of my body. Some of the co-passengers had a bad experience with Pulao sold at the station as it had too much salt and they had to throw the food.  As the train caught speed, both the shutter and the glass pane came off by turns and sent me cowering for cover. The unmatched seats did their bit to making my night as uncomfortable as can be. A railway man given the taste of his own medicine! I had a bad night and was left craving for the Sun to warm my old and cold bones.

The train got empty at Yeshwantpur, a suburb of Bangalore. I could do with some green tea and a bright Sun. Sun came out at the appointed hour and the train while hurtling through the built up area of Bangalore gave me some warm snatches of sunlight. I had used the toilet at my usual wake up time of 2AM and having warmed to the sun, I now set out to feed myself on the Bread and Jam. I kept looking at the extract of the timetable as I crossed each station to see if the train was on time.

The train was now largely occupied by railway employees returning from and going to their work. Amma and the power crisis in the state of TN was the center of conversation which I refused to join despite sufficient provocation. My fear of being lynched for the state of my spoken Tamil was also a reason for my subdued behavior. The milling crowds of office-goers and students on the various suburban stations kept me occupied. I did not have to go back to Vinoba Bhave’s ‘Talks on Gita’ for the rest of the journey. Train stopped at Basin bridge and next at the outer signal giving me anxious moments, but, it reached Chennai at 11:40AM a full 15 minutes in advance (A gentle hint to the Hubli passenger for the Sunday run?).

My usually efficient PA and my colleague for Southern Railway had not given me any confirmation of allotment of room in the rest-house. I rushed with the luggage from PF No. 1 to the 9th Floor in the adjoining Moore Market complex. I was relieved to see my name in the list of allottees (my contribution to the Websters) and more joyed as the room was the second from start, every second saved counts! I rushed and plonked my luggage and returned to rush to the suburban station of Parktown across the road to catch a train to the Airport. I had to wade through a sea of humanity (why is it always against the direction you are going, another Parkinsons Law!) to reach the station. I got a train soon and it was 12 Noon. The journey takes 45 minutes and that meant that the asking rate was well and truly under control. I texted my daughter that I was on the way to the airport and settled back to snooze in the warm sun of Chennai.

The train reached Tirusulam, the rail head for the Chennai airport at 12:50PM. The subway leading from the station to the airport was extremely dark and I gingerly crossed. There were no clear signages to lead one to the arrivals gate. It struck me that some clear signages at the Airport and a well lit subway could encourage people to take the suburban train and help check pollution and the cause of energy conservation. 1 PM came and went, but, there were no announcements. There was no board indicating arrivals also. I settled down to wait observing people who had come to see off and receive their near and dear ones. I tried reading the baggage tags on the arriving passengers baggage to see if I could spot a Indigo flight tag from Delhi, alas, all the tags only had the destination boldly printed (they were meant for the baggage handlers and not waiting relatives at the destination!).

At 13:30 my daughter called saying she has landed and that she would collect bagged and come. I acknowledged safe arrival to the consignor friend’s family at Delhi and my anxious wife back in Hubli. It was worth the wait to finally spot my daughter beaming through the glass at the arrival gate. She continued to strip her heavy woolens to adjust to the Chennai weather. She was game to walk to the suburban station to catch a suburban train back to Chennai. She fed me on her one month stay at Delhi and her experience on the flight.

We negotiated the dark subway and I joined my daughter in criticizing the Municipal authorities for their callous work. Soon we were inside a first class compartment with only standing room. An old gentleman thought it necessary to warn me that we were in a first class compartment and could get fined. I thanked him for his concern (It happens only in Chennai and Kolkata and maybe with older folks only, who take liberty of advising!) and told him that, being a railway man, I am entitled to travel first class on suburban. As if on cue, a ticket checking squad entered at the next station. It was led by a lady official who accepted my statement of being a railway officer without challenge (does it show on our face!). I insisted on showing her my prized silver metal pass. She and her team were very polite but firm with the ticketless passengers and had raked in quite a bounty from the erring passengers. My daughter was pleased with the lady’s performance and I felt good.

We got down at Egmore and walked into a restaurant for a meal as it was well past 2 PM. Food was decent but nowhere near the standards of the famed ‘Ramprasad’ hotel meal I used to have during our probation. I have a nagging fear that our excesses on his offer of unlimited meals may have also led to his closing down his business.

Got back to the rest house and crashed with alarms set for 5:30PM. Our main reason for refusing Bala’s generous and insistent offer of dinner at their place was our plan to walk down to Marina beach and follow it with the famed Idli Sambar at Ratna Café in Triplicane. The sky was overcast and Kareena seemed to have planned to sabotage our walk in the Sun/Moon. I tried assuring my daughter that lack of practice would not affect her finishing her Half marathon the next day. It got quite dark by the time we reached the beachfront, even though the time was only 6:30 PM. We walked with cones of salted groundnuts but did not go near the water. The beach was quite crowded as it usually is. It was nice to walk in the cool sands in our bare feet.

We took the road from Kannagi statue towards Triplicane high road smelling for Ratna café. We walked past the famed Chepauk stadium. I reminded my daughter that this is where I had come in my TVS50 in January, 1990 to visit my would be wife (and now my wife)!

Soon we were abreast the crowded Ratna Café and entered it to the welcoming aroma of Coriander powder laced sambar. We settled on an empty table and ordered the usual with the air of regulars. Soon two plates of steaming Idlis on plaintain leaf covered steel plates and two eversilver spoons arrived, but, surprise surprise, the waiter brought a plate containing two Jalebis. I politely told him we haven’t ordered for it. To our delight he said that it was on the house as the day was the joint’s 70th anniversary. Soon the famous mug overflowing with sambar came out and the Idlis were covered with the magic potion. We mashed the Idlis and much unlike Idlis we get at home these disintegrate like fine rava and soak up all the Sambar. Jeeves waits for this and approvingly pours out more sambar in the plate. It is really surprising how much sambar can be held in a flat steel plate. Quickly the idlis vanished and we repeated the order and to be fair to the dish we could not discern any demonstration of the Law of Diminishing Marginal returns! We took photos of the lavish spread, before we polished them off, for posterity.

In my moment of Ratna café Idli softened mood I offer to my daughter that we could take an auto to Central and my daughter did not need a second invitation. We reached the rest house, packed the stuff for the night stay and started to catch the MRTS to near Bala’s place, Kotturpuram. We just missed one train as we entered the platform, I desisted from trying to board a running train despite my daughter’s taunt (am I getting old!).  We had to wait for another 20 minutes till the next train came, meanwhile, we were treated to Tamil songs on mobile by a few street side Romeos (not that we had a choice). After two stops, I beat my head when I found the Tiruvallikeni stop staring at me. I could have taken a MRTS from Triplicane to Chennai (avoidable expenditure of Rs. 50/-). Soon we crossed Greenways road stop and I alerted Shanti (Bala’s wife) as she had promised to bring their vehicle to pick us up (Bala was recuperating from distributing running bibs after his first marathon in his series of 12 marathons in 12 days). The kids had gone to sleep. They tried waking up the kids to meet us and I stopped them. Meeting them would have to wait till after the run the next day.

Balas’ have very spartanly but very artistically maintained their house. They have no TV and minimum furniture. He had rolled out a Pai (woven mat) for my sleep and my daughter got to share the bed with Shanti and his daughter. Bala and his son Krishna were in the other room. I say Bala’s easy chair, the one he uses for resting without sleeping for his early morning runs. The all night working of pouring of concrete in the next plot under construction kept me tossing and turning and I woke up before my alarm announced 2 AM. I had a good session of spinning during hydration. Bala woke up shortly thereafter and after cold water bath went through elaborate prayers. We woke up my daughter at 4 AM. Bala wanted me to come to his office to pick up some caps for distribution after the event. He showed me his office. It showed how he does business as a benevolent Uncle/father even if he loses employees is the bargain.

We reached home at 4:30AM and after I had pinned the running number on my daughter’s top (not before taking a shot at her expanding middle!) I changed into my shorts. I pinned the running number to my shorts in preparation for the strip tease during the run. We left after telling Shanti that we would call her after we finish, mark my estimate, most likely at 9:30AM. I was expecting a four and half hour finish.

We reached the venue with 20 minutes to go. There I met a lady runner from Chandigarh who my brother had told me would be coming. I put her in touch with my daughter and joined the milling crowd at the start line. The scene at the start line of a marathon always gives me a feeling of race horses stamping and breathing heavily on the race course. I met Dr. Ram and quite a few other Dailymile friends. Shri Ram Viswanathan (now famous at our house after his interview in Jaya TV) flagged off the race.

I took the rear so that I don’t get stamped on my bare feet from people trying to overtake. The crowd was very subdued as compared to the raucous start of ADHM/Delhi or the size of crowd at SCMM. I tried to engage people in conversation as I weaved through the runners. I remember somebody advised me to conserve energy by not shouting. Soon I was out of the campus and we turned right to hit the main road. The weather was very pleasant and there was not much humidity. Still after about a kilometer, I took off my top on the flyover, much to the amusement of the policeman on duty. The winding stretch between Adyar and Lighthouse was quite tortous for my bare feet, I called this stretch the Amma’s torture. Soon we were on the beach road and there was company of morning walkers. Excepting the kids, the elders had to to waved to called out to to elicit a return greeting. The policemen were much more forthcoming in their response to my greetings. The KM marks were not yet posted and I was running to my feel and had no idea of my speed. The road was smooth as a baby’s bum (to quote Barefoot Ted) or like Hema Malini’s cheeks (much closer reference by Shri Lalu Prasad) and the sea breeze heavenly. Soon I spied the Ugandan and the leader of the pack returning from the opposite direction. You just cannot stop from admiring their running style.

Soon we were directed to a lane on the right from the Beach road before the bridge and I got into a rougher road. I was tempted to take a biological break, but, it did not offer much protection even to the male runners. I had not taken any water break till now.  On the return direction I continued strongly and soon sighted the 16K mark back on the beach road. I looked at my watch; I had taken one hour and 24 minutes. I felt I was on course for a 4:12 finish. I crossed Bala and Dr. Ram on the Beach road and exchanged high fives with other runners also. It was great to be able to run in the middle of the Beach road. Sun peeped out, but, did not look threatening at all. I had done 20K in one hour 52 minutes, I was on course for a sub 2 hr. HM. I then took a biological break on a side lane and many more followed suit. I encountered the tortuous stretch now and my feet were scuffed and hurt a bit. Soon I was back on the Adyar road and the traffic was building up on the other side of the road. Lot of people commented on my attire and bare feet, mostly complimentary but, a few jeers also. I have got used to take it in my stride.

I then entered the IIT gate for the two loops inside the campus. The shaded trees were very welcoming, but, the IIT crowd was conspicuous by their absence. I crossed my daughter at her KM18 and she was plodding on. In my second loop I met Bala and Dr. Ram and they cheered me on. I realized I had not looked at my watch very much and I seem to be going faster, but, my lungs were not stretched and legs were holding. Anyway, the KM marks were not very regular and I lost track of speed and time. I ran to my rhythm. I did not even stop to take snaps of a few deer which crossed my path or stopped in its Sunday morning breakfast.

My running was hampered by a lot of walkers who wanted to run hand in hand without regard to runners following them. I maintained a constant chant asking them to give way in English and Tamil. For an added measure, I asked them to give me a cheer, which invariably made them go up in a cheer. Soon I entered the stadium and with 300m to the finish, my watch showed 8:35AM, I was well on course for a sub 3:40 finish. I had a tough time negotiating differently abled children on wheel chairs who were finishing their run, I am not complaining! I reached the finish point to find my beaming daughter. A young volunteer put a finisher’s medal around my neck. The medal was very well crafted and quite heavy! In all this I forgot to stop my stop watch. When I stopped it, it showed 3 hours 40 minutes. Now with the results out, I have it that I have done it in 3 hours, 38 minutes and 22 seconds. My earliest best for a marathon was in my SCMM in 2011, 3 hour 52 minutes. Some are saying the course was 1K short. My daughter finished her HM in 2:45, an improvement of 32 minutes over her Hyderabad debut. That despite no practice and severe cramping after her KM 18. Chennai is kind to its guests!

I must put in a word for the volunteers manning the aid stations along the route. They were very professional. The liquid was just the right quantity in the cup and the volunteer met the runner so that he/she does not have to change course. Small things, but, which I am sure every runner must have noticed and appreciated. I and my daughter got to talking about it on our journey back and I immediately rang up Sudha Mani and asked her to pass on our appreciation to the volunteers.

The breakfast was a jumbo sandwich, a muffin, an apple and a packet of salted potato chips. I was a little disappointed, I get a feeling that this somehow did not go with the ambience and character of the Chennai run. My suggestion would be that the organizers could adopt the traditional Pongal, Vadai and Sambar breakfast of Auroville. The reference to Auroville was apt more so because there were a group of physical trainers helping runners in their after run stretch. I drew a trainer by name Yuvraj, who did a wonderful job on me and had me as good as new, but, for my scuffed souls. I am sure that in the coming years, this event has a chance of holding its own even with the famed SCMM.

Having bored you all enough, shall not elaborate on the return journey. Suffice to say that this event will see bigger crowds in the years to come! Hubli passenger signs off with the promise to return in the Bangalore Midnight marathon of 15th December night, Insha-Allah!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Pilgrims progress

On 2nd October, Piyush (my running friend)’s drawing room at Ahmedabad the scenes were reminiscent of a raucous joint family having lunch. An outsider would find it hard to believe if he were told that these were a bunch of runners who had just finished 330Kms of run in the last 6 days and were just back from a heady Gandhi Jayanthi celebration at Sabarmati ashram.

My affair with Dandi started, I remember, in 2009 when Lathabehn (I didn’t know her by her name then) a Sabarmati ashram staffer and a devout Gandhian, had told us bunch of trainees from IIPA on a training programme with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation that Gandhiji with a band of 78 chosen satyagrahis had walked off the bridge for the 231 mile Dandi yatra with a vow not to return to the Ashram till India attained her freedom. I had silently vowed that day that I would one day do this journey between Sabarmati and Dandi.

I had broached this subject with Piyush bhai and he got working on it in right earnest. He single handedly set up the entire itinerary with relatives and friends to host us for the nights. The journey was planned with about 60Km to be covered roughly each day and the distance to be covered in 7 days. The plan was to set off on the 26th September so as to reach the Ashram on 2nd October morning in time for the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations at the Sabarmati ashram. I set up a page on Facebook for the event and over time six people expressed interest in joining for the trip. Of the six registrants, Bala from Chennai and Jaikant Kumaran from Bangalore had to back out in the end for personal reasons. That left Piyushbhai, Aparna Chowdhary, Bhupendrasingh Rajput and yours truly in the fray. Vivek Prasad later decided to join us from the third day (Bharuch) till Sabarmati.

I had a tough time convincing my boss for granting me 9 days leave for the event. He relented but not before taking a promise that I would not insist on running the Amritsar Lahore run planned for 9th November later in the year. For me Gandhi came above everything else and I gave up on Mohd. Iqbal in favour of the Dandi yatra.

Frequent phone calls were made between Piyush, Bhupendra  and myself to finalise the splits, support for the run and places of stay. Vineet Agarwal, a Delhi runner stepped in to design and make T-shirts for the event, initially we thought for a price. After giving us the T-shirt, he steadfastly refused to accept any payment. I end up with a feeling that we have exploited Gandhi’s name. We three met at Hyderabad marathon to finalise the details of the run. I had lot of doubts about recovery between two stints of long runs within the day, diet and Solid waste disposal. I had never run in a multi day event before. Bhupendra was very supportive and encouraging. He, Aparna and Piyush are veterans of many multi day runs, the recent being Uttarkashi run. I approached the event with humility and trepidation. To make matters worse, I had announced to lot of my friends about this run and the fear of failure was weighing heavy on me. I had also dared to do the run barefoot, but, as I have said earlier in a thread on a post related to barefoot running on Facebook, I am not fanatic about it and would use slippers if the going got tough or too hot.

A few days before the run, Kalyanibehn (Piyush’s wife) and Banu, my better half got into the act of preparing food to supplement the runners diet in between meals. Since our train was early in the morning, Biscuit (my four year old Labrador to the uninitiated) was left at Mathew (my Jeeves)’s place the previous night, but, not before I argued with wife to keep him till morning so that I could drop him after his morning walk in the Golf course. I need not say who won the argument. We set off at the appointed hour and the train was on time. I must digress and explain how the Gandhian traveled AC class. My own Kasturba (nee Banu) set this pre-condition for accompanying me on the trip. I don’t know how the original Gandhi would have got around it, I simply brought peace. Kasturba would definitely have not used Gandhi’s non-co-operation act on him, surely! I am sure he would have been stumped if she had done a Gandhi on him. The mineral water bottles were much smaller issues after having given in on the bigger issue of class of travel.

Piyush was getting delayed as some important work held him back in Ahmedabad, he planned to still reach Navsari (rail head to the Dandi beach about 17 kms away) the night before the run. The train journey was quite eventless but for the competition between the Rajasthani mother and daugher duo and my wife on who was carrying more food. My wife was impressed with the multi stage container with the Rajasthani duo. I know the likely next purchase for Dhanteras. Piyush, his wife and Son left Ahmedabad at 3PM and we were regularly in touch over phone. Bhupendra, his brother and Sister and Aparna were to leave Pune at 6 in the evening. Piyush on reaching Navsari finding the places of stay near the station very costly for the Gandhi wannabees settled for the waiting hall at the station. When I got to know this, I was elated and knew that this would be my kind of run. Our train reached Navsari on time at 2:15AM. After a round of tea (Piyush’s life giving fluid) we stared catching up with each other between slapping away the insistent mosquitoes. After dithering for sometime, I decided to put in a few hours of spinning on my charkha while waiting for the other runners to arrive at 5:30 on the morning. I did not change into Khadi and spun in my jeans and T-shirt itself on the waiting hall floor with old newspaper for covering the floor. The station did not have any monument indicating that this was the rail-head to the famous Dandi. A mention on the station name board was all there was to tell the visitor of this. We must put up a suitable monument on the station commemorating the Dandi march (I hope my railway friends from Western Railway are reading). The other runners Aparna and Bhupendra arrived and we changed into our running gear in the waiting hall itself. The luggage was trussed up on the top of Piyush’s car (the packing of the stuff on the top of the car would improve during the course of the run and would be later perfected after Vivek joined us at Bharuch). A big banner with Gandhi’s photo was put up on top of the vehicle. Since the party was too big to get into the car, we hired an auto to take four of the party and lead us into Dandi.

I was eyeing the route to see if it was barefoot friendly. After a not so good road for the first few kilometers from the station, the road was a perfect beauty all the way to the beach. We saw the place commemorating the making of salt by the Mahatma after the epic march and quickly went through the museum. After the mandatory photographs, the runners got restless to start, mindful of the Sun stealing up on our back. The caretaker at the place was apologetic that he could have arranged a press party if we had told them in advance. We were very particular right from the beginning that ours would be a private run and Press would be kept at bay. To me the run was not to give any message to the people but to relive the journey, get to know colleague runners and feel the transformation of the self internally. I had no delusions that we neither had the stature nor the experience to give any message.

We set off with our vehicle following us. I set off at a brisk pace and Piyush joined me, Aparna and Bhupendra brought up the rear. Bhupendra’s brother was at the wheel. After a bad initial stretch of a few Kilometers leading to the main road, the road was a beauty and I did my baretop act of taking off the T-shirt. The school kids on the way and villagers waved to us and it was a merry start. Sun was warming up and a 7AM start was going to hurt us. Piyush and I took a break at the road leading to the highway not sure if the vehicle would find the way. We boasted to the Tender Coconut seller and the cobbler next to him. They were suitably impressed and the tender coconut seller offered to fill up our water bottles. This has been the running theme on all days of our run hereafter, the roadside shops and houses plied us with water and good wishes. I felt like we were living off the name of Gandhi. After a wait of about an hour the party got together and we ran for another hour to reach our breakfast point, a Malyali shop where we only took tea and milk to supplement Kalyanibehn’s Thepla ( unleavened bread of Jowar and Wheat flour with salt and spice) and chilli pickles to go with it. The sweet dish was the powerful ladoos whose ingredients and recipe are still a secret. After having run the earlier trip from Ahmedabad to Dakor on these Ladoos, I can only vouch that they rest easy on the stomach. The kilometer sign near the Dhaba (road side eatery) on the highway read Surat-28K. We had an interesting discussion between the local, Piyush and the Blackberry toting youngsters the distance to our first night’s stay, Khamrej chowk. It turned out that the distance to Surat and Khamrej chowk was same as we were to bypass the city of Surat. The Sun was merciless now and the Tar road was severe on my pebble softened soles. I was in serious trouble as I did not have a Plan-B for the heat and Sun for my soles. I foolishly trudged on barefooted. The busy highway with container laden trucks left very little room on the sides for the runners and the sides of the road were heavily littered with pebbles. After much coaxing from my wife I jumped at the bait and decided to wear my bathroom slippers to protect my soles from the heat. First compromise was made on my run. We ran in the heat and dust on the highway till we spotted our vehicle near a restaurant. It was time for a well earned lunch. We all had Dal-chawal and filled up our radiators full of water. Bhupendra and Piyush set off on a brisk walk (they know no other way to walk). Aparna and I decided to run at a slow pace. We both felt that the running was less strain on our feet and our slowest run was faster than our fastest walk. We kept exchanging notes on our running experiences and chipped away at the kilometers. Aparna taught me run-walk strategy, 400-600 (walking 400m and running 600m). The Sun was merciless and I started talking to the kilometer stone and I think I was hallucinating. Later we came to know that Piyush had tummy trouble and had difficulty in moving in the afternoon. The earlier fast paced run had taken its toll on me and I was a much humbled man now. Incessant drinks of water and chattering later the distance to our first night halt came down to a single digit and we pushed on. I was impressed by Aparna’s persistence and stamina. The afternoon session was a great lesson in endurance running for me. Within half an hour, Piyush and Bhupendra also came in. Piyush’s wife had by then managed booking in a dormitory (free-free-free) and after a meager dinner which had Aparna and me (at least) asking for more. The sleeping quarter was comfortable and the braver amongst us took a shower. I curled on the mattress and was dead to the world in no time. The three ladies, Aparna, Archana (Bhupendra’s sister) and Banu got a cot each. Banu’s cot which had a warped metal plate for base made loud noises every time she turned. One gone, six to go! 55K done.

I woke up to my mobile alarm at 2 AM and started on the spinning wheel. Piyush had woken up before me and Bhupendra woke up at 3AM. After an hour of spinning I had the first use of the loo and the bath. I located a water cooler and filled up my bottle for hydration while spinning. The picture was complete, minus the Active Darshan channel on TV and Biscuit lying near me. Slowly one by one the other inmates came to life. Aparna had instructed us to wake her up last. I and Bhupendra went down to tying up the luggage on the car top. After the first day’s fiasco when essential items were stuck inside bags trussed up on the top of the car, this day we removed all eatables and a change of cloth in a separate bag to be carried by Banu. Despite having made solemn vows to have an early start, it was 5:45 AM by the time we all came down. After the mandatory group photo in front of the Gandhi banner, we set off for the day. The gateman made a special concession for us in letting us off before 6 AM as the temples did not permit opening of gates before 6 AM. Few other pilgrims with flag staff also left for their walkathon. Bhupendra and Archana (who don’t take tea or coffee) set off on a brisk walk while rest of the party stopped at a road side stall for tea for Aparna and Piyush and milk for me. Shortly Banu and Kalyanibehn joined us for tea. After hurriedly finishing my milk, I set off on a run, I wanted to put in some Kms before the Sun got his act together. I crossed Bhupender and Archana in a canter. Bhupender joined me, but, not before I had secretly tried barefoot for a few paces when no one watching or so I thought. My soles were still sore from the pebble and heat treatment of the previous day. I meekly got my feet into the slippers. He gave me a stirring account of his Thar 160K run. It was very inspiring. A man who has gone through so much must be like ice-berg in situations which could be trying for any lesser mortal. No wonder he was so cool, he never once looked at his watch and never exulted after every passing kilometer or despaired at the distance left. A true yogi at work, it was a learning experience. After some time he wanted to slow down, and I carried on. I crossed Banu and Kalyanibehn taking their morning walk. After a good run of close to 2 hours, around 9 AM, I spotted a restaurant and waited there for others to join for the breakfast break. By and by, others joined and we settled for a Gujrati dish of Fafda (Piyushbhai corrected us that what we were served was Papdi) and their special Lassi. Our Dandi T-shirt was drawing admiring glances from fellow diners. Virender, Bhupendra’s brother and stand-in-charioteer, is an interesting personality. He was keeping the volunteers in good spirits with his jokes. He had special liking for Coffee and Coke. He settled for Bhel-puri at this place. His extrovert nature would come to the fore in future exploits of his. He proved to be an invaluable asset in keeping the spirits of the group high. After breakfast, as per the previous day, Aparna and I started off on a slow run and Piyushbhai and Bhupender settled for a brisk walk. Today’s lunch break was at Ankleshwar a distance of 42 Kms from Khamrej where we started day-2. Between us Aparna and I were eating up Kilometers and she made interesting company for conversation. She wished for a canal for a dip and lo and behold at KM 17, a canal where a lady was washing clothes and her son playing appeared. We lost no time in getting into the water. I told Aparna, that my wife would look for me at every watering hole as I never miss a chance to take a dip. The steps were well laid out and it felt good to cool the head, I call this dunking the CPU so that the mind remains cool. Soon, my wife and Kalyanibehn joined followed by Piyushbhai and Bhupender. We had a good half an hour of cooling off. The poor lady was slowly displaced to the edge of the washing stone (A live demo of the Arabs and the Camel!). Aparna and I set off again and had the best run till then, non-stop run (run-walk that is) from KM17 to KM2. Aparna seems to have a mole on her tongue (or seems to have goddess Saraswati residing there) as all her wishes/predictions about the next canal etc. were bang on. I asked to wish something good for me also when the going was good. She asked for Rs. 5 crore instead (that’s what I call dreaming big!). Poor Aparna was ribbed about it the whole of the day and probably the rest of the run. I met a walker on the way who was on a pilgrimage and had been doing about 40K per day for the last 10 days. Since, Aparna crossed me while I was talking to him, I left the conversation mid-way and raced past her. We passed the Industrial area, and as per Aparna’s precise Calorie loading schedule, she started looking for a Coke. She spied a road-side shop and got a Coke for herself and a cold mineral water bottle for me. I suppressed my Gandhian instincts and filled up my bottle (I must remember to carry some money!). Thereafter, we stopped at KM2 from Ankleshwar at a road-side shop under a Neem tree. The man sitting there tried his English-Vinglish on us. I also let loose my half-baked Gujrati. The lady was kind to let me fill up my water bottle. I established contact with our vehicle and sought directions. After much exchange of calls back and forth we reached another shop, I shall call this Aparna’s Bread-batata sandwich stall. The guy was preparing bread pieces for making bread-pakoda. Aparna simply gorged on the plain bread stuffed with batata without letting him to value-add them into bread pakoda. I asked him to name this as Aparna-sandwich. Then there was the incident of slithering creature, which a local described as Mausi of Snake, which Aparna absolutely abhorred and was scared stiff much to the amusement of the young kids there. The temptation to reach the lunch venue and manage a bath was too tempting and we started off on foot. There were varying accounts of the distance to the Ragini theatre the landmark near where we were promised our nose-bags. We didn’t know where Bhupendra and Piyush were left behind. That was our longest walk and coming after the grueling 42K, we were finished. Piyush and Bhupener did the smart thing of getting picked up by our car. The vehicle went for a check up for a failed electrical contact. My wife seemed to have over-done the repairs for loose contact enroute. A nice refreshing bath had us forget the morning grind. The typical Gujrati lunch in ample quantity served with a smile (even though we were 3 hours behind schedule) made us all over eat without a care for the distance of 15K to Bharuch awaiting us in the afternoon. The love and affection showered by the family was infectious and we extended our stay a few more hours. An interesting discussion on deifying Gandhi but not following his tenets (a.k.a. Lage Raho Munnabhai) ensued. Reluctantly and with heavy stomachs we pulled ourselves away for the run to Bharuch. We walked the 3K to the main road. The road from Ankleshwar to Bharuch was very narrow and crowded. I managed to put in a few short sprints but most part was done by walk. The Sun set and the weather was nice. We were received by our vehicle near a Hanuman temple enroute, where our pictures were taken and the Pujari gave us Prasad (Mango bites, I have christened him the Chocolate baba). He said the toffees were more hygienic than conventional Prasad. The 2K bridge across river Narmada was really choc-a-bloc and we somehow crossed it. I and Bhupender did a sprint and I was able to do most of the stretch from Ankleshwar to Bharuch, barefoot. Our welcome to Bharuch retiring rooms and rest house at Railway station was grand. After some confusion over room allocations we finally settled for the night. I skipped dinner in deference to the heavy and late lunch. We were able to wash all our clothes thanks to a big and clean bathroom and lot of place to dry clothes. Thus ended Day2, another 57K licked! We now look forward to the arrival of Comrade-ian Vivek Prasad on Day3. His train arrival time gave us an excuse for late start again.

Welcome to the most eventful and grueling day of the run, literally the hump day. We were all enthused by the fresh pair of legs and vigour Vivek brought to the team. I took of my slippers and started barefoot (Did I mention, my trusted hawaai slippers broke down on Day2, and I had to use my wife’s pink slippers thereafter, if my daughter had seen me in them, I would have been dead meat, my running friends were more charitable and tolerant). My wife seeing me running barefoot comfortable offered to and took away my slippers (watch this seemingly good Samaritan act of my wife as it has painful consequences for me). Bhupender, Vivek and I took the pole position and Aparna and Piyush brought up the rear. I was in a very chirpy mood, with good road below my soles, the Sun still an hour away and a fresh COMRADE-ian for company. After about 8K, where we got on to the highway, Piyushbhai just came from nowhere and whizzed past us. Piyush had asked the vehicle to bring up the rear with Aparna. Though tempted to follow Piyushbhai, I stuck with Vivek for the valuable inputs I was getting from him. He had a very steady metronome kind of regularity to his running and compared to my loud mouth he was a man of few words. I was still watching out for the Blue top which Piyush was wearing to see if I could catch up with him. He was unstoppable today. It was nice to see him come to form after two listless days, it was a typical Sehwag kind of run. All good things come to an end, the road got from bad to worse and it was getting torturous for my soles. But, my slippers (even if pink) were stuck in the Car. The bad roads had one positive though, one of the sugar cane laden truck, spilled some juicy cane on the stretch of bad road and Bhupendra picked a few for us. The bad road with angry stones was not ending anywhere soon. Vivek and Bhupendra with their shodden feet had put in a good gap with me. Virender suddenly appeared out of nowhere with a plastic cover with goodies for refreshment. Finally the really bad stretch ended and I could sprint to Bhupendra and Vivek who were taking a sugarcane break. I also had a refreshing break with sugarcane. Virender did us a good deed by reaching Piyush and tempting him with a tea-break. Nothing else could have stopped Piyush that day! Virender had a knack of managed free rides from locals and as he puts it, he exploited Gandhi’s name to the hilt. Once halted, Piyush settled for a brisk walk and we three caught up with him. Thereafter, I and Vivek went on with my newly learnt run-walk strategy learnt from Aparna the previous day. I thought I had modified it for the day for run in the Sun and walk in the shade. Independently, it seems Aparna also invented it. Piyush and Bhupender settled in their brisk walk. There was no detailed plan for the day about breakfast and other breaks. Virender forced a lunch break about a Km from Amogh. Meanwhile, the vehicle had got a flat tire and the ladies managed to get the type changed with the help of a friendly truck driver, I am sure the smiling Gandhi on top of the vehicle must have done his bit. The spot chosen was bang on the highway and we rested for half an hour to 45 minutes before the vehicle and Aparna joined us. We had a sumptuous lunch of Theplas and laddoos and stretched under the tree on Polythene bags for a rug below unmindful of the speeding trucks whizzing past us. Bhupendra did a few stretches and sped off after the lunch break. Our tea break was at Jambusar, a distance of 13K. I and Vivek started on a slow jog. We spied a hand-pump within a few Kms of our run. We all stopped for a good wash and dunking of my CPU as I call it. I also saw the beginnings of sweat rashes all over my arms and neck and shoulders. I and Vivek continued our run-walk strategy, more walk than run to be honest. He bore my constant chatter stoically. The wives meanwhile got the spare wheel attended and kept us company my meeting us every few Kms. I and Vivek were the first to reach Jambusar cross and we stole a nap on a concrete bench under a Neem tree outside the district offices. The others reached after about an hour and after the mandatory tea break, we set off for the last inning of the day. We embarked on what we thought was 24K of run. Piyush took off at a good pace and I excused myself from Vivek and went with him. The next 7-8 Kms was ehhilirating running with Piyush, It was inspirational to see a 53 year old coming up with such reserves after a speedy 25K in the morning and a lesson on endurance running. We stopped at a Hanuman temple for water more than darshan. We could have done with his leap instead of our now painful plod. At around 12K, another break was taken where we got fresh corn and tea for tea-drinkers, but, biggest of all the shocking news that another 20K was left for our halt for the day. The lights had come on and the traffic was menacing. Vivek could not handle all this, coming after a night of journey, he settled into the Car. Aparna with good company from Bhupendra was doggedly eating up the miles. After the break, Aparna and Bhupendra sped off and Piyush and I took almost a Km to pass them. We had another good stretch of steady running (Piyush claimed 12k/hr and I guess we were going at not more than 10k/hr) for another 8-10K. Piyush again stopped for a tea-break and the frequent tea-breaks meant we were running out of reserves. We had interesting conversation about his foray into running. The support team in the car was also getting restless. The ladies particularly were angry that we would again be bothering our hosts for the night late into the night. We somehow limped till a petrol bunk in Vadu, village and requested the host to pick us up from there. Aparna and Bhupendra caught up with us while we waited for our host to come and get us. We promised to start from this point the next day. It was past 10PM and we were seriously worried about recovery for the next day’s run. Piyush enthused us by saying that rest of the days were below 50K. We were taken to Runu village about 3K from the petrol bunk where we broke for the day. The smiling faces of the hosts despite the late hour lifted our spirits. After a good bath we had a sumptuous dinner. The host was the brother-in-law of Piyush’s business associate at Ahmedabad. I was really feeling weighed down by such love affection and hospitality from perfect strangers. Old man of the family, a retired doctor, who practices both allopathy and ayurveda kept up steady conversation and made us feel perfectly at home. He plied us with extra helping of Shrikhand (all the while saying that he cannot have it as he has diabetes). I can now believe when we hear that our elders treated guests as Gods (Atithi Devo Bhava!) They have given us the main rooms and to my surprise and shame next day, I found the hosts sleeping in the drawing room. They were up early morning next day and gave us a warm and affectionate farewell.  The host dropped us at the start point wishing us godspeed. Thus ended the most grueling day of the event, Day3, 76K done!

We had no pretensions of an early start after the grueling day3. Elaborate farewells and photo session ensured we could not start till 6:30AM. Thankfully, Piyushbhai promised that today’s run was only 43K. The tentative plan was to do the 30K to Borsad by lunch and keep the balance 13K to Dharmaj for the night stay. After the previous day, this looked like cake walk. All runners were rearing to go. Ladies in the crew vehicle, leaving Virender behind the wheel started their morning walk. Vivek and I brought up the front. This day, I asked him to speak up and we had very interesting discussion on Gandhi, societal inequalities his experiences during walk for the Vidarbha farmers with an NGO. The road was good and I was able to run barefoot for the most part. At around 17-18K we merged into the Vadodara-Borsad main road and decided to wait for our colleagues for breakfast break. I managed a visit to the temple nearby. We all had a sumptuous breakfast of Bread-bhajiya. As has been the usual pattern, I and Vivek decided to run. I spotted markings on the road where every 50 mtrs was marked, this to me was a good incentive to keep running. The Sun was very severe and my rashes had become very pronounced by then. Aparna had assured me earlier that she had similar problem on her hands and they went away with some medical soap and protection from direct light. On my part I have not been complaining in front of my wife for the fear of being plied with Citrizen tablet. Vivek stopped for cold water at one way-side shop. What is Coke to Aparna, cold water is to Vivek. I was again the sponge, not carrying any money and not being strong enough in refusing. What would have not I given for a canal with gushing cold water. Though my nirvana was not as instantaneous as that of Aparna, few kilometers ahead we spotted a canal, where a raucous crowd was bidding farewell to Ganpati. I and after much prodding Vivek got down to taking a dip. After the break within the next few kilometers when we were one Km from Borsad, Vivek spotted a student’s hostel with lush lawns and a tap. We decided to take our lunch break there, leaving 14K for the post lunch session. The vehicle joined us, my wife was agog with excitement, thsy had been stopped by an Anganwadi enroute where teachers had heard of our expedition and they were plied with tea. We laid out our wet clothes to dry and rested under the Neem tree after a good lunch of Theplas and laddoos. Aparna managed a small shower under the overflowing over head tank, herself comparing her pose to Zeenat Aman’s of ‘Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram’. We had interesting discussion on Secularism and intolerance. Aparna and I were quick and vociferous to shut out strident arguments by Virender. Piyush and Bhupender moved over to the verandah for a quiet nap. Everybody appreciated Vivek’s choice of the camp-site.  The run post lunch was not as taxing as the previous day and we were secure in the distance left. Google maps and local knowledge was checked repeatedly to avoid a goof up. Since Piyush’s friend was to reach the temple (Jalaram Bapa, temple at DharmaJ) at 5:30PM, we set of 3:30PM itself.  Within 2K of the start, Piyush and Virender stopped at a restaurant stopped for tea. The break was aborted as the hotel had no tea/Coke. Piyush and Aparna gave a look as if to say who gave this guy the licence to set up shop. I saw a board indicating Rajkot, 215K, and became nostalgic. My first posting in the Railways was Rajkot and I remember the Alfred high school there which I visited and it’s Gandhi connection. It was here that he refused to correct his spelling of ‘Kettle’ (hope I have got it right), despite his teacher prompting him many times. I, Piyush and Vivek led now with Aparna and Bhupender bringing up the rear. Piyush bhai took a boiled-egg break (I found his third secret recipe after tea and tobacco) to tackle the balance few kilometers. Bhupender ran past us and we made no attempt to catch up. I and Piyush finishing the distance sedately walking. I must say I find walking with Piyush at his pace more taxing than my slow run. We reached the temple ahead of his contact and spent time with Piyush’s friend’s local contact who came with his cute little daughter. My wife and Kalyanibehn followed pretty soon. We had a brief interlude taking photographs with the young girl. I forget her name, but she was in 2nd standard and her birthday was in November. Vivek and Aparna steamed in and Virender went up to them and ran back with them as if finishing a marathon. Here again we managed dormitory with the beds laid out in a row. We used the rope we used to secure luggage on the car to set up a clothesline and washed clothes. We visited the temple. Strains of devotional music was very refreshing. We were invited to eat at a special hall where tables were laid out with Army jawans. The food was unlimited but the vegetable was very spicy. Khichdi was very nice. We turned in early. Iti Day4, another 43Km licked!

We were determined to have an early start come what may. We packed bags and trussed it up on the car and asked the support team to follow us after an hour or so. We had a good chance of hitting the road at 05:15AM. Piyushbhai got out his headlamp for lighting up the way. We set off finally at 05:25AM our earliest start to date. I and Vivek led from the front. I settled for a barefoot run. The blister between the big toe and first finger on my right foot making wearing of slipper painful. I used Vivek’s paper tape to truss up my foot and on Aparna’s advice taped up the offending part of the slipper strap also. Piyush brought up the rear, after the lights improved, Piyush came ahead and we two ran in tandem. Piyush today did the Gandhi act and we two baretop and Piyush in his minimal footwear and I barefoot make a good twosome. Our fist stop was Tarapur about 18K for breakfast. Original breakfast at Tarapur was scheduled for 10:30 AM at Tarapur and Piyush tried to re-schedule it. Finally we settled for a Bhajiya-bread breakfast by 8:15AM. Piyush’s friend and our host for the day came and I did the unpardonable act of showing Piyush the watch at 9AM for the promised start. Piyush was very angry and I also felt bad at having to depart so early after his friend had just come all the way to meet us. The tyranny of the Sun was too fresh in my mind. We set off at 9AM and Piyush also reluctantly followed. Today, I, Vivek and Aparna went ahead and Piyush and Bhupender settling for a long walk. This was Piyush’s practice for his Bhatti mines Ultra of 160K the next week. A word about Archana, she is on the heavier side in the conventional sense to be a runner of any worth. But, what she lacks in shape, she more than makes up with her grit and determination. She has been steadily increasing the kilometers every day. She dutifully plugs on her walkman and walks for hours. An example for attitude! Within a few kilometers into our run, we came across the first canal. Not knowing if we would get any more the three of us took a break for a dip. Piyush and Bhupender plodded on, what sense of sacrifice and determination. Canal was welcoming and we did not want to leave but 13K was a tall order if we did not work doggedly, Piyush and Bhupender having gone ahead also put pressure on us. Our lunch stop was planned at Limbasa village a good 13K away.  After a few kilometers there were lush fields on either side but, for quite a distance there was not a tree on either side of the road and the Sun took its toll. We realized the importance of trees to keep the temperatures in check. After a grueling 4-5 Kms we stopped outside a water resort and sanctuary. The messages painted about planting trees there on the benches struck an immediate chord. It was as true if not more as the Ten Commandments. Thankfully after a few more dry kilometers we encountered wet lands with water birds and lush paddy fields on either side of the road. Pictures of the various water birds were depicted on sign boards and we could see families in cars probably out for a weekend (remember this was a Sunday!). Presently we reached Limbasa village and my wife went out and got buttermilk for us. We scouted for a lunch spot. The suggestion to have it in two batches was shot down by Savitribehn(sorry, Kalyanibehn) who insisted on waiting for her husband to come. This gave more material to Aparna to rib Piyushbhai when he arrived later. We walked for about a kilometer to reach Princy hotel (no name board, only word of mouth). The owner was an interesting personality who gave us hot rotis and good food. Aparna had a run in with a few peaceful lizards cooling themselves near the wash area.Piyush and Bhupendra wanted to continue their walk after the lunch and we lesser mortals, at the hotel owner’s suggested retired to a temple for our afternoon siesta. The heat was unbearable and the canal nearby though presently occupied by buffalos and kids was inviting. We waited a while for the food to settle before we took a dip. Water was very turbid but beggars can’t be choosers. We received a phone call from Bhupendra asking us to start early. We set off at 4:30PM after taking tea offered gratis by the priest, the today being an auspicious full moon day. I settled for a barefoot run and Vivek and Aparna asked me to go ahead. The road was good and kilometers fell quickly. The Sun was also not as potent after a hard day’s battle with our determination. My rashes were chafing and I seriously thought of consulting my doctor over phone. Bhupender on reaching Matr called me over phone and gave me directions. Bad news awaited me as I entered the APMC market complex which was to be our place of rest for the night. The party was sitting on floor outside waiting for the meeting to get over. Our wives were invited to join. I joked that Kalyanibehn lost a chance to become sarpanch of the village. Now the bad news, the toilets were very bad and would definitely not do. We explored if we could go ahead and manage some temple at Kheda which was a further 7K away. Piyush bhai got working on his mobile and Kheda was fixed as the place of stay. This meant 7K less for the next day. Piyush bhai also toyed with the idea of completing the balance 42K to Ahmedabad from Kheda in the night itself. Kalyanibehn vetoed it and I also was not in favour as the yatra was to be during day even if we have no audience to preach to. Now for the task of breaking the news to Aparna and Vivek when they enter Matar. I told them as diplomatically as possible. Surprisingly, they took it sportingly and we set off immediately. We also got an idea which gained instant acceptance from everybody that we run through to Ahmedabad the next day without stopping at Aslali village where some reception was planned for us for the next day night. The thought of bath and a night at Piyush’s home swung the decision and Aslali host was informed accordingly. Our host for the night, the same person who had the breakfast programme changed at the last minute, was very accommodative and shifted the dinner venue to the community hall at Kheda. Children and families came and feted us and served us food. Despite the mosquito coils, the winged creatures and mosquitoes bothered us. Very soon, sleep took over and before I knew, it was 2AM on the last day. SO, thus ended DAY5, another 50K done!


While there was excitement of finishing the run successfully and only a marathon distance left between us and the Ashram, there was a tinge of sadness at the event coming to an end. We had actually started to enjoy the company and the bunch of runners had become a well knit family now. I must acknowledge the excellent biscuits (Thekua it is called) brought by Vivek which had become my morning starch loading before the run along with Kalyanibehn’s laddoo. The highway was very smooth (Baby’s bum by Barefoot Ted’s reckoning or Hema Malini’s cheek if you prefer Lalu’s simile) and I enjoyed my barefoot run. Today I did a Piyush of Day3 and shot off. The start was 6AM and I was determined to put in as many kilometers before Sun woke up to realize it. Even though the highway was narrow, the drivers were accommodative to this baretop, barefoot runner. I took my first break at KM7, met Banu and Kalyani walking further down. We had planned this day to have a working breakfast around 9 AM. My wife was to pick up bread and keep sandwiches ready to hand us over on the run. There was some mix up about the place to stop. While I thought it was KM20 (22 to destination) or Narola cross, which was a further 9K away, as instructed by Piyush to his wife. I took my breakfast at KM 19, and sped off. Piyush had briefly caught me around KM 15 but I was in a zone that day. When I reached KM 27 (15K from destination), I got a call from Piyushbhai to wait for him. This was equivalent to what Virender did to Piyush with offer of Tea on Day3. I had already taken a break to fill up my water bottle. I told him the location and landmark and settled under the tree. We informed the people in the Car and people following of the intended stop. Piyush bhai settled and started refueling with tea. He also ordered for lunch for 9 people. Between us we had forgotten to tell Bhupender of the intended stop and he crossed us. He went on to Narol cross. Instead of asking him to return back, we decided to cancel the lunch order and reach Narol cross and wait for all to assemble. We asked the people in the car to go home as escorting in Ahmedabad traffic would be difficult and we could anyway get all the support needed from the road-side shops dotting the road on either side. We finished all the bread in the car and sped them off. Vivek and Aparna looked in a bad way. We stopped for a fresh lime drink at a road-side shop. Aparna’s knee was showing up and she popped a painkiller. Vivek was absolutely uncommunicative and plodding like a convict on his walk to the gallows. He felt short changed because of the cancellation of lunch. After another stop at a shop for some more fruit drinks, Piyush bhai ordained that we should walk along the Riverfront. This turned out to be a bad move, with no shade for long distance and no shops, the 7K looked very daunting. I and Aparna tried to run as that was less painful than walk. Vivek was constantly falling behind and really looked bad. Piyush and Bhupender had gone ahead. We took a call to get out from the riverfront and take the city roads. We first wanted to get some food and drink into Vivek. His eyes were glazed, we did not want to send him by Auto as this would spoil his final moments. We settled at a Café Coffee day outlet and they ordered a sandwich and iced tea. I was really conscious of my pink slippers and khadi shorts now. I was afraid if the girl at the counter would exercise the option of ‘right of admission reserved’ on me. There was an interesting interlude here, much similar to the scene where Charlie Chaplin makes as if to eat a shoe (in the movie Gold rush, I think). The guards at the CCD were sitting to their lunch just outside the glass door where we were sitting. Aparna was giving them a look of absolute hunger and I am sure they would have ended up with a tummy ache. I told her they must be thinking that people have more exotic food inside the glass door. The classic case of grass being greener on the other side of the Glass door. She also did a similar hungry kid act near a fresh fruit vendor who was selling cut fruits. We all got some bananas where even your Gandhian joined. Aparna also got her favorite sandwich. We then walked on egging Vivek with each step. We made an interesting group wearing the Dandi march T-shirt in the afternoon Ahmedabad crowd on a Monday afternoon on the busy Ashram road. There was another good news awaiting us. Lathabehn my friend at the Ashram was to be away on a village visit and I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to get my wife to see her. Lathabehn called me and informed me that her village visit hass been cancelled and she would meet us at the Ashram. Meanwhile Piyush and Bhupender had reached. Kalyanibehn and Banu reached the Ashram with home cooked food for us. My wife located Lathabehn and was enjoying all her attention when we reached the Ashram. We finished the Pulao which was to do for our late lunch. I then went to the workshop to meet the manager, where the charkhas are made, though I had forgotten to get mine for servicing. The next day was to be a holiday for the workshop. We had an elaborate photo session and I even managed to put in a few minutes of spinning at the ashram charkha. We got to visit the Gandhi’s room. We were specially invited for the next day’s function at the Ashram. We attended the inter faith prayer meeting at 6:15PM where Banu got to sing a few devotional songs at the request of Secretary, Ms. Aashiya Desai’s invitation. We returned by BRTS bus, (self, Aparna, Bhupender and Piyush). But for a run in with a young boy who stared at Aparna and got a mouthful, the journey want eventless. We took a bath and after a simple but satisfying meal of Dal, Roti, Bhindi sabji and jeera rice we settled for the night. The meal was reminiscent of a Joint family at dinner with everybody sitting on floor around the food. We joked about the wake up time for next day and who is game for the 7K run for the morning function at the Ashram.

We reached early in Piyush’s car in informal dress but we carried our Dandi-run tops, just in case we were asked to put them on. The director’s speech made a detailed reference to our effort and it was loudly cheered by the appreciative crowd. The all faith prayer meeting and the lecture on Gandhi’s eleven vows by the Vice Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith thereafter was very gripping. Even though I could not get it completely as it was in Gujarati. After a song by inmates of the Sabarmati jail, the programme concluded. I had the satisfaction of spinning at the programme on my charkha. A very satisfying and elevating event for me.  Piyush bhai then took us to a Jain shop for purchasing footwear for us (the minimal wear which he was wearing during the run). We reached home and as the time neared for departures we got restless and tried to prolong the inevitable. I, Vivek and Aprana went to the mall across the road for drawing money from the ATM. We settled accounts and had a small ceremony of giving 5-star chocolates to the participants. After a relaxed lunch we could no longer postpone the departure and all the people came to the road to put us in an auto. I invited all of them for a friendly marathon on my highway at Hubli. We wished Piyush all the best for his Bhati Ultra of 160K coming up the next weekend. As I go to press, our man has completed the 160K run in record 25 hrs and 2 minutes. Hats off Piyush. I have really returned a much more chastened runner and a more mature person.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

It’s all in the family, Our Airtel Hyderabad Marathon experience

The run up to the Hyderabad Marathon (AHM) has been anything but pleasant, the viral attack two weeks before the event all but spoiled the party. AHM is always special, being the first marathon of the season after the Auroville closes the season in mid-February. This event was going to be special for many reasons, unveiling of the Khadi gear and barefoot in a popular event (officially inaugurated in the Pedong run); Debut by daughter and wife’s cousin in their first half-marathon; and being finally able to run in an event with brother (My brother and I have been unsuccessfully trying to run together in a Marathon since Auroville 2011); meeting with Piyush Shah and Bhupendrasingh at Hyderabad to finalise the modalities for the Dandi-Sabarmati run.

In my race against time against the viruses, I took the help of antibiotics for once keeping Gandhian objections aside. The old bones responded slowly but surely. I wanted to run a marathon on the 19th August to test my body’s ability to take the Telengana torture. I came back bruised and limping and it took me two days to recover, but, I came back with the confidence that I will complete the run. I have been trying to keep my daughter motivated through her ups and downs of practice runs so that she does not get overawed by the event and most importantly enjoys her first Half Marathon. I enlisted the help of my friend Sudha Mani from Chennai to chaperone my daughter in her arangetram.

Came Friday and the low feeling which normally accompanies leaving behind Biscuit (my four year old Labrador to the uninitiated) gripped me. My wife delayed the packing till the last so that he does not get agitated. Wife packed enough food stuff for the train and to feed the family at Hyderabad. She collected garden produce for gifts to relatives and friends there. All this required a big shoulder (if I did not want to break my Gandhian principle of engaging a porter). I knew I was not fully fit when I huffed and I puffed with the bags and was short tempered with my wife for over-packing as usual. I must admit that at the end of the trip we came back with empty plastic containers and spoons only to show for the journey. Having run on the day of departure also, I lied down to rest the moment the train arrived and we occupied our berths. We had got lower berths and the two upper berths were vacant. TTE obliged by checking our tickets promptly and leaving us to rest. Even the high volume of chatter in the adjoining bay and high decibel telephonic conversation could not wake me.  We started out nonstop eating (carb-loading abused to the hilt).

The barren landscape on both sides of the track in contrast to the smiling Sunflower patches of last year made for depressing viewing. We had an early dinner (when you are eating continuously, dinner is only opening of the nominated dinner packets) of Idlis and peanut chutney followed by bananas. Sufficient stock of bread, chapattis and bananas left gave the satisfaction of ‘all is well’. Just as it happens in P.G. Wodehouse’s novels (my hero whom I unconsciously ape) when we think ‘all is well’ fate stands at the corner with a cosh to remind us of our infallibility. My steno, who normally sends a message to update me on room number in the rest house and vehicle, called me at 9.30PM. He dropped a bombshell that rest house has not been allotted and that my batch-mate who had promised me the amenities was not traceable. The heavy dinner induced sleep vanished and I got the mobile buzzing. I was in deep trouble, my wife having overheard the conversation and got the lay of the land, glowered at me in the dark. I know wives and daughter’s expectation are because they think ‘Their Hubby/Daddy Strongest’. I had invited my daughter and brother to join me the day before so we could have a family get-together before cracking the AHM. My brother was sacrificing the Army comforts he would be entitled to so as to be with his brother. I immediately called him and asked him to make some alternate arrangement; he was driving from Chandigarh to Delhi to take a flight to Hyderabad the next day. I called up all the people of Railways who I know to see if they could help. Finally, through the resourcefulness of my Deputy who has recently come from Hyderabad, I managed to get a room in a training institute there. It helped that the Director there was my batchmate. The train was late in the morning and was virtually crawling from Vikarabad onwards and I could imagine the frustration my daughter must be having every time she took this train on the way back from Hubli after visiting us. We crossed a cemetery, interestingly, the boundary walls of the cemetery were advertising birth stones. My wife actually observed it and the mockery was not lost on us. We reached Begumpet station a full 45 minutes late and thankfully a vehicle was there to receive us. We crossed a big ditch right outside the Town Planning department mocking it.

The room was very comfortable and we had a good breakfast of Bread, Jam and Green Tea. Chapattis were claimed by Rats in the train and wife had to settle for bread instead. My colleague’s brother and junior of my service was the Deputy Director in the Institute and he got us another room and sent his personal vehicle and driver Krishna to ferry us around. If you get Krishna to drive you around, can one ask for more! As is our usual routine, we started with a visit to the local Vinayak temple (he is my favourite!), I am sure he must have stepped in the previous day night looking at the speed at which the dark clouds facing our accommodation and transport were sorted out. After a visit to my wife’s cousin, we reached the bus stop to pick up our daughter (she was coming from the college after negotiating a bus break down enroute) to go for the bib collection.

Having left the directions to the venue of bib collection in the room, we had a little Hyderabad-darshan in locating the venue. The event was very well organized and it became a virtual Kumbh-mela where people were enthusiastically meeting each other and comparing Facebook and Dailymile profile pictures to the individual in flesh and blood. Good natured ribbing and exaggeration of each other’s running prowess was rampant. I was thankful that the event of running does not have weight categories, otherwise, the praise session surely would have added a few pounds to me. I could visualize how it would have been in the days of yore (without DM and FB) when sadhus met in melas and compared each others spiritual progress. It was overwhelming for me to see so many runners under one roof coming as I do from remote Hubli with virtually no company for running. The dreaded meeting with Bib-Bala, with who some war of words was there recently. Surprisingly, all was well and he met us very enthusiastically. His sister who had come for volunteering for the event was a very interesting personality and we had an interesting discussion on the subject that the people around famous persons like Gandhi do not get the deserved credit for bearing with their idiosyncrasies, my wife was shaking her head vigorously to my amusement.

The arrangements in the hall were very comfortable and each runner was dealt efficiently, I came to understand that people manning the desk were runners themselves. The venue was so comfortable that runners stayed on for the get-together after finishing their work of bib-collection so much so the space got congested for runners coming for bib collection later. There were polite announcements for people to clear out after getting their bibs. I had the honour of being served by Mr. Richard, who I met at the finish line the next day. My daughter and I took photographs in front of Fauza Singh’s poster(exhorting all to ‘Reach for the Sky’), what better place for a debutant than a 100 year old veteran. May her running career be as long and interesting! The interaction with Piyush bhai and Bhupendrasingh was nice. Piyush was egging me to join his effort to go for sub 4 next day. I told him that I respect the killer course of Hyderabad (Vishwas’ DNF of last year and his poignant blog thereafter is fresh in my mind). I told him that my aim would be finish the run and timing will be secondary.
Brother joined us at my wife’s cousin’s place for lunch. He had a minor hiccup in getting the room. We encountered a very heavy shower enroute from the Radisson Hotel, I was praying for a rainy day for the marathon day. We left for the rest house for an early dinner and sleep. We purchased some bread and Nandini low fat milk for dinner. Bananas and home grown Chiku’s were to bring up the rear. We set down to dinner at 7 PM to give enough time for the digestive system so that all clear could be sounded latest by 4AM the next day. My brother and I, the early batch of FM took one room and Wife gave company to our daughter for settling the butterflies in her tummy before her first HM. We didn’t get sleep and talked late into the night. Mosquitoes seemed to take a liking for the new brand of blood from Hubli and Chandigarh. Institute’s hospitality usually includes a Mosquito repellant, but, our room was declared a War-zone for the Mosquitoes. My brother scared me by showing me the gradients of the next day’s run on his laptop. Mosquito’s made sure that we woke up a full one hour before the planned wake up time of 2AM. I settled for an extended spinning session on my Charkha and I had a good discussion on diet, salt intake and Hydration with my kid brother and now a reputed Doctor. I seem to have arrived at practices in line with the generally accepted medical practices of the present times. We hydrated each his brand of poison, me my green tea and he his Gatorade supplemented water. We had two slices of bread and bananas for energy reserves. I stayed away from milk, and my brother did the honours with the left over sachet.

The driver arrived promptly at 4AM, I went to my wife’s room to get the bib strapped on to my shorts (As I have mentioned in accounts of my earlier runs, this act is like the Rajput wives of yore, putting a vermillion mark on the forehead and handing over the weapon of war to their warrior husband before going out to battle). There was a little discussion on how to strap on the timing chip to my foot with no shoes to tie them too. I tied the chip with an elastic band on my right ankle. We left at 4:15 after a snap of my brother and self in battle regalia. I left Sudha Mani’s mobile number with my wife and daughter and passed on my daughter’s bib number to Sudha. Gave last minute pep talk to Shweta to enjoy the run and forget about timing. I cautioned her about overdoing in the beginning. I always become Oxygen deficient due to short breaths due to excitement before the run. I consciously tried to breathe long and hard. I was chattering a lot to hide my excitement and fears.

We reached the start point at 04:35 AM. Even after participating in so many events, the sight of a start point and so many runners never fails to excite me. Met Bobby (my barefoot and bare top compatriot), he in his methodical way had already confirmed with the organizers that they would not object to our doing the Gandhi’s Madurai act during the Marathon. Being the first timed event after going barefoot, we compared notes on how we had attached the timing chip to our feet. We also had a discussion on what we do with the top after the Top-less act. I always tie it around my waist like we used to tie our sweaters in the games period in school. Met Coach Pani Sir, and got his blessings and a warm hug. I recognized lot of people from their Facebook and Dailymile profile pictures and earlier meetings, but, did not approach them for fear of disturbing their pre-race exercises. Race jockies were building up for the approaching start time. Running guru, Rahul Vergheese wowed the audience with 43 marathon credentials. Found an isolated place to empty my tank. Copied a few stretching exercises being taught by Pani Sir to Neera Katwal to keep myself busy. Finally the countdown began and mercifully the Chief Guest was on time unlike last year when we had a 20 minute late start. That and the relentless Sun had a big role in the higher number of casualties in the last year’s AHM. Met Piyush bhai and Bhupendrasingh, my comrades-in- feet for the proposed Dandi Sabarmati run.

We all started off as a long snake with loud shouts of joy to circumambulate the tank bund to approach the first of the flyovers, the Khairatabad one. I was at my chirpy best, talking to Piyush, Bhupendra and not to forget Avnish who would have a great partnership in this run with me. Piyush was running at his stoic best and broke ahead of me. A volunteer was riding along giving advice on conserving energy my running in a group behind a leader as the Geese do. He was also giving us the average speed and was a pleasure to be with. I told him of the pedigree of Piyush and Bhupendra that they would not need such tips considering the mileage and varied terrains under their belt. The weather was humid and I was warming up under my top earlier than my usual 3K back home. I did Gandhi’s Madurai act after the first KM much to the cheering of Avnish. I also met one youngster who was also barefoot and topless. Maybe, it was not such a revolutionary act as I feared. Avnish repeatedly wanted us to catch up with Piyush and Bhupendra who were a few 100 meters ahead of us. I told him I will run to my pace and would not try to catch up with anyone. My brother drew alongside me and we had a good chat. He kept telling me of the landmarks we were crossing as we ran. He has stayed here for more than three years in one of his earlier postings. The policemen were enthusiastically cheering the runners. Morning walkers were looking on and some broke into a run looking at us. Barefoot, Khadi gear and topless meant I was attracting lot of stares. I kept calling out to fellow runners to cheer each other and called out every passing Kilometer mark.

Now a brief diversion to narrate my journey into Khadi gear. I have been trying to assimilate my other passion of spinning and Gandhi into my running. I was also concerned at the hefty sums I used to pay for running shorts (organizers of various races are kind enough in giving us a top after every run!) I collaborated with my local tailor and showed him my running shorts and top to get a design for khadi shorts and top. I copied the head gear of Jagdish Damania. The head gear was a square piece of cloth with tags at each of the four corners. The side which falls on the neck protects it from sun burn. About the top and short I was cautioned about the drag they would become after they get wet in a rain and also the abrasions they may cause. I used the gear for my daily run and found it to be convenient. When my brother came down to Hubli last, he mentioned one day about how he ran top-less and how exhilarating it was. I also used to meet a middle aged man of my vintage who also used to be top less while returning from his morning run. That gave me the courage to go top less. Initially I used to go top less after going about 3 K from my house (warm up was one reason and avoiding known people another!), but, when I found I was accepted, I ran back top less even inside my colony. Running top less makes heat transfer and ventilation very efficient for most part of the body and avoids abrasive contact with cloth. The head gear absorbs sweat and ensures that it does not run into the eyes in addition to protecting from Sun and rain on the bald pate of mine. I also found that my diffidence in switching over to Khadi or going top less was more in my mind than any real concerns of decency. I started meeting people in the eye and won the battle in my heart and mind.

Now that I have got into my digression mode, let me also introduce a character, ‘Kareena’ who has been part of my running lore on Dailymile. I introduced this name for the clouds in one of my daily long run as I set thinking about the teasing behavior of the clouds and they finally sometimes obliging me with some rain. I was reminded of the popular lemonade Ad where actress Kareena used to tease and make a budding cricketer practice hard before rewarding him with lemonade at the end of the session.

Avnish kept ribbing me asking me to invoke Kareena considering the humid weather. Even in the previous AHM, the day before the race was rainy and wet while the race day was sunny and dry. I invoked Kareena with all fervor and after a few Km’s detected some small rain drops. Rains really made running easy and the cool ground was also easier on the barefoot. With increasing rain, runners were feeling the discomfort of the wet shoes. I saw Bobby overtaking us after the Khairatabad flyover, he was running in his zone and I did not get a response from him. Barring a few stretches where there were pebbles on the road, the road was very nice for running barefoot. I cannot but borrow the phrase used by Barefoot Ted who said of Mumbai road’s that they were like a baby’s bum. My term for the smooth roads has been closer home example used by Laloo for Bihar roads of Hema Malini’s cheeks.

My brother and Avnish were running alongside and my brother having exhausted topics for discussion had put on music. I ran looking at the buildings and a few early morning walkers. We were eating up the kilometers and mercifully the rain and absence of Sun were kind to the runners. Good thing about my run was that I did not walk any of the flyovers till then and did not stop for water. I kept thinking about how my daughter would be faring in her first HM. Rain came in a downpour and running became more enjoyable. Kids on the road connected with the sheer joy on our faces while running in the rain. Before long the dreaded ISB flyover arrived. I told my running partners, I think Avnish and my brother that this was the last bastion and if we came off it unscathed the HM was for our asking. The pebbles on the road started bothering me and I climbed on the sidewalk where the designer tiles had protrusions which gave my feet a free acupressure treatment. When the protrusions got painful I jumped back to the road. We were now looking for the entrance to the Hyderabad University campus. I was dreading the dirt stretch and what it would do to my bare feet. Thanks for the rain, the roads inside the campus were swept clean. The crowd was very sparse, I came to know later that we were competing for their affections and cheer with India seniors pummeling NZ cricket team into submission and India Juniors beating traditional rivals Aussies in India’s religion cricket. Few faithfuls who had come to cheer us included the Gurkha guards (who were staying back despite the threats to them) who came out of their shelter to greet you without minding their dress getting drenched. I and Avnish stopped for a water break where I drank one full bottle of Gatorade and drenched my head in cold water to cool down the CPU. The stretch for about a kilometer after KM37 was bad on the soles. It was now like home stretch and Avnish had surged ahead (after asking me if he should wait for me). I told him to go ahead and followed his shining pate, soon we were exiting the HU campus. I remember telling the students at the gate that I would see them next year.

Now I was on the stretch which would take me to the entrance to the Gachi Bowli stadium. These last few kilometers went in a breeze and Avnish was maintaining a constant gap with me. Finally the entrance to the stadium was visible, it was as welcome as the Swarga Vaasal( gates to the heaven, as the Perumal temple’s entrance are called on Vaikuntha Ekadasi). The cheering crowds bring out the reserve energy we never knew existed in each one of us. I took time to tell a few of  the runners who were walking their last stretch to run the last 50-100m as that would give such a good feeling. As I was entering the last 200m, doing a Usain Bolt, I heard my daughter’s voice calling me. It was such a coincidence, my daughter finishing her HM as I was my FM. We ran a few meters hand in hand, I proudly announcing my daughter to the crowd and fellow runners. I could not resist taking off in the last hundred meters to the finish line. My wife was late, I think she had under-estimated my daughter’s and my pace or the Hyderabad traffic. She was not there to see me and my daughter finishing. My brother finished a few minutes after me. My brother-in-law had clocked a creditable 2:38 for his maiden HM. Many people came to cheer us and I basked in the wonderful feeling even forgetting to catch a drink or stretch my limbs. My wife came and we had family photographs. A bunch of school kids had come to popularize tree planting and asked me to plant two saplings. I was given two saplings, but, the guard refused me to take it inside the stadium. I went back and surrendered it to the kid saying that I would collect it when I finally go after refreshments. It was nice to find the girl holding on to the sapling for me and giving it to me when I came out after more than half an hour. The tragedy of this sapling was that I finally forgot it on the rack in my compartment on my return train journey.

As for timing, with Kareena softening the ravages of ageing by one more year, I finished in 4:14 against 4:12 of last year. A nice experience seeing two in the family getting hooked on to the sport! Onward to the Dandi run...