Monday, 20 February 2012

Limping back to base…

It was 11:00 by the time we realized that Bala Express would not take my daughter to Chennai, the daunting task of reaching Chennai after getting back to Pondicherry before the Hyderabad Express chugged off brought out the schisms in the family. The blue blood in my wife’s veins cried Taxi and my Gandhian (nee stingy) blood signaled a battle royal. My daughter in whose honour the battle was being fought was at her diplomatic self (she has always been her diplomatic self since she was eight and was asked to choose whom she liked, papa or mama by her would be school principal in Delhi). Coffee-Toffee continued all the way from Auroville to Pondicherry. I put my foot down and said a day’s class at her college was not worth a Taxi fare to Chennai. I marshaled all the Gods I had visited Manakula Vinayakar, ruling diety of Basilica church in my holy cause. We packed in a hurry, paid off the rest house caretaker (we couldn’t say a proper goodbye, next time) and rushed to catch an auto, we had found out from the caretaker that it was 50 bucks to bus-stand from station. I rushed to an ATM to recoup my lean purse. The auto driver was a model of virtues and took his time following all traffic rules while we needed a Schumacher or at least a Rush-hour Jackie Chan. It was 12:35 when we got on to an East Coast Road bus leaving Pondicherry. We got seats in separate places. The best part was that the fare was Rs. 255/- for the three of us, I decided to lean back and enjoy the journey. I did not exchange glances with my wife who must surely have been looking daggers drawn. After a little while a request to my young neighbour let happen the first family reunion, my daughter got to the seat next to me. I worked on her with my photo offerings of the marathon. We got talking. I now had the numbers on my side. The bus was terribly crowded with mothers carrying children, but, I had to put paid to chivalry owing to battered legs from the marathon. I explained to the lady next to me and asked her to let the child sit between me and my daughter. I wanted to do as many good deeds as possible to win the race to Hyderabad Express. The ride was nice with the sea breeze cooling us and picturesque backwaters for scenery. We kept looking at our watches like we were running the Olympic race. The driver got the hint; we crossed the previous bus which had regretted missing at the bus-stand. Before we could celebrate, the driver decided to give some business to his roadside shop friend. I shed all inhibition and took a biological break amidst the reeking roadside. I was not the first offender and would not be the last (why can’t we build toilets on wayside stops?). I gave my wife a water bottle (premium of Rs. 5/- over the printed fare of Rs. 15). I only hoped the water was potable (I had no hopes of it being mineral, which it boldly claimed to be). I ventured to ask the conductor as soon as the bus left the break-point, as to what time it would make it to Tiruvanmiyur (it was 02:3 PM). He said another one hour to one and a half. I crossed my uncrossed toes! The lady got down after taking the sleeping child from us, thanking us profusely. Rest of the journey was watching the scenery and time on the mobile between snatches of conversation with daughter. I could see signs of civilization and with it the traffic on the road picked up, it was a brake on the driver’s rush into town. We reached the stop at 03:30 hrs. Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost, this match will go to the last overs! My wife interjected what about an auto from here to station. I wanted to win fair and square, luckily the bus came out of depot and stopped next to us and we got comfortable seats. The bus fare was Rs. 15/- per head. Amma means business; I remember having traveled this route during probation below Rs. 2/- per ticket. The bus entered Chennai station at 04:00 PM. That left us enough time for packing lunch for her from Saravana but not enough for a bath at MMC rest house. We put her on the train and came back to the rest-house and crashed. I did not gloat and was humble in my victory. Money saved is more than money earned!
We had lunch and next it was 10PM, almost time for putting my wife on the train to Bangalore. There was some amount of expected coldness as between rivals after a closely fought match!
I had my entire morning free and I wanted to make the most of it. My plan, walk on Marina, visit to Parthsarathy temple, breakfast at Ratna café, visit RVNL to see my old friend Pradeep, Kapaleeswar temple (balance Shaivism with Vaishnavism), pick up my brand of Cheap Green Tea and finally meet Bala to pick up the book ‘Born to Run’ and settle accounts of the stay at Pondy. Tall order would you say between 06:30AM and train at 01:30PM.
I walked to Marina and took photos of Kannagi statue (symbol of chastity and bone of contention between present Amma and her predecessor) and Labour Statue. Watched the sunrise, but, it was not as alluring as the one back home in Hubli. Walked to Parthasarathy temple and had a good darshan followed by wonderful Idli sambar at Ratna café. The bearers know if you are a pro if you are able to absorb the first installment of copious sambar in the mashed idlis before he says Jack Robinson. He pours another mug of sambar which again gets absorbed by the idli as the first few rushes of water in Indira Canal in the deserts of Rajasthan. The dish was filling and the taste of Sambar heavenly, I did not want to spoil it with coffee. There were many foreigners who knew their south Indian and traffic policemen who paid for their fare. With the tip the royal breakfast cost me Rs. 30/-. I took a bus to Chennai Central. Pradeep rang back to say that I will be picked up by the driver before he goes to pick him up. I waited till 10AM, when I rang him, he said that the rest-house was out of the way and that he had sent the vehicle after reaching office. I asked him to call off the car as the MRTS would be faster, he wanted to impress his ex-colleague and senior. I got to know Immanuel, his driver, and got educated about Catholics and Protestants when I asked him if he had visited Pondy church. We both agreed that Christ was a great inspiration and what was good for Gandhi was good enough for me. I asked him to drop me near Mylapore Tank so that I can cover the temple and my tea shop on foot. I would have created a mionor riot if I had gone on the official steed on Kutchery street. The tea shop chap, Mohammed remembered me and made my day. The Kapaleeswar temple was severe and austere as compared to the grandiosity of the Parthasarathy temple of the morning. I reached office at 11:15 AM, Pradeep insisted on feeding me something, I settled for an Aavin flavored milk, which took long in coming. I still had to collect the book from Bala and settle account with him. I was cutting it too fine. This did not stop me from expostulating with Pradeep and his finance officer as to how converting food in the body as glycogen was a mechanism of old times when availability of food was uncertain. Now that food is within opening of fridge door, the insulin was actually vestigial and diabetics were ahead on evolutionary chain. This did not stop him from force feeding me 200 ml of flavored milk. I escaped with one, while his plan seemed to be to try all flavors on me. We Indians show our affection and respect by assaulting the stomach of the adored. I rang up Bala to ask if he can send the book through someone, he did one better and said would meet me in 10 minutes at the Sai Baba temple nearby. I said my hurried farewell at RVNL and refusing his offer of vehicle for return trip ran to the Sai baba temple. I got the book and had a minor scuffle in thrusting the money which I thought was due to him. Explanations would have to be on phone, I also felt I was a bit abrupt in matters monetary. He advised me to take the MRTS as that would be the fastest way to get to Chennai Central. I took a little while finding the entrance to the MRTS station at Mylai (so much for our signages). I rushed to the SM’s room after ascertaining from Pradeep that our Metal Passes were valid on MRTS (that saved me precious minutes of buying ticket). The SM did not take me seriously when I said I was an FA&CAO ( I was dressed in khadi shirt, bathroom slippers), believed me when I offered to show him my talisman (my silver metal pass). He said there was a train at 12:40 which should reach Park at 12:55. He called his staff and exhibited me as his model of simplicity and put me on train which came at the appointed hour and minute. I reached the rest-house, threw in the unpacked stuff, tea purchased, book borrowed and hurriedly rushed to the train. Having reached the platform, I realized that I had not planned for lunch. I stopped at the Jan Aahar outlet for my pack of Poori-Bhaji, he looked down on me and informed me that it was out of stock. I remembered to advise my junior and Accounts officer in charge of Chennai division about how he should always inspect availability of Janata Khana and drinking water in station taps for poor FA&CAO’s among other needy passengers. I shed my Gandhism and settled for two packs of Brittania cakes and Nutri-choice biscuits to last me till the train reached Bangalore.
I had a middle seat in second sitting class (my kinship with Gandhi and way of saving pennies when traveling on my own) coach D4. A lady with a child and her well to do hand bag in that order were sprawled on the three seater berth. She told me that she was waitlisted as that should satisfy me. I told her I cannot do anything about it as I was not the TTE and that I don’t mind her and the child sitting as long as I was allowed to seat myself. There was no sign of TTE, and I settled for my one day of incognito travel to sample the customer’s view point of Railway service. The lady’s husband came and said that the TTE would come and help after he checked all the seats and settled, the child kept eating junk food and mis-behaving with parents. I tried to act stern and said that I would call the TTE, as if, the TTE would come for this duty when he could not come for the allotted work of checking tickets. People kept getting on as the train stopped at stations enroute, within no time the compartment looked like the Hitler’s cattle car ferrying its cargo to death. I should not be harsh on Hitler, he would have appeared humane compared to our treatment of the passengers. The rightful claimants to the berths next to me came at Katpadi and the couple had to get up and it fell on the lady to carry the child. I offered to let the child sit between me and the window seat lady (it would also let the lady breathe easy!). The child refused. All the while the crying of a girl child and her mother’s frustrations turning into beatings further down were a contrast to the way these parents were handling their child. The mother made a game of putting her down when she got tired of carrying her and did a countdown of four hours of journey left. My legs were still not strong enough to let asset my chivalry. When this lucky child asked why the other child was crying, I told her that she was lucky to have a good set of parents and that she should not disrespect them. I don’t know how much of it the child understood. There were passengers with Kingfisher airlines ticket tag still on their baggage. Still there was no sign of the TTE. The frustrated and angry lady kept beating her child as if daring co-passengers to intervene. I was tempted to go snatch the child, I was afraid that she would throw her out of the running train.
The FA&CAO in me asserted himself, I did not mind blowing my cover. I called up my SAO/T and asked him to check tickets of a few passengers when the de-boarded at Bangalore Cantt. or Bangalore City. My idea was to nail the TTE for being negligent in his duties. The train stopped just outside Bangarpet and a team of squad rushed into the compartment to check tickets. They were very rude to passengers and the TTE was the most zealous in the checking now to impress the inspectors. I felt sorry for the passengers. All of them had waitlisted tickets, I did not disclose my identity to the checking squad, but, messaged SAO/T to ask his team to be polite to passengers. I felt we Railways were as much to blame as the passengers. Shortly, the train entered Krishnarajapuram, the lucky child’s stop. I told the lady that she was a brave and good other and she blushed. The child beater got down at Bangalore Cantt, the child had survived another day’s ordeal. The train reached City station bang on 20:05 hrs. leaving me enough time to catch the earlier train to Hubli. Having bought the ticket for the 21:55 train, I had to spen the intervening time at the station. The time was not enough to make a dash to my f-in-law’s place for a quick dinner. I decided to inspect the Jan-Aahar outlet and the II class waiting hall at PF 1. The man at the counter of Jan-Aahar was very courteous when asked about availability of Janata Khana and lamented that people don’t patronize this fare. The food was hot and well packed in casserole. I blessed him and told him my designation if that would make the blessing sweeter. I spotted a purified clean water taps outside the II class waiting hall. I filled up my bottle and went in and settled to have my food. The Poori and Bhaji was fresh and hot but since the Bhaji was liquid, I had trouble in eating without a spoon, I suppose, you can’t have everything. After this starter I walked across to Kamat’s to have a regular meal for the missed lunch. I could call up DRM Bangalore after two days only to compliment him for the passenger friendly services for the common man. I had a chattering gang of Rajasthani youngsters for company on the Jodhpur Express. I told the leader in chaste Hindi that I have office to attend next day otherwise his exploits were the stuff bed time stories should be made up of. He got the message, shut up and switched off lights. The train reached on time the next day and I went home and claimed Biscuit from his foster parents. A very eventful outing and a memorable Marathon wouldn’t you all say.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

It runs in the family now!

When I booked for marathon at Auroville it was redemption time. I could not do it last year after registering as I was called away to a training trip to France then. I had written to organizers at Auroville while trying for refund that when Paris beckons you with your wife on Valentines Day with passage paid by the Government, what chance does a French colony or spiritualism stand. Result I lost Rs. 400/- of booking amount but did not grudge knowing that the well meaning souls in Auroville would have spent it well on fellow runners. My brother who registered last year to run with me gave me glowing account of the hospitality at this Marathon. This year he could not run because of an injury.
This year I registered as soon as bookings opened and my daughter did not require much coaxing in graduating from cheer leader for father to a 10K runner. Final cherry on the cake was both of us convincing my wife to give it a go and she also registered. Just before the event my wife was called to be by her father’s bedside as he was recuperating from a heart surgery. My father-in-law encouraged her to go for it. I went from Hubli, picked her up and we reached Pondicherry on Saturday at 10:30 AM. Bib Bala was kind enough to chauffer my daughter in his car from Chennai to Pondy. Story would not be complete for my Biscuit (I must repeat again for new readers, he is my 4 year old Lab) lovers, if I do not say about the parting from him. Having been dropped by me in the morning he started expecting me in the evening, I was in a dilemma whether to get him home for a few hours and drop him back again, I decided that the joy of reunion was not worth the parting again. I asked Mathew to feed him and tell me, I would have gone if he did not eat. He ate his food and adjusted with Mathew’s kids for the night and I was saved the ordeal. If only Auroville had an event for the Dogs, then the family reunion would have been complete!
A few lines are not out of place about our Garib Rath journey from Bangalore to Pondicherry. A distance of little over 450 KM took almost 12 hours. I am sure a few Tarahumaara runners of our ilk could have given the train a run for its money. The rath did not have any Garib on it unless you count yours truly as one. The middle berth on the side which caused such a furore initially was still there. But, it runs only once a week and precious time of the passenger (generally tourist) must be wasted in the journey. The train had long and seemingly unwanted stops enroute. We felt it more because we decided to pay and go as the journey was too short to sacrifice one precious Railway Pass for it. Bed-roll were being handed over on payment of Rs. 25/-, it would be interesting to see how many Garib passengers opt for this service (my wife ordered one, I managed with my bed sheet), this would be good feedback for making this optional on all overnight trains. Most people may opt to carry their linen for reasons of economy and hygiene. Railways anyway are struggling to maintain this service with this price line. I get the same feeling with the rich food served on Rajdhani/Shatabdi. I am sure most people would not eat that kind of menu and at that frequency on train, but, are force fed at their expense! The overeating particularly the lunch when crossing the Vidarbha region with children scouring the waste basket is criminal. As for myself, the humble poori bhaji (Mamtadi’s Janta khana) would be ideal for journeys, that’s what my mother packed for me on my journeys. Incidentally a fiat to all hotels that they should have a separate section to mandatorily sell Rs. 10/- poori-bhaji as part of their CSR could easily give the Right to Food.
Got into the rest house and after a restorative one hour nap made a visit the grand church opposite the station. Wife agreed to stand vigil for Bala’s party with the precious consignment of our daughter. The caretaker told us that the tap water was not safe to drink and that they spend about Rs. 30/- a day for buying canned water. Is Montek-Manmohan listening, I don’t know if this was factored in our Rs. 32/- budget ceiling for the poor? I trusted myself to the potency of boiling and the goodness of green tea. I definitely could not afford bottled water for the copious quantities of green tea I consume! I am fine to this day (one week after the Pondy visit).
The Saturday mass was on, the church was very grand from inside and very crowded. The priest was conducting the service in Tamil, I could follow bits of the sermon. The CCTV was telecasting the service live, I saw it on TV on a local channel after getting back to my room also. I knelt on the pew (knees hurt) and prayed in the same way as I do with all gods (carrying on a heart to heart conversation and unburdening myself of whatever that is which was bothering me then, having a good trip and a marathon). Bala and family arrived and I was called back from prayer, I got blessings and the Christian equivalent of Prasad, the priest individually was placing a piece of some kind of bread on the tongue of each faithful with a young assistant holding a plate to catch if any piece fell. We settled for a nice South Indian unlimited Thali at Hotel Jayaram, few of our contingent opted for the North Indian meal (Krishna, Bala’s son defected to the lure of the North). The waiters served hot piping food and I overate with the confidence of being able to burn anything in the run the next day. Krishna, having been given exaggerated accounts of my running exploits, sat next to me and hung on to every word. When he wanted to know if I would finish the marathon next day in 3 hour 30 minutes (his father’s dream maybe!), I gave him a good lecture on how I did not bother with the outcome and only aimed at doing my best and enjoying the process. I hope he got the message in the larger context of his life too!
Bala and his family went in the vehicle to his place of stay. He promised to meet us at the Aurobindo ashram gate at 15:30 to proceed to Auroville to listen to Barefoot Ted talk and collect our running kits. Self, wife and daughter walked the street to reach the Ashram in hot sun on a full stomach. Daughter felt at home in her shorts, I overdressed in my khadi kurta-payjama in the midst of lot of ashramites on cycles in their shorts. We saw the ashram and bought a few books and memorabilia from the attached shop. Bala arrived at the appointed hour and we walked back to his place along the road parallel to the sea to drop my wife at his place. Self, daughter, Bala and Krishna were to go for the talk and collection of bibs. Bala was unstoppable after he reached the venue and found his friends. He lives on chatter and company. He makes everyone feel great and comes out as sincere in his praise, I think, that his the secret of his popularity.
Barefoot Ted was impressive in his bald tome and commanding voice (I hadn’t read the book, ‘Born to Run’ till then), considering the crowd, the venue was shifted from an indoor auditorium to outdoors. He took a liking to my khadi attire and Bala praised me (not the complete truth) that I got the dress made of the cotton I pick on my run. I corrected the account to that I buy pressed cotton for spinning on Gandhi’s charkha, and the journey from picked cotton to pressed cotton, yarn to cloth and stitching are still outsourced. He was impressed nevertheless, being a Gandhian opens doors! The talk on running bare foot was very well reasoned, I for one was tempted to run barefoot the next day itself. He cautioned that graduating to barefoot running require training. Anand, his associate and a Mumbai runner announced a barefoot marathon on December 16th later this year and I pledged myself to running it. I have something to practice for and I don’t have to replace my running shoes when they wear out (My shoes have logged about 2500K, at least 5 times the distance recommended for change of shoes, I think these recommendations are more for the financial health of the shoe manufacturers than the well being of runners feet). Anand also told me later after the marathon that simple canvass shoes of old are the next best to barefoot running and that these expensive shoes are in themselves a cause of so many running injuries. I don’t double check when I get such advice which is easy on my pocket (I never could reconcile my Gandhian ambitions with the costly shoes!).

Bala stayed back to meet friends and passed us off to a Railway friend of his (Amit from IRTS, presently with CONCOR). Amit is presently posted in Ahmedabad and is an avid marathoner. He was staying with his brother at JIPMER campus. He got dropped there and sent the vehicle to drop us in Pondicherry. Bala and his son returned at 9PM after finishing their meal, we, his family and ours waited in Rest house for them to come for going to dinner. His mobile running out of charge was an acceptable reason to assuage the Kolaveri of Bala’s wife and daughter. We ended up having hot idlis at a restaurant ‘Surguru’. The incident of one diner walking off without paying the bill and the waiter (our table wala) left to pay the damages was saddening. Surely the person didn’t look like he could not afford the modest rates of the Hotel. From our experience of eating out at Pondicherry, I can say that the restaurants are good and reasonably priced, a rarity in tourist places (hope some of them set up shop in Goa). It was almost 11 PM by the time we got to bed. Bala and I decided to meet outside his guesthouse at 02:45AM (our start was at 5 Am) for the pickup bus the next day. My wife and daughter were to take a later bus for their 06:45 start of the 10K run. I have never has such a hectic pre-race night and the rest time looked grossly inadequate. I hit the pillow with lot of foreboding. I had a dreamless sleep and woke up to alarm at 1:30 for the spinning and hydration session (luckily this rest-house had a big ante-room). I did not bother to wake up my wife or daughter till I was ready to leave. I attached my bib to the race T-shirt myself (another first) and took my own snap in front of the full length mirror (good innovation) and woke my wife to lock the door and promised her to tell her their pickup time after I reached the venue.
The morning was crisp and muggy. The municipal sanitation workers were already busy working off the sins of the revelers of the previous day. Found out from them that they were contract workers and kept timings of 10PM to 06AM with no weekly off (our caretaker staff in rest-house were also contract workers). It’s an unfair world, either the employees become permanent to exploit the employer or they remain contract labour and get exploited. Where is the golden mean! I could a noisy group of youngsters, were they our runner group. The plume of smoke hinted otherwise. They were a bunch of youngsters out at this ungodly hour to serenade lady nicotine. I gave them an unsolicited advice to quit the habit. The youngster after hearing my story of quit (never get an ex-smoker on that topic!) stubbed out his cigarette and declared that he quit. I told him it would take a bigger addiction like running to quit smaller vices like smoking and drinking. I reached the appointed spot and could see Bala coming from the other side. We talked till the bus arrived at 03:10AM. The driver did not take the spot payment of Rs. 75/- I wanted to offload to him. I may have to carry it through the race and pay to the organizers later. He didn’t tick the passengers against his paid list. TRUST seems to be bottom line of this event. We took the back seats, Bala get introducing me to his acquaintances. The occupants were unusually silent, maybe, catching up on sleep! But, Bala can get an Egyptian mummy talking! I tried to rouse the runners to a cheer of Hip-Hip-Hurray before getting down.
Met an old admirer and compatriot runner from Bangalore International Midnight Marathon. His wife was planning a half marathon and was undecided whether to go ahead or take a change of event to 10K because of her back playing up. Finally she ran the half. I met her twice on the course and she looked ok. Group warm up was organized followed by graded starting positions based on individuals pace liking. No grading by organizer like in Mumbai marathon(another trust factor). I met a lot of Dailymilers, Yogeesh, Avnish and Sandeep to name a few. I didn’t know Yogeesh was carrying a tooth ache. The first lap was a cautious one with the aim being to avoid tripping in the dark. The course to be fair to the organizers was not as bad as the Bangalore Ultra one. I was pulled in two directions on whether to put in maximum mileage before the Sun came out with vengeance of be cautious. The Sun came out tentatively in the second lap (the race was 3 laps of 14K each) and I remember asking a helpful volunteer whether he could switch off the heat button and leave only the light button on the Sun. I really believed the volunteers could get anything done; they were so helpful and devoted. The Power of Love! The ultimate act was reserved for the third lap in the scorching Sun when one middle aged lady volunteer asked me if she could pour cold water on my head. I welcomed the idea and was overwhelmed when she not only poured cold water but also rubbed the head while pouring the water. It was as if the Mahamastakabhisheka was being performed to the Gomateshwar. With the CPU cooled down by a few degrees the nagging headache subsided and I could make some speed. The incident of the little girl with her parents sitting outside her home with a plateful of 5-Star chocolate pieces is too good not to tell. When I took a piece, she asked me to take a full bar. When I congratulated the parents for the wonderful self control of their daughter within striking distance of so many chocolates, she opened her mouth wide to show her mouth full of a chocolate piece. It was like the Bhoolok darshan to Yashomati maiyya in Lord Krishna’s mouth full of earth!
The scenery was enchanting, there were so many photo-ops and my skill and archaic mobile camera were the only hindrance to breathtaking pictures. I managed to get a few snaps.
I could not find any volunteer noting down the laps done or the bib numbers crossing each point. The race was entirely run on trust; this is the best way and can be the USP of Auroville Marathon. They should not spoil it by allowing the intrusion of technology and sponsors, which will take away the charm. I met barefoot Ted’s Indian colleague of the previous day, Anand on the course. He had a nice way of stuffing the canvas shoes on the back to be used in hostile terrain. I later got his mobile number and have been able to establish contact with Ted by email. I think I will be able to go barefoot sooner than later!
I crossed a lot of people in the last lap; I seemed to be taking the heat and the course better. I finished strongly, but cannot say was entirely satisfied with the timing of 4 hours 30 mts. My wife and daughter had done very creditably in their event and they were now hooked for good. I shall no longer feel guilt in dragging them along to all race venues. Krishna made his disappointment of my poor timing clear. He expected me to come in much earlier. I was able to satisfy him by showing him the wonderful snaps on my mobile.
The finishers’ medal was very thoughtful and priceless like the crown of olive leaves the gold medalist got at Athens Olympic. The quality of T-shirt is very good and now my regular jogging wear. The crowning glory was of course the sumptuous breakfast of Pongal, Sambar and Uddin Vade. For the people with minor vices, there was piping hot coffee. The runners were being guided to the tent where masseurs were offering free massage to the tired body. My shy nature and ticklish body kept me from going to the tent. I will probably give it a try in my next essay at Auroville. Krishna regaled Barefoot Ted with a rendering of Hanuman-Chalisa which Ted recorded on his mobile. I must not forget to mention that Ted’s favorite animal is Monkey and he had taken a nom-de-plume of Monkey in the book ‘Born to Run’. One more incident to build on the underlying theme of ‘Trust’, I had to thrust the transport cost for all the three of us on one Mr. Balaji of Chennai runners and a part of the organizing team at Auroville by force. He asked me, I remember, if I trusted him enough. I remember to have told him that Trust should be the middle name of the Auroville Marathon!
We were expecting Bala to drop our daughter off at Chennai for her train at 04:45PM, but, not having brought her stuff (most importantly, tickets) to Auroville, we were forced to rush by the last bus to Pondicherry to try and make it to Chennai. Justice cannot be done to the story of the chase as a sub-plot in this, it deserves a full blog, maybe, sometime later. In all this I should not forget to mention the brilliant timing by Bala in his marathon effort. Cheers!

All in all we had a very satisfying outing. Not being able to spend time on the beach was the only regret of me and my daughter. We would make a trip separately for that!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Of communal harmony and related stuff

The following is my account of the midnight run on 6th February, 2012. 
I was straining at my leash to hit the road after one day of abstinence. Had I not refused the services of Mathew’s wife in deference to her religious calling of Sunday, I could have still hit the road yesterday. The day was not bad, I and Biscuit had a quiet Sunday. We refused the temptation offered by the God of Cricket to addict us again by his flattery to deceive; we were proved wise in the end. Biscuit had a long leisurely bath followed by a roll in the lawn; he had his food in the lawn while I caught up on the backlog of my blogging. By evening withdrawal symptoms of not having run overtook me and I started looking for a fix. The situation was complicated in that I had to be at the Railway station to receive my new boss at 05:30AM the next day. I rang up Mathew’s wife (Nirmala, getting very boring referring to her as her husband’s wife, let me introduce you to her) and announced that the red carpet be laid for Biku as he would arrive after an early dinner. I pampered him with one more walk and force fed him, he obliged with the Pedigree but he left behind some milk. As usual the lure of the car ride proved more than the pang of separation from me. He arrived to a warm and enthusiastic welcome to Nirmala’s elder son. Biku did not bother to look back at me and joined his friend in his game with his friends. I departed promising her that I would pick up Biku next day after office.
Working backward to allow for three and half hour for the run, one hour for hydration before and half an hour after for bath and change of dress and latest time to leave for station at 04:45AM, gave me a time of wakeup call as 11:45PM. I forced myself to sleep at 08:00PM, not enough sleep, I know. I will have to sleep walk through office tomorrow. I got up as planned and set about consuming green tea sitting in front of the desktop. I was elated to find that fellow runner; Roshni Rai (veteran of 75K with a twisted knee at Bangalore Ultra) had invited me for a Long run at Pedong, Darjeeling in May 2012. I gladly accepted and invited myself over to be her guest along with my wife and daughter. I waited for the clock to turn 12:00 midnight to shut down the machine and go down to change into my running gear. I was out of the house at 12:15 AM. I went and woke up the outhouse resident to tell him about my absence and that I would lock the gate from outside and be back at 04:00AM latest. I told him not to tell my wife or her agent Nirmala if they called.
I got the guard at the gate to open the gate; he came out rubbing his eyes cursing me for having woken him up. The street was well lit and the lighting was even better than it usually is at 5 AM. It was not very cold and there was a soothing breeze. Mother Theresa looking down beatifically and for a change looked relieved that the spotlights were on Prophet Mohd. on his birthday. The small place of worship was bedecked and well lit, as if the prophet had gone to sleep in his birthday dress. I took a snap of the place and saying my prayers started my run. The run upto the 3K mark was uneventful but for a few dogs who while returning from their late night revelry tried to take me on. I gave them the silent treatment, and if they were very insistent, stopped and dared them to attack me. I reached KM 3 to the safety of darkness. I picked up a conversation with the two policemen at the barricades for checking trucks; I asked them if they will be there when I returned at 03:00AM. They asked me why this night run and I said it was a vow for better police public relations. I need not mention that the humour was lost on the men in uniform. Thankfully so, you do not joke with men in uniform on night duty unless you have the guts to face the resultant Kolaveri!
The city of Hubli has recently hosted the Hindu Shakti Sangama where a conference of Hindu religious leaders was held to strengthen the religion. The city had been painted red with saffron flags atop every vehicle- public or private as an attendant PR exercise. Rather than popularizing or engendering Hindu religion among the population in general, it seemed to embarrass the subtler of the Hindu religion’s followers like me. As a natural reaction green flags propped on building tops and vehicles of the threatened coreligionists. It is to the credit of the Police that no untoward incident happened to threten the communal peace and harmony. I cannot but become nostalgic about Swami Vivekanda’s speech on the conference of religions where he endeared himself and our religion in the comity of nations and religions. The recent controversies on the teaching of Bhagvad Gita or teaching Suryanamaskar in schools leave a bad taste and give a discomforting feeling.
In this context the way Hijab (head dress) has seamlessly morphed into the modern headscarves worn by girls of all religions is a case in point. The security from leering eyes and protection from the elements which the scarf provides has endeared it to girls of all religions. I am also reminded of the furore it created when writer Kamala Das started wearing Burqa and claimed that she found it a good protective gear for women. It does not require any religious persuasion for the girls to take it up. I would have suggested to my daughter to wear it as a precaution when she has to visit our Capital shame of a National capital. Similarly, the march of the Salwar -Kameez over the traditional half-saris in the south is an example of convenience winning over religious persuasion. Easy availability of religious literature in all languages and medium and the religious precepts and practices discussed freely and frankly would demystify and endear the best of each of the religion to form a melting pot of civilization as opposed to the theories of clash of civilization now abounding.
I tried taking a few photographs of the familiar sights beyond KM3, it turned out on returning that nothing came except the moon and the headlights of approaching trucks. The photography sessions only gave me breaks without any evidentiary proof of the run.  Few people on two-wheelers crossed me in a hurry, I don’t know if they thought me an apparition. Some even speeded on seeing me wave at them. I pre-empted the truck drivers coming from the opposite direction from running over me by waving at them wildly in advance. While some took the bother of moving to the middle of the road, others took pleasure in getting me off the road.
The bleating of sheep and barking of Kalappa’s dog showed that mission nourish-earth was in full swing still. Few tractors had parked for the night outside the Sai-baba temple and the drivers had retired for the night under the tree. The tree with the empty nests, which prompted me to take a photograph yesterday to remind me of the feeling at home after our daughter left us for college, was standing proud and tall against the moon. I could not make out if the nests were still empty (what if the birds wards were day scholars returning home to roost in the night)?
I finally was able to see the water collection point bereft of any crowd, the puddle of water left of the previous day’s dispensing made the place look naked and uncomfortable. Every time I see this point I am only reminded of the contrast of Waterful India (where lawns have their fill and cars take a copious bath) and the Waterless Bharat where even school kids have to contribute their mite to collect the precious liquid for their family’s survival). This is what Gandhi must have meant when he said nature has enough for everyone’s need and not enough even for one man’s greed. Can India and Bharat share with empathy?
Mohd. Sheikh’s Masjid true to its size had celebrated the birthday in a more mature and subdued manner. Soft music was still playing and I took a snap of the place. I crossed the Singh’s Dhaba at the Petrol pump after KM 10, the place receives a mention today because I noticed something I have been missing in my run during the day. The name in Hindi say’s Sing’s daba (maybe this Singh made guests sing for their supper). I may have missed this in the bustle of trucks and the customary waves which I have to exchange during my day runs.
I was not able to locate any cotton bolls even in the bright moonlight. Maybe, they must be hiding for warmth and did not want me to get distracted among them and get late for my work. I was reminded of the story of the young boy throwing back starfish stranded behind on the sand after waves receded in the context of my trying to liken collecting cotton bolls to rescuing street children through o individual effort. A grown up (?) man seems to have told the boy on the beach that it would not make any difference to the situation of the starfish by throwing them back one by one, the reply of the boy was very innocent and inspiring, he went ahead threw back one more stranded starfish and told the old man that he surely made a difference to the starfish which he just threw back. While there is a ground for organized effort for rescuing and rehabilitating street children, there is no reason to despair at the enormity of the task and give up individual effort.
The sheep bleating near KM 14 indicated that Jenaab’s family were only working nights and using the day for Jenaab’s education. Was Jenaab sleeping alone at home with mother while father did the night duty with the sheep? I aimed the mobile and shot as I had done at the Kalappa’s family back at KM7. I reached the mid-point in one hour 32 minutes despite many photo breaks. My first water break was at the midpoint only.
On my return journey, I had the moon facing me and it gave me lot of comfort running to him and not having to turn my head to see if he was still following me. The breeze ensured that I had not sweated much. Not many drivers hooted me though a few dipped their lights in acknowledgement. The run was getting boring with darkness shrouding the natural beauty and the road stretching endlessly. I took a snap of the Raghavendra point (where the road branches out into the street leading to his and Shahid’s house), the street was well lit with double fluorescent lamps to each pole.
Just before the climb at KM9, where I had taken a walking break, I found a vehicle with two bullocks in the rear. I took a photograph to pair it with the one of pigs transported for life a few days back. The animals united in their forced sacrifice for feeding the greed of men saddened me. The driver was nonchalantly relieving himself against a tree, maybe, it was just another consignment to be delivered for him. Outside the Saibaba temple I found that the two truck drivers had woken up and were warming themselves against a fire. I took a break and took a snap of them against the fire. One of them inspected my camera work and clucked in disappointment. I didn’t feel like defending myself with the plea of a archaic camera. It was good enough for me as I was not planning to enter it in any photography competition. It will adorn my mobile as wallpaper for some days till another later snap overtook it in popularity. The policemen were nowhere in sight, maybe, they were in a celebratory mood having celebrated the Prophet’s birthday without any untoward incident.
The lady of the Navratan Jewellers Ad smiled on unabashedly, but, I now see her as a cheerleader welcoming me in the fag end of my run without seeing her as a woman of commerce selling wares to me. The Devi’s temple at KM2 was up and about and devotional music was playing with lights on. I took a photograph for religious parity.
I reached the colony gates well in time to allow me a bath and change before going to the Station. I would be sleep walking the whole day tomorrow. The run took me 3 hours and 19 minutes.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Day-9, of my friend Gandhi

My wife rushed to Bangalore to be at her father’s side as he underwent coronary by-pass surgery the previous day. I therefore had to babysit Biscuit in addition to my usual duty of taking him for walks, since yesterday evening. My man Friday, Mathew promised to come at 05:30AM to babysit him till I came back from my morning run. He came only ay 06:00 AM and I hit the road at 06:15AM. There was the pressure also at work as the head of finance at our office was to superannuate today. I decided to do a Pani Sir on my run today with no antics. Sehwag deciding to curtail his natural game and play like Dravid in the interest of match situation (Can I hear snickers?).
My thoughts keep going back to how Gandhi and his ideals grew on me over the years, maybe, a hangover of the 2 minute silence of the previous day on his martyrdom day. My initial impressions of Gandhi as a young boy were of his being naïve, not cheating when given an opportunity to (Ket(t)le spelling for the Inspector of Schools). He seemed an unlikely hero, with bad handwriting, smoking and drinking on the sly. He, however, seemed to have lot in common with my middle class upbringing in our need to conform to rise up the ladder in society. Seen in this backdrop, I could relate to his attempts at learning western music, wearing western clothes etc. I had faced similar dilemma when as a small town bumpkin I landed at the exalted gates of IIT-Kanpur. I also went through the addictions of smoking and drinking. Here was one hero who looked human with all its frailties and still became a Mahatma revered by the world at large.

My favourite pastime has been reading the roll of honour of statesmen who said absolutely first class stuff about him whenever I visit Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati. After reading his autobiography and biographical account by Louis Fischer, I was struck by the simplicity of his approach; being steadfast in the correctness of the means adopted and his having implicit faith in the belief that results would automatically take care of themselves. Only two mantras, truth and honesty and courage to stick to them irrespective of the consequences, absolutely soul stirring stuff!  There is an account about him where the author, Louis Fischer says that, Gandhi lets you see his mind working so that you are let into the deductions through which he arrives at his truth, with no dogmatic attachment to the ultimate result. He to me has been a do-it-yourself self improvement guide. I have found it very easy to follow him, with some minor changes for this age and time. I don’t clean toilets; I take garbage to dump it at the dustbin myself instead. I have made groundnuts my preferred source of proteins. I promised once in his visitor book at Sabarmati ashram after buying a spinning wheel that next time I would go there wearing a self spun khadi dress. The act of learning spinning, finding a weaver and the works taught me dignity of labour and more importantly has satisfied my urge for creativity. Whenever I go and sit there at his ashram at Sabarmati, and report compliance of earlier vow, I feel a better person inside and more at peace with myself. His method of step by step improvement with honesty and sincerity gives hope for every individual for self realization. Others who go in the name of heroes, either real life reel life or mythological, don’t admit to any frailties, mere mortal like me given any hope of redemption.

I have come to know that he used to walk long distances and I have taken to running instead. My fetish for donating blood voluntarily every quarter is my answer to his fasting and acts of self-sacrifice for fellow humans. Innate stinginess of mine became glorified as Gandhian simplicity. Somehow, my progress in various facets of life seem to add up to some or the other act or practice of Gandhiji. To deconstruct Gandhi the way I have adopted him in my life makes him more a friend than the larger than life image we seemed to have made of him, to be dusted and sung to on October 2nd and 30th January every year. I think the Hindi movie, ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’, has done a lot to popularize his ideals than all the literature on him.

Blogging, a new affliction of mine, also connects to Gandhi for me. The act becomes a touchstone for me for having the courage to report honestly account of the previous day’s thought process while running. Being the hero of one’s account there is serious temptation to spice up the good deeds and hide the darker side. Over time there would be improvement in this aspect also, readers may find the account boring without added flavours! On the other hand blogging has also encouraged me towards better behavior and thoughts, the touchstone being is it fit to be shared among friends. Even if contrived, such good behavior would grow over time, I hope. Am I getting boring?

I turned my thoughts from Gandhi on seeing Simon approaching with his friend. He was in the act of talking his walk. I told him that he was neither getting nature’s splendor nor was he practicing singing. Hope he did not mind. After crossing Saibaba temple, I forced my thoughts on my FA&CAO who was to retire from service today. I had earlier been threatened by the Officers Association and my Deputy that I would be one of the speakers. I must claim one more fallibility in common with my friend Gandhi, I simply tie myself into knots if I have to speak anything general. I am able to hold forth in technical discussions across the table. I have been feeling more comfortable after a few training programmes with supportive groups and the staff at Hubli have helped me exorcise some of the demons. I still needed to organize my thoughts about what to speak.

Immersed in my thoughts I approached the KM9 mark, I dreaded meeting the Moulvi Mohd. Sheikh. What would I tell him for having missed the appointment for prayer on Sunday last? I found him sitting outside the mosque on my return and I told him about my father-in-laws sudden illness and my wife having been called away to be by his side (this was partially true, f-in-law illness and wife leaving happening on Monday only). I am a Gandhi in work-in-progress only. In actual fact more mundane matters of my laziness and buying of provisions had kept us from the divine appointment.

On my way back I met Anuj’s school mates, I asked them if they knew Anuj. Without the class he was studying in they told me they could not help me. Hope I see him tomorrow. Rest of the run was uneventful. The run was completed in 3 hours 2 minutes.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Day-12, of cotton picking and related stuff

I have been on a guilt trip questioning my addiction to running even if it meant leaving Biscuit behind with people he is not comfortable with, the fact that he had not eaten solids for the whole day rankled. Yesterday night I had slept with a vow to only run if Biscuit let’s me go whole-heartedly. Woke up at the usual time, did only a little bit of spinning (rationing till I am able to go to the Ashram and replenish my cotton stocks). Took Biscuit for his morning constitutional, he was his usual self and seemed to want to prolong the walk. He had a nice rolling session on the greens (don’t tell the golf club members), it seemed to cool him and also brush the top of the green, his helping back to the kids who sweep the greens before our ‘Tigers’ arrive for golfing. Returned and set Biscuit his bowl of favourite food and milk and started coaxing him, all along eyeing the clock. He did not get down from side on the sofa, sensing that if he fed himself, he would be marched off to the Crèche. After sometime hunger took precedence over principle and he deigned to lap up the milk, till refusing solids! I did what I have seen Mathew doing to him earlier when Biscuit refused food. I took the food in the palm of my hand and kept it near his mouth; he tentatively took in a few pieces and spat some down. Eureka!  He could be fed even if it would take a little longer. Bit by bit he finished the whole bowl and I felt satiated.
I also did another Psychoanalysis of Biku’s behavior of refusing to go to Mathew’s place. I realized that on other times when we left him there, he could see our packed bags and realized that he has to be with Mathew till we are out, whereas, now seeing me in my running gear while dropping him off did not go well with him, maybe! I decided to drop him in my morning walk clothes only.
The love of a ride in the car overrode his dislike for being separated from me and he happily got into the car. I saw one schoolboy with a backpack walking/running towards the St. Andrews school on the way to Mathew’s place. I slowed the Car, lowered the window and asked him if he wanted a lift. He was grateful, I asked if he was afraid of Dogs, to my and Biscuit’s pleasure he said ‘NO’. He got into the car and informed us, after Biscuit had given him a quick nose-over, that he had a 4-year old German shepherd at home (Biscuit does not discriminate among breeds). He got down at the school, where a crowd of parents and assorted types of vehicles had come to see off their kids for a picnic. We said bye to Louis and promised to meet again, Biscuit had made one more friend. Let’s see if softens him up to get off at Mathew’s place without demur. True to form, our man refused to get down on reaching his crèche, but his resistance today was of lower intensity. I got down and handed him over to his matron for day-care. I looked at my mobile, it was 06:00AM, and I could start my run at a not so late hour for office. I parked the car at office so that I could go straight to Mathew’s place after office to pick up Biscuit.
I set off at 06:10AM after going home, changing into my running gear and stuffing a bag in pocket for shopping on the way back. I had a good excuse for no warm up, I hate them anyway!
During the initial part of the run, my mind was pre-occupied on the issue of Biku’s behaviour and travails of a single parent. Biku has become much undisciplined in the last few days, I have been hesitating to discipline him, I wonder how single parents manage to keep their child disciplined. I guess you require the two poles to blow hot and blow cold and alternately support the child when the other parent has blown hot! I gave money to the dairy shop and asked him to reserve 2 litres of toned milk which I would collect on my way back. I was feeling lighter and safer after having parted with my cash, now I can sweat freely. I crossed the municipal dump outside Madhura colony where piglets were sleeping warmly piled over each other, having called a temporary truce to the fights of previous day and having reserved the right to fight again after daylight if need be. An early riser was dumping the household waste neatly tied up in plastic bags. The mother sow was patiently but with alacrity supervising the delivery as if making sure the provisions for the day has been correctly delivered.
Near the HDMC limit, I could hear sounds of loud plodding and heavy breathing behind me, instinctively, I increased my pace. Frequently some morning joggers break into a run for a few 100 meters on seeing me run. I took this to be one such case, but, the panting grew heavier and nearer. I turned back and asked him if wanted to accompany me on the run. He smiled and joined me. It’s nice to get company on the run to break the monotony of the run. The readers also are fed some fresh matter instead of the usual nature stuff the next day. My running mate for the day was Beerappa, a police/forest guard hopeful. Talisman for entry to those high offices was to run 2K in a timing of 10 minutes. He asked me the usual questions about running after judging my credentials as a runner myself. He accompanied me for another kilometer and dropped back after promising to meet me again.
Though I had resolved not to stop for cotton picking on the way due to the tight timeline and also that my pocket was bulging with the SCMM carry bag in it. But, some of the beauties freshly blown away from the mother plants are too tempting! I stopped and took it off the ground; it required a minor tussle with the grass/twig which had held the cotton boll to ransom. I prised it apart carefully so as not to hurt it and stuffed it in my pocket. You know it’s like peanuts with cotton picking off the highway it’s difficult to stop after one. I continued my rescue humanitarian assistance with the vested interest of some day learning to gin and press (with the help of Dr. Google of course!) and be able to convert this to yarn. That set me thinking, what if it were as easy to take into our fold the street children as it would be to convert these abandoned cotton bolls to cloth to be worn close to our heart (am I wearing my heart on my sleeve!). On a more mundane level, seeing more cotton flying around than what was left on the plants to be picked, it seems to be a case for Agri-scientists to research ways of avoiding this pre harvest wastage. This surely must be seriously denting the economics of the cotton farming (have I found the cause of cotton farmers distress?). A simple mesh like contraption, like the one Kalappa uses to pen his sheep, around the field at maturing time could be a possible solution!
All this cotton rambling had seen me to the doorsteps of the mosque before KM9. I talked to Shri. Mohd. Sheikh and asked for an appointment for the next day and inquired if it’s ok to enter the mosque in shorts. He agreed to all my shortcomings, this was very sporting of him. Promising to meet him the next day, I chugged along to see if my friends from the Islamic school are out on their holiday. No luck there, the Sun however was in no mood to relent as he caught me a full 2K away from our usual rendezvous at KM 11. Pockets bulging with cotton, shopping bag it were going to be a tough ask negotiating the Sun’s glare for the entire stretch. The Sun’s warmth now was welcome though considering the chilly breeze flowing. The lone eagle met me at KM12 after a long gap of absence. It held its pose, flapping in the air effortlessly tantalizing me to get my camera from my cotton laden pocket. It flew away just in time to beat my mobile camera. It would have taken the dexterity of Quick Gun Murugan and a faster camera to have had any hope of catching my friend eagle in the act.
I could hear squealing of pigs as I approached the canal near my sunflower patch. Was this a case of transporting pigs the opposite of cattle transporting for slaughter so vehemently opposed by the Governments in some states. I found as feared pigs stacked like sardines in two berths on the back of a LCV. The driver of the vehicle with able assistance from his assistant was giving the reluctant prisoners their last bath. Are Governments or broad minded and kind hearted Hindus listening, will they step in to rescue the poor pigs. This would be the right response to politics over animal slaughter and my friend Gandhi would definitely approve. Maybe, the uniting of animal slaughter protesters would produce another Mangal Pandey, readers would excuse my reminding people who would otherwise have repented for forgetting history, he was the revolutionary leader of first Indian war of independence in 1857 who united soldiers of both faiths over fat being used in the new Enfield bullets.
There was no sign of Benkiya or Badaria, they seemed to have done quick work of nursing their allotted piece of mother earth and returned their master to his school.Reaching the original midway point, I made a decision; I could not be expected to run the last 1 KM from Reliance fresh with provisions and groceries. I decided to extend the run by 500m so that the mandated 30K would end at the Reliance Fresh. Brilliant, you would say. But, how does one turn after 500m (remember I am armed with only a mobile, no Garmin), I went till the culvert after 1K mark and finding a private vehicle parked with the family scattered for relieving themselves. I located the driver, who I was informed knew passable Hindi, and asked him to honk twice when he crossed KM 15 if it was more than 500m away from our place. He looked surprised at the request but agreed to oblige. I was relieved when I heard 2 honks after some time. I resumed by return journey.
On my return journey I met an old man warming himself to the heat from the Sun, seated on logs of wood under a tree. I asked him if I could take a photo of his, before he could respond, kids playing near him told me to go ahead. They however, refused to share the frame with him. His old man’s name was Turkappa and he asked if I came from Hubli and if I was Kannada, I answered yes to the former and no to the latter. A young man in his lungi looking down from first floor of a house nearby asked if I was from the God’s own country. I said no, but, felt like a celebrity with at least two warring neighboring states of my mother state claiming a piece of me as their own. I strongly recommend running for wider acceptance. The old man let go of my hand taking longer than Krishna’s handshake with Hina, only after I promised to meet him again same time, same place. Down the road before Raghavendra point (where road takes off to his house from NH-218), I found an equally old lady if not older than Turkappa, carrying a load of firewood over her head. Recognising the photo-op, I asked her without much ado if she would mind posing for a snap. She gave me a stern look reminiscent of an English royal frowning on such vulgar display. I retreated severely castigated, learning a lesson that not everybody can be wooed by offering to take a photograph. Maybe, I would have to work on her longer to win her confidence.
Contrary to the style of Benkiya and Badariya style of nourishment, Kalappa believed in longer care. He had now moved to the Sai baba side of the highway. What a divine existence for Kalappa’s charges, God by the side and an opportunity to give back to Mother Nature her strength and all naturally without any fuss. I was quite late to have any hope of meeting my school friends; I had to make do with the waves from late pair of gossiping prospective NIS students of Oxford school. The Navratan Ad lady greeted me with a sly smile that she had me on the mat today (figuratively, I mean) what with the combined effect of the blazing Sun and the extra KM of run. I passed her with my head bowed waiting for better times in the coming days when I could be equal to her.
I reached Reliance Fresh in 3 hours and 29 minutes, pleasantly surprised to find Mohammed, the guy who helps unload fresh vegetables from the cold storage vehicle, recognizing me from his daily waves on the highway, one more friend!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Why this Kolaveri Da…

I started my blog of 31st run and have got stuck. I want to leapfrog and deliver today’s piece and then go back for arrears later. Today was day 11 of my 30K run on the trot, fellow Dailymile peers have started asking, ‘Why this…’. It is now being followed like the Anna Hazare’s fast was!

My wife has rushed to Bangalore to be by her father as he underwent coronary by-pass surgery last Monday. Biscuit and I have been temporarily orphaned. I can now appreciate the travails of a single parent. Biscuit senses this and clings on to me constantly. My morning jog is under severe threat. After his morning walk, I had planned to drop him at Mathew’s (My manfriday, Biku’s first love) place till evening when I would pick him up after office for the evening walk and the night. It all looked perfect. Oh yes!, I forgot to tell, Mathew has pushed off for 10 days to be part of the sports contingent and take care of their culinary needs (A sports team like the Army marches on its stomach!). Biscuit would not let go off me when I landed with him at Mathew’s place, he didn’t want to settle for Mathew’s wife. The combined begging by the two son’s of Mathew, his grandmother and Chikku (Mathew’s newly acquired pup of indeterminate age and Biku’s sparring partner otherwise) could not get him off me. I can’t say I didn’t feel good in my heart of hearts. I got down with him and before he could realize sped off leaving him with Mathew’s wife (I felt like I did when I dropped my daughter off at her playschool in her initial week). I later confirmed that he has settled and has not refused food (he is on liquid diet in protest, only milk). I am sure we will make up on our evening walk. I don’t know how ladies work in office after leaving their kids behind in crèche? We should all be allowed to work from home! I even thought of giving my morning jog a miss, what would my wife say if she comes to know? But considering that this separation is likely to be longer, I let my logical brain take over from my emotional heart.

I trudged off for the run at 05:50AM desultorily. Star spangled sky despite being at its starry best could not lift my heart. I also started thinking why I have become fanatical about this 30K routine. Deep down, it has become my 3 hours of communion with me and a reassurance that all is well. Today, I could not be bothered about timing, even though a very slow run could eat into my office time (not to forget breakfast and lunch to be managed at home before leaving for office). Today I was running slowly but there were no aches or pains. I did not take my usual biological break at KM3 (today my first bio-break was at KM 13). Yesterday I had found Simon (Carnatic musician of our own Railway workshop) talking his morning walk with another gentleman. I had given him an unsolicited advice to not spoil his communion with nature by gossiping and that this would make his music suffer also! Today he gave me a cheery wave, he was alone and expected praise for obedience. After crossing me I could hear him having burst out into a song. ALL IS WELL!

Anup seemed to have just vanished after having accompanied on run on the Republic Day. Hope it’s only the call of duty. Kalappa waved to me from his latest station just off highway across the temple (I had met him one day, leading a sheep, when I was returning from my run. He was pleased to know that I remembered his name) His, yet to be befriended, dog was not to be seen. I did the lonely straight stretch from KM7 to 9 in a hurry to beat the sun to the sunrise point. I have stopped calling Raghavendra so that he does not feel compelled to join before he is fully recovered. I was pleasantly surprised to find Shaheed and his younger brother outside the masjid, they were donning their customary cap and indicated that they had just finished their morning prayers. I took a snap of them on my mobile to humour his younger brother. I told Shaheed that he can join me in the run after Raghavendra gets fit.

I had beaten the sun comfortably to the sunrise point; I then stood on the culvert for a few minutes to give a conquering look in the general direction of the sunrise. A bunch of field hands used to wave me every day. Today they crossed me at KM 7. I found them, rising from their work, and pointing to me and talking agitatedly among themselves, they had recognized me. I asked them if I could take their picture and they obliged. While I was engaged in PR, Sun has sneaked in on me. I waited for it to catch its breath and took a snap of the sunrise. As I crossed the road and eased into a run again, an old man who was walking told me to run easy after hearing that I was coming from Hubli and I plan to hit KM15. One more potential friend (I am becoming a serious competition to the Rajesh Khanna character in Anand looking for his Murari Lal)! I resisted temptation to start picking cotton on my outward run, the snowy white balls clinging to grass or anything else they can hang on to, pleaded to be rescued from the gusts of wind and dust released by speeding trucks on the highway. I will see what I can do on my return. I reached the half way mark; this part of the run had taken me one hour and 40 minutes (I can hear Pani Sir shaking his head). I needed to make up on my way back if Railway finances had to have any hope of being looked after today. I took a few snaps and my first water break (now are you pleased Pani, Sir!). I have been secretly trying to postpone my first break till the half way mark. Return journey, however, will need more breaks surely!

I tried to combine sipping water, walking and picking a few cotton bolls. This picking stranded cotton is addictive (like peanuts) the first one gets you going and then you can’t stop! I set into my return jog. Two HR registration (Northern state of Haryana) trucks were standing near the canal and the young drivers seemed eager to talk (Can you refuse two Murari Lal’s in one go?) They were mighty pleased when I told them that our neighbor when we were in Jaipur was a Haryanvi family. It set me thinking, can these drivers who drive across the length and breadth of country be not used as extension workers for spreading good social messages. While they could take back good practice of treating the girl child better, they could pass on their hard working traits to their southern brethren. Each village could have homes where they could rest and intermingle. Is our Culture ministry listening?

I increased the stops for cotton picking near my friend Mohan’s field hoping to see him and get a feedback on Ginning and Pressing factory in Hubli. No luck today too, I have not been able to see him after my meeting him a few days back. The climb of KM13-12 was tiring today, the Sun taking it out on my back. I took a snap of the ‘Aavarum Poo’ plant in full glory before taking my second bio-break at the KM11 (sunrise point). I resisted drinking a few sips of water. The children had finished their Arabic classes and there were no greeting cheers today when I breasted KM 10. The commotion at the community water point between KM9-8 was busy as usual. I stopped before KM 8 to take a snap of the chilli field, the reds having almost taken over the greens. Rest of the run was punctuated by stops ostensibly for picking cotton (or was I tired, the Sun was not helping, he didn’t like being beaten to the sunrise point today also!).

After KM 3 where the road to Sanskar school branches off I could 3 youngsters waiting to talk to me. Anuj (of ‘Go Uncle’ fame) agitatedly asked me my full name, he was unhappy that he could not locate me on Facebook the last whole week. He should be able to find me today. Let me try and surprise him by locating him and sending him a friend request before he gets back from school. I took a snap of Anuj with his three classmates.

I normally feel like commenting on the people training at the Gym’s I cross at KM 3-2, but, by the time I reach this part of the run, the blog looks so long that it gets edited. Today let me get it out. The people on treadmill looking out from glass walls from first floor of the Gym look like headless chickens flaying their legs. I feel good to be on the road, despite the traffic.

I finished the run in 3 hours and 20 minutes today. Let’s see if I can post day-12!!!