Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Independence Day run

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!

Sunday, 14 August 2016


Had I gone on Air yesterday, the heading would have been “Amma, Amman and Mother India”! That time of the year when the serial light cutouts of celestial boon giver overlooks the ubiquitous smiling visages of our very own Amma posters, The roads are taken over by the security to welcome Mother India.
Time was when few sensitive locations like the Lal chowk in Srinagar or the Idgah Maidan in Hubli were turned into a fortress to assert our Independence, today even the so called peaceful part of the country’s seat of power, Fort St. George was turned into a fortress with security personnel swarming all over. I was a little early for my run. I decided to get over the war-zone like War memorial (I doubt if the shining flag atop it is of mandated Khadi!) by doing the 4K stretch from Napier to RBI and back and the loop around Island ground in the first loop itself.
One overzealous security personnel tried stopping me. I told him that I am a regular runner and they have nothing to fear me and neither am I scared or impressed with their show of strength. I politely asked him for how many days are they planning to suspend our freedom to celebrate OUR Independence? He sheepishly retracted that he was just doing his duty and I backed off and gave him my 32W smile (well give or take a few accounted for by my dentist!). The lady guarding the regular security post outside Fort St. George smilingly asked me if would never take a break. I told her I may opt to suspend my run and walk on Marina doing a Kanhaiya encore with a tri-colour for claiming my Azadi to run every day (I may still manage a run on altered route!). I asked her give me a security clearance with her superiors by vouching for my regularity. Almost every regular walker whom I met beyond War memorial stopped to discuss the route we could take tomorrow!
A person struck a familiar note and asked me if i am not going home when i was re-starting towards Gandhi statue for the last time today. I told him i am! He said Did i not live near Parrys? After getting the Hubli Passenger's route, he grabbed my right hand and lifted it above my head much like a referee does while awarding the wrestling bout to the winner, proclaiming to the plainclothes security guard (their grey safari and walkie give them up!) that i was a star running so far at my age and that too barefoot.
Now for an interesting encounter on the run today. A bike with three riders stopped near me with the guy sitting third behind a girl on the pillion greeted me with a vanakkam. I did not recognize him, but, he seemed to be an earlier recipient of my Gyan. I asked why he was riding without a helmet much like a Maths teacher asking for an assignment to be turned in. He cheekily replied that he had no money and asked if I would pay for one. Now that was getting personal, ask even any beggar on the Marina, this Gandhian is okay for verbal gyan, but you slip in the commercial tone and he withdraws. I asked him cheekily if he is wearing his undergarments. He did not get the connection. I told him the following story about cricket, “ It took more than hundred years after men started wearing crotch guard in cricket for the helmets to make their appearance”, we men are slow learners and it takes us time to realize head was as important if not more than the family jewels! The girl sniggered much to the chagrin of the boy and I knew I had drawn blood! I gave him a smiling salute and went on with my run.
Wish me for getting my usual quota of run tomorrow, Jai Hind!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Kitna Deti Hai?

We irreverent Indians are not impressed by atmospherics and believe in quickly getting to the heart of the matter. I am reminded of one of the advertisements where when explained the displacement and size of a Dreamliner, a person is shown asking ‘Kitna Deti Hai’. Every time I have demonstrated by spinning wheel to an interested person the initial question invariably has been, how much yarn I can spin in one day and how long it takes to get enough material for my shirt?
This time before the Times of India reporter came knocking, I was prepared. The raw pressed cotton comes in bundles of one hundred grams each. Each bundle approximately translates to over one thousand meters of yarn, at my present level of proficiency of spinning. The yarn is removed from spindle in bundles of five hundred meters each and one hundred such bundles in turn becomes about ten to twelve meters of cloth. I am able to spin about two hundred and fifty to three hundred meters along with my morning green tea hydration session of between an hour or two. About six months of laboring at the spinning wheel gets me enough cloth for about ten shirts! See it requires no Ramanujam maths!
While externally, spinning can be evaluated in terms of meters of cloth generated, at a deeper level it is relaxing and meditative. Taking the analogy to running, while a run can be physically seen in terms of distance, speed or time spent, but, the internal transformation it brings to one is to be experienced and cannot be described. I will belabor this point further; when I was working in the Ministry, in my frustration at the Sisyphusian task of moving files up and down, I had ranted on one of the chat sites. One of my seniors had sent me the following story on my personal email id;
“God once asked a person to push a wall, the person after dutifully doing it for a few months cursed God that it was useless as the wall had not moved an inch. The punchline is God seemed to have appeared and asked the person to his arms and back muscles and the strength he had gained”. The fault sometimes is we are too narrow in defining our goals, be it speed or distance!
Now, a small episode from Biscuit’s friends’ lesson in stretching to lighten the atmosphere. Before the Last Sunday of Month (LSoM) run of Marina Runners when a trainer was leading his wards through stretching session, a stray doggie couple came to the center and did a synchronized and graceful perfect doggie stretch as if to ask what is so great about it, much to the amusement of the wards and embarrassment of the trainer. Biscuit on his part restricts himself to walking in measured steps unexcited by the provocations of his brethren in the colony (even the belligerent Tiggy!).
Having missed the 36 hour stadium run last week, the decision now was to whether or not to attend the 12 hour Independence Day run at Mumbai. The office situation decided the issue. I will have to miss the trip. While it hurts to be deprived of the cheers of the friendly Mumbai runner community and the famed @Pranav hospitality, I thought about the saving grace in the missing of the run during my morning constitutional 32K today! Twelve hour run on Monday would have involved missing my daily run from Saturday to Tuesday (four days at 32K would be a healthy 128Kms). I could have at best put in at best a 100Km in the 12 hour run on Monday. So even by ‘Kitna Deti Hai’logic, Lalithaji, Hometown mein Daudne mein hi samajhdari hai!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Old dog cannot be taught new tricks?

Few days into the ninth year of Biscuit, my wife excitedly told me after I came back from my run in the morning that Biscuit fetched the newspaper. This is earthshaking news considering that Biscuit has had no interest in fetching games and has always fiercely guarded with his life, and sharp canines, whatever he has grabbed in his mouth during earlier fetch trainings! Is he trying to disprove the old adage or the very premise that he is getting old! My daughter set the record straight by concluding that he must have grabbed the paper in his mouth and when confronted by my angry wife he must have just dropped it sheepishly! For his part he has not shown any other signs of growing up and thank God for that.
Though I have stopped counting the number of days I have run at a stretch, but, I must be fluffing up with pride every day when I line up for my run in the morning. Today, sadly, the little voice in my head won and I went back to sleep after my charkha spinning session in the morning. Must be the accumulated sleep deficit catching up!
This is that time of the year when national flags come out and policemen are out in numbers to guard our ‘Aazadi’! While the usual guardians of law and traffic policemen on my running route have got used to my ways, the reinforcements out during the I-day for, of, and by the police are not in tune with my naked display! A young policeman addressed me with his crooked finger (and some choice epithets in local lingo, which were offensive in tone and thankfully I did not get the purport!), and asked me not to run in the middle of the road. The naked power of the uniform exuding from him got my goat and all my pretense of Gandhian ways went out of the window and I confronted him. The senior official initially supported his subordinate and then saw my point and advised his junior to shut up. I was shaking from inside and jittery for some part of the run thereafter. I could empathise with the stone pelting youth who must be revolting against accumulated ire of facing the lording over by the uniformed in the valley and elsewhere. Is it not ironical that the very force which is sent for protecting the people of a place becomes hated by the same very people?
While on the theme of freedom, I must discuss the misuse of the freedom exercised by youngsters drunk on their brand of intoxicant and sleep deprived, who meet me on the roads during my morning run. Recently, I took the liberty of advising a few to not drink and drive and to wear helmets, if not for the safety of the old man like me who could be hit by them then at least with due regard to the anguish they would cause to their near and dear in case of any accident. From the sheepish smiles I get from them and the slowing down when they cross me I think the message is going in slowly and surely. The hefty increase in fines for such violations like, underage driving, driving without licence/helmet recently promulgated if applied strictly would surely make roads safer for all the users!
Two long runs, the first, the 36 hour stadium run this weekend in Bangalore and next week the 12 hour I-day run have me drooling. The first looks doomed as I am required to be in Chennai during this Sunday. As for the freedom run on the 15th August, I am still debating if repeat of the event done two years back is worth the travel? The Kirti college Vada-pavs, the speciality which Pranav Mehta feeds the participants and all the love and affection of Mumbai runners and crowds is making it tough for me to back out. Fingers and toes crossed!