When I started a little earlier this I-Day, it was with uncertainty of route and the time for which I would be allowed to run. That the nation is obsessed with India’s performance or the perceived lack of it at the Olympics is well known from the traffic on the social media on the topic. I knew Sunday night was crucial for India’s darling Dipa Karmakar and I had not seen it as it was well beyond my bedtime. A bunch of youngsters whom I crossed in my run commented that this old man should have been sent to Olympics and that I would have been able to get a medal! I did not know whether to take it as a compliment or their frustration at India’s unproductive foray in terms of silverware at the Rio! Knowing how much of effort it takes both mental and physical even in small running events back home, I can only say that we Indians are impatient and make and discard hero(ine)es at the drop of a hat. It is like studying before the final exams, but, success in sports as in other disciplines of life is a slow and steady Ultra and not a Usain Bolt dash!
I could not remove the small Khadi flag (table top variety) from its heave brass base and settled for a laminated lapel flag for tucked in my shorts as my passport of nationalism/patriotism if challenged by guardians of law. I reached Gandhi statue unchallenged! I found on the way that the Muncipal sweepers were the only other conscientious workers out on the road and celebrating the National holiday by working harder!
I was greeted by Mr. Srinivasan (the loud clap greeter!) and so far so good. I saw a few tea vendors (these are like the druid Getafixes who get the city on their feet with their magic potion) near Lighthouse. I asked them how their business was going. They shared their sad tale that the business with the policemen is without payment and the regular clientele of beggars have been sanitized by these so called security men. Is it not sad that well paid safari clad security men are free riders and the beggars are good paying customers!
Just as I was saying my greetings to the Gandhi statue (he was bowed down with a huge garland of flowers, which he eschewed in his lifetime and only allowed khadi garlands!), I was stopped by a grey safari clad officiando. I got angry when he said I cannot run on the pavement. Mr. Srinivasan and another unnamed walker came to my rescue, but, we had no answer to the smiling security man who quoted the ‘orders from the top’. I told him disgust to cover the Gandhi statue as he definitely would not like people’s freedom to be snatched to celebrate our freedom for which he fought so hard! I settled for running on the inner road even if it was not so barefoot friendly.
The usual topic of discussion when I crossed walkers was the place upto which we are allowed by the police. The consensus was that the coast was clear till the start of the Napier bridge. The usual pavement dwellers had receded to the sands on the beach and they must have bid farewell to their day’s earnings.
I reached the police post at the start of the Napier bridge and found an important looking safari suit clad individual (there were more than ’50 shades of grey’ on that day in that stretch between Gandhi statue and Labour statue!) sitting on a plastic chair with a few hangers on. I found most of the people deployed unsure of what to do. They were randomly picking on people to appear busy. People who were not smartly dressed (including your’s truly!) were easy game. He addressed me as Swamiji and asked me the usual questions about my age, distance and why barefoot etc. I did not like his condescending tone of inquiry and was tempted to throw my rank at him, but, I think my self control is improving and I resisted revealing my Joint Secretary to GoI bit! Despite sustained interrogation, I was only allowed to take the Sivananda road and refused entrance to the Napier bridge.
I did the three cornered loop from Sivananda road, Mount road and Flag staff road upto War memorial and back twice (making it 12K!) with the one K stretch on flag staff road repeated to make it 14K to avoid going back to Beach road except for the return lap. The graying traffic policeman at the intersection of Mount road and Flag staff road was losing his temper at a young couple on a bike and I intervened to ask the policeman to take it easy if he wanted to finish his shift upto 10.30 AM without bursting a blood vessel. I was happy to leave behind a smiling policeman!
In my return loop I found that better sense had prevailed and walkers were being allowed on the pavement and I reached Gandhi statue at 6:40 AM. My beggar friend with both his arms amputated from the elbow downward (who had trusted me to count his notes and keep them in his pocket earlier!) sitting all a-smile in crisp whites, clearly in a celebratory mood!
On my return trip, a traffic policeman took the cake by asking for a flag and I being of the Daan-Veera-Karna lineage could not say No and gave him the clip on flag, cautioning him not to throw plastic waste and that I would ask for it the next year when I meet him on the morning run! Is it not irony that the policemen who have been threatening my freedom to run gets away with my national flag!
Looking at such large scale deployment of police force it appears to me that instead of instilling national pride it could end up scaring people to remain indoors on such occasions. It could be a good idea to oversee celebration of national festivals with public monies by people of repute and standing (say Gopalkrishna Gandhi and the like as far as Chennai etc.!) and standing so that it does not become an exercise in self serving for the people’s representatives and the armed forces/police.
That the article about weaving on charkha gone on to the national edition on the Independence day after its appearance in the Chennai edition the previous day, I have been basking in a torrent of congratulatory messages from across the country. I am truly feeling like a celebrity. It surely pays to be a copy (even if a poor one!) of a person of Gandhiji’s standing!