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!

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