Friday, 23 October 2015

Secularism Indian style

                Biscuit is behaving like an unpredictable lover by his ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’ for the morning walk. Yours truly is playing a diffident suitor feigning detachment (to avoid disappointment at rejection!) each day when I went to call him for a morning walk. The strike rate has been a healthy two on three.
                Elsewhere reports of runner friends romancing the rain in their runs has been adding salt to the scuffed soles. The day before last, being the Police commemoration day, saw my route lined up with gaily caparisoned policemen. Police vehicles were screaming through empty roads using the flashing light on top more for atmospherics than exigency.
                I have been meaning to report on the Parle G lady for some time now. She after commencing the feeding operations, delegates the rough and tumble of handling the hungry mob of dogs to her minion. Her routine is a short jog after which she stops at various flowering shrubs/trees and pins the flowers to her hair bun. She has had to compete with the devout that are out in droves to make up with the Devi for the bad report card they are due for the way her representatives have been treated in the last one year.
                The Parle G lady fully decorated resembles the lady with a headful of flowers mocking Lucky to ‘Get Well Soon’ in the movie Lage Raho Munnabhai. I have been maintaining a distance from the lady after the initial skirmish on the dietary prescription for her charge!
                Yesterday when I was negotiating the TTK bridge, two bikes with triple riders screamed to a slow pace next to me across the divider. I was struck by the similarity in the method of celebrating festivals by the Gen-Next! The lack of helmet and triple riding united the Eid and Vijayadashami celebrants! Courting danger seems to be the new drug of the younger lot. They seem to be absolutely secular when it comes to celebrating festivals on the road.
                Talking of secularism, I was tickled when I saw a vehicle with the front bedecked with garlands and vermillion and the back window glass proclaiming ‘Jesus saves’. Clearly, to be able to drive safely in today’s traffic, multiple gods intervention is required for ensuring safety!
                The boys seemed to be in a mood to rag the half naked old man. I decided to play along. When they asked about my running so early in the morning, I countered with their riding at such an ungodly hour. Their invitation for ‘Aaja meri gaadi mein baith ja’ was responded to with an invitation for a ‘Run pe charcha’. One of the pillion riders got frustrated and started mouthing what should have been bad words, by lack of knowledge beyond elementary Tamil saved me the blushes and deepend his anger. When they decided to part after the nerd of the gang tried his English on me to say that “I look like a skeleton” to which I responded with ‘You have enough for both of us’ (not my original, Bapu wouldn’t mind his repartee on the King of England being used on Machiavelli’s successor in India!). What had given me the courage to sledge them was that my friend, the security guard on night duty at Saravana Bhawan was not far for me to make a dash and seek help!
                After the kids departed, I calmly took stock and really felt good. I reasoned that had I been wearing dry fit and sporting earphones, the kids may not have engaged with me. I remembered similar, if not as rough, encounters earlier after which I have got some die hard young fans in other places on my running route.
If this was not enough, the young cyclist who has decided to make me his ‘Uncle’, again greeted me as if to confirm my vintage beyond any doubt. The only saving grace was a bunch of kids on the pavement near the War memorial, one of whom made my day by calling out ‘Bruce Lee’. Age like beauty seems to lie in the eyes of the beholder!
If yesterday it was ‘Mann ki Baat’ with youngsters, today a bunch of more senior vintage took me on. I generally wave to people as I cross them to let friendliness overtake any combative streak in the group. The group I am referring to was involved in a serious discussion and from the animated faces, the subject could only have been politics. The leader was being listened to in rapt attention. In the midst of this national duty, my wave brought on a protective streak in him. He addressed me in a manner reserved by the elite for the working class (my Gandhi attire seems to have its effect!) and asked me to run on his side of the road. Already late for my run, I reacted dismissively, telling him to mind his business and if he was really interested in my welfare wait for my return to settle the matter of which side was safer!
                The leader clearly felt insulted and wanted to be educated immediately. I stopped, went back to him and in chaste Tamil gave him a lecture on camber of the road and small stones getting accumulated to his side of the road. That seemed to satisfy him, but, his supplementary question on why I did not go for shoes, I had to politely excuse myself and tell him that ‘Barefoot over Shod running’ will require philosophical discussion and this was neither the time nor the place. Luckily for me a guy in a big car had stopped on the other side of the divider and from his intentions it was clear that he would bat for me.
                The last two days turned out to be quite sunny and by the time I was near Gandhi statue after two laps and still 10K short of the marathon (around 7 AM), Gandhiji offered me the light meter and I gleefully accepted cutting short my run. The policeman outside the commissioner’s office did ask me in the tone of ‘Lock kar diya jaye’ of Big B in ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ if I was done for the day.  I think I have exceeded my word limit for the day, must remember to talk about the race with the young lady tomorrow!

                As I go to press, weather gods have opened up the skies and it has poured today. I am hoping that the good weather continues and I get a full marathon in the rain on the next two days.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Aaja meri gaadi mein baith ja!

It is tricky to decide on a headline when you have a few days experience to share when even a day’s run throws up multiple options. Having said that I would go with this heading for today.
Weather has turned for the better in the last few days. While the goodness has not translated into what can call for a proper run in the rain like in Hubli, but, it has been promising ‘Ache Din’. Biscuit, my seven year old Labrador for those who still do not know him, decides on a day to day basis if he should come for the morning walk or give it a pass. As a result, my times of starting the run have widely varied. I used to think that he is innocent and would not show the human trait of pretensions, but, I get the feeling that he pretends to be sleeping when he does not want to come for the walk. So much for their light sleeping and smelling skills!
I left for the run today at 4:10 AM, and yes, Biscuit took his walk today. The walk was not a lover’s stroll, but, a more business like one. He did his bit and wanted to be back in his bed, the barking commoners who came out from under the parked cars to engage him in a dialogue were simply ignored. The chai pe charcha has to wait for the evening show!
The road relaying work just outside the colony till I hit the Uttamar Gandhi salai has been going at a snail’s pace.  My soles have now got used to loose tarred pebbles, hot mix and scruffed up surfaces coming up at different places. What used to be sniggers from the workers initially has now turned into a mutual respect. Knowing the language has also had its advantages.
The trio of Ganapati, Jesus and the Holy Koran were awash in bright light. The statue of Mother Vailankanni, was however not taking chances. She had opted for a silk Sari and a  marigold garland to claim kinship with goddess Durga during navratri.
These few days the cows have been acting pricy probably because of their new found primacy in the animal kingdom. I have had the ignominy of returning with my humble offering of the banana peels unaccepted many times. I should not be too harsh, they may just be avoiding crowds or must have got scared of the proposed cattle traps on the Marina. A bunch of their humbler cousins, the buffaloes were grazing opposite the Venkateswara temple. They seemed to be petitioning Gopala for including them in the protected species category. I did my bit and fed their leader the banana peels.
We runners celebrate age and I personally do not mind when kids call me grandpa, but, a few days back a cyclist wished me ‘Good morning Uncle’ and set me thinking. The famous dialogue of the aunt of the serial ‘Hum Paanch’ (of Vidya Balan fame!) ‘Auntie mat kaho naa’ came to my lips!
While people at the bus stand or guards usually do not talk to me, but, turn to their neighbour and perpetuate some version of press report about my regularity or distance, yesterday a voice spoke out loudly from the dark foyer of the City center. Another friend to the kitty! The guard outside the War memorial has become a regular friend and I get a salute every day. Today waiting to cross the signal at the war memorial round about a MTC bus stopped while crossing me. The driver peeped out and asked me to hop on, which prompted today's headline!
Today I had the company of  Mohan​, the Kakinada express after a long time. He has literally gotten off his high horse (read cycle!) to run with the humble Hubli passenger. He was sharing his rise and falls (two literal ones!) with the cycling during the days of his absence from running. He peeled off after a loop to be with the Chennai Express (Sundar​!).
 The municipal workers, who are condemned to celebrate Swachch Bharat every day, and other people who are out on business at the time of our run usually either disregard us runners and cyclists as somebody engaged in the pastimes of the idle rich. Now they have started to acknowledge me as one of them. This graduation from amateur to professional is a real promotion which I treasure. There are still two mad persons one at the Mylapore crossing who threatens to challenge for a debate between his madness and my passion and another lady at the bus shelter opposite Kalyani hospital who generally is railing at passers by who are still to accept my regularity.
When I am before time to the Gandhi statue, I find this interesting person who is asleep on the raised pavement with his foot kept on his cycle next to him. This is his way of guarding his bicycle against theft. Today his foot had slipped down, but, the cycle was intact next to him. Then there is this beggar lady who given up on any earning potential from me and our relationship has moved up one notch higher in that we have started exchanging smiles. These and the regular greetings from other walkers make my morning run as a monarch’s visit of his constituency.
Last but not the least, my attendance today was marked by no less a person than my chronicler Daniel​ who caught me on my home stretch at the end of my run. Looking forward to two holidays and the long runs which they invariably promise.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Biscuit clarifies!

On our morning walk today, walking through rain which was almost petering out, Biscuit seemed to reassure me that he does not mind being blanked out in a few episodes of my daily log. This clarification is in order because his absence from my yesterday’s narrative has not been taken kindly to by his entrenched constituency. He tells me and I quote that he does not care for politics and religion, guess that must be the secret of his happy and uncomplicated life! I have been giving him a small stroll before I leave for work (this is in addition to the mandatory morning and evening visits of his to his constituency mind you!). He has earned this after I took him out a few times to help him in his bladder control (is he getting old!). Now he has claimed it as a matter of right and promptly at 9 AM (he does not take excuses of my returning late from run!) he is all over me demanding his ride down in the lift. Wish I could be as enthusiastic riding down the lift for going to work after leaving him back at home.
I left at 4:05 AM today and the newly laid tar road was still steaming from the rain having fallen over hot mix. This also meant whatever loose tarred stone chips were there did not stick to my sole and my soles could glide smoothly over the virgin surface. Some sleep deficit in the last few days had me tempted to bunk the run and continue my sleep. I then thought of all the night denizens from ATM guards to all night petrol bunk operators who would miss me and decided against.
Rain had completely stopped by the time I entered Mahatma Gandhi road, it was as if it had come just to tempt me into starting the run knowing fully well that once started there was no way I would return without my usual dosage of endorphins. Wet pavement on the beach road was slippery and I chose to run on the edge of the road for better grip. This however meant some discomfort for the soles from the loose stones lying there.
Contrary to expectation, there were a few cows having an early breakfast and one of them did condescend to heed to my overtures and take the banana peels from my hand. Workers were continuing to relay the pavement across the road fully drenched from the overnight rain. The side effects of wooing the long departed Global Investors continue to pockmark the city. The sanitary workers were chirpier as the cool weather after the rain seemed to liven up their spirits. Ginger tea vendor was making a quick buck when the rainy day lasted. The dogs at the foot of the Labour statue were relieved that their gravy train arrived on time despite the rainy weather. The usual friendly jostle and a few growls were on display as they queued up for breakfast.
The attendance of walkers was thin today, but, the few diehards like me were around to ensure that I did not lack my daily supply of morning greetings. The fall in numbers was made up by the enthusiasm of greeting. It was as if we were telling each other how good we were to having stuck to our routine come rain or shine! The pavements were clear of the sleeping people except under bus shelters with their canine friends sharing the humble cloth used by the person for covering himself.
The runners and bikers were also sparse today, but, it may not be due to the rain. They could have been practicing in some other part of the city. The police guards outside the secretariat had moved to the safety of the gumti, but, I am sure Hubli passenger’s passing must have been noted in their nightly log. Comrade Ram Rajagopalan​ was at his saddle as usual and crossed me more than once when I did the Island ground loop.
When I was on my way back to Lighthouse in the first loop (the pavement had dried sufficiently to let me claim the pavement) near Netaji Bose statue a runner (I got introduced later to Thomas Paulose P​ from Soles of Cochin!) came alongside me and we ran together for the rest of my run. Our pace matched and barring a little introductory talk both of us ran silently enjoying the weather to the soft tap of two barefoot runners. He joined me in my second loop also.
We ran on the road from Napier bridge to Mahatma Gandhi statue on the opposite to avoid the crowd on the walkers pavement. A bad accident between State transport bus and an autorickshaw (which was badly mangled, I hope there were no passengers in the auto!). There was a huge crowd which always gathers at the site of an accident.
I showed him my water point outside AVM Kalyana Mantapam where we took a drinks break. We ran together till the intersection of MG Road and Haddows road. It was nice to have had his company for some part of the run. I reached home at 7:45 AM, 3:40 for a 32K.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A new religion?

                Last time an Emperor attempted to develop a new religion by amalgamating the then existing religion, the experiment failed to take off as it was considered much ahead of its time. In the current situation of religions again jockeying for primacy, I propose considering floating of a new religion. The friendship forged over many hours of running side by side has improved the adage ‘Blood is thicker than water’ to ‘Sweat is thicker than blood’. These were the thoughts crowding my mind when I was negotiating the Uttamar Gandhi Salai the last two days. The triumvirate of Jesus, Vinayaka, and the holy book looking out of an illuminated shelf on the walls of the Institute of Chartered Accountants seemed to be assuring me that ‘All will be Well’ on the communal harmony front.
                The way men, women and children have taken to running in droves, if fan following is the basis of calling Cricket as religion in India, the day is not far when running would upstage cricket in a sweaty coup! Running is universal in appeal looking to men and women from toddlers to centenarians practicing the art.
                Running has replaced alternative medicine and faith healing and is giving a tough fight to conventional western medicine in successfully combating the new age diseases of Obesity, Diabetes, Heart diseases and Blood pressure. The cases of running helping addicts in quitting years of smoking and drinking have been abundant.
The sheer bliss on the face of a runner would put the customary smile on the face of the many new age gurus, who populate the popular TV channels and advise men and governments the way to nirvana, to shame. The stretching exercises and breathing techniques of both the occidental and oriental lineage have been adopted by runners of all caste, creed and religious persuasion without a murmur.
I have said this before, when one is running, the runner is in the most benevolent mood and this feeling includes men and animals alike. The impact a vehicle loaded with chicken being taken to slaughter is very traumatic , whereas, the same goes unnoticed during any other time of the day.
If the senior Bachchan’s idea of social integration was the humble tavern, a.k.a ‘Madhushala’, I propose the public drinking water fount outside the AVM kalyana mantapam for the honour instead when running becomes the new religion. Today a tricycle driver who was sharing the tap with me was lamenting that such facilities are not there in many other places in the city and these would better serve the people than the temple/mosques (I could have quoted lines to similar effect in the Sr. Bachchan’s rendition!). While at it, I would digress to request the organizers of running events which see a lot of charitable activities being supported to consider putting up a few Urinals/Lavatories for the benefit of the runners and walkers. My choice of spots would be Lighthouse, Napier bridge and RBI.
Only incident worthy of mention during today’s run which was otherwise largely routine was that when I flagged down a two wheeler driving towards me on the Rajaji salai, I was scared to find a lady at the helm. I braced myself to be lectured about running in the face of traffic in the early morning darkness. Even though she was in plainclothes, her bearing and explanation that she was clearing the trucks parked outside the secretariat made it amply clear that she was a guardian of law. What came next was a pleasant surprise! She asked me how much I ran after saying that she has been seeing me for a month now. She also knew that I was in the Railways. She absorbed my daily mileage, my name, exact designation at work and its full form before going off to join her post.    
The continuing road work nearer home put my soles to test at the end of my run and it was a bruised and battered sole, but, an elevated soul which entered the colony gates at 7:55 AM after a 3 hour 40 minutes of sheer joy!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Thalai, Thalaiva and Vadhyar

Chennai audience has been magnanimous with their showering of epithets on the Hubli Passenger. It was the usual start at 4.05 AM on the Sunday, a full after a curtailed run of 32K on Gandhi Jayanti day.
As I entered into the Uttamar Gandhi Salai after nervously negotiating the sleeping canine friends, I was welcomed by a well dressed man standing outside the Corporation garbage lorry parking lot. He called out ‘Thalai’ as I passed him (the hero Ajit, the present icon of Kollywood is fondly called Thalai!). I smiled an acknowledgement and moved on.
Youngsters on bikes riding doubles and triples whizzed past, their idea of celebrating Gandhi’s birthday! The teasers were few and the educating effort from their friends made a few of them come back and greet me. I did use the occasion to ask them to join me in the run.
Lounging slum dwellers near the railway overpass near the MRTS Light house station upgraded me to ‘Thalaiva’ (the now famous name for the darling of the entire country, Rajnikant!). What could I say but smile back!
The bulk of the road laying work taken up to impress the Global Investors having been completed, I decided to run the full stretch to RBI for the first and third loop and also the loop involving Sivananda Salai for the middle loop to complete my 30K at the beach which with the home to Lighthouse and back of 12K would complete the 42K for the day.
As usual Marina was thick with runners and cyclists. When I was in my second loop crossing the slum near Quid-E-Milleth bridge, I got the ultimate praise as an old timer called out ‘Vadhyar’, now this is high praise as the title is of none other than the great MGR! I looked around to see if the blasphemy had been witnessed by anybody else and if the caller and called would get into trouble! Thankfully, the praise for my ears only.
Talking of blasphemy, my friend Usha Rani​ in her enthusiasm had already done the ultimate blasphemy in conferring the title Mahatma on me on a facebook post. I must confess that I was initially too pleased and shocked to react and then it was too late to take the post down. I met her on the beach road and told her that she has embarrassed me and she should be thankful for being in a democratic county for getting away with what she had done (it was no less than what Charlie Hebdo did and paid dearly!). I do not know whether her answering smile was remorseful or not.
Last Friday saw me watching Gandhi movie one more time. Every time I get a new perspective. I was this time highlighted on one reason of the enduring charm of Gandhiji which also could explain my popularity in the running circles. When Gandhiji in the movie asks the Life photographer what she doing wasting time on an old man when the World war was raging? Her reply was ‘It is not that you every day come across a person who makes his own clothes’. I have also observed that most of the attention I get and am quizzed about is due to my spinning of yarn and wearing cloth made of that yarn as my running gear!
I was left wondering how the old man would have handled the mess we seem to be getting into over Beef ban. Nothing seems to have changed in the issues he was grappling with at the time of Independence viz., Communal divide, caste divide and the improving of the lot of the peasant. No wonder, Gandhi statue seemed to have his head bowed deep in thought when I wished him on his birthday!
Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan! 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The long and short of it

                Last two days I have been observing that Biscuit has resumed coming out with me as soon as I wake up. Combined with the other indicators of weather viz., width of the sweat drenched band on my shorts at different stops of my run, the length of the tongue hung out by the early morning dog which drags his owner by a leash and the sweat film on the hand cart puller’s bare upper body who lugs firewood and crosses the Hubli passenger near City center every day. Suffice to say that the newspaper reports that Chennai is in for pleasant weather in the next few days was stale news for Biscuit and me!
                There could be another reason for Biscuit’s good mood, a kind Doctor (Dr. Mohammed Ali, I mention his name because his faith is supposed to proscribe dogs!) has cleared food allergy as not being a reason for his skin allergy and he back to gorging on curds. My wife is happy that the support for the Vegan party at home (yours truly) has fallen by half.
                Biscuit has developed a working arrangement with the huge influx of (not sure migrant or refugee) stray canine population which has descended on our colony. Barring a dignified growl at some stray who decides to bare his fang on His Royal Highness, he has been treating them as persona-non-grata. He has been quite a socialist in making overtures to the fairer sex of his kind (purely platonic as he is a confirmed bachelor!). Buoyed by a good appetite and fish oil burnished shiny coat, he has been irresistible to the fairer sex!
                Barring weekly offs on fridays, the Hubli passenger has been chugging along nicely delivering 32K on working days and a full marathon on weekends and holidays. Last few weeks have been good for running as a weekly off for Eid and Vinayaka chaturthi have given me three full marathons every week. Sadly Gandhi Jayanti falls on Friday when I have some early morning work, still 32K could be squeezed in I hope!
                There has been a surge in the number of runners recently, the scene reminds me of the crowded library in college before exams, you guessed it right, Chennai runners are sweating it out in preparation for the Chennai Marathon which is close at hand. I am not complaining as the number of cyclists and runners and the ubiquitous army men on the run has made my runs quite cheery. I have been playing a barefoot Doctor, nutritionist and sometimes sports trainer to runners and people who routinely intercept me for gyaan.
                Apart from the usual human interactions, new addition to my friends list has been Justin, a Labrador, who met me near the TTK flyover. He was as cheerful and bubbly as a four year old Lab is wont to be, but, what broke my heart was that one of his hind legs was wasted. His owner mentioned that the defect was congenital. What was enthusing was his instant friendship and cheer. He surely could not have understood the reason for my gloom, a wonderful early morning lesson in being positive!
                Chennai is getting used to the punctuality or lack of it of Hubli passenger and I am frequently stopped by complete strangers asking me to explain my absence or delay on a given day. I guess this is their way of showing that they care. Last week when a van load of school children crossed me and I was given a resounding cheer, I all but felt fully weaned from Hubli hangover.

                Nice to see Gandhi statue fully cleaned up for his birthday tomorrow, hope he has time for me when I wish him during my morning run tomorrow!