Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why Did I Run My First Half-Marathon?

Eye of The Tiger
I have been athletic but never sports oriented in my life. In between, I had faced my own sins of youth, arrogant decadence of all ills of youth- smoking, drinking, an incandescent conscience and an unyielding spine, aggravated further by constant strife between my refusal of all social judgments and an insistence by the world around me to judge me, nevertheless. It hit me, hit me hard. I went down with a feeling that I will never come back again. I remember those bleak days, fourteen years back, when every step taken would be precarious ringing with a hissing fear of death in its sound. I was hit by affairs of the heart, and with that I am not referring to my courtship which culminated with a marriage resulting in excommunication by the society and family. It was odd feeling. It was unexpectedly expected. I was told that was to happen, but being an only son, believed that warning from the parents to be hollow. Boy, solid it was, they held social pride dearer than the only child and I was a young man, trying hard to restore the semblance of a family. It would have been easier to handle with a lesser sense of duty and propriety and sightly numb conscience. But we don't make our circumstances, we live in them. And then it hit me, through nicotine-laden stress. 

 I fell down one evening. I did live to talk about it, but only talked about it in vague terms for the fear of effecting the relations which were normalized, at least for the sake of pretensions in the years that follow. I walked out of the hospital after close to ten days in the hospital and I still remember, I had almost forgotten how to walk. I remember when I was told not to laugh so loud as it could wreak my weakened heart, and also remember being told that I ought not ride motorbikes as the wind could hit me back with a worse heart ailment than I have had.

So I stopped exercising. Bike I did drive because being in sales and with no other vehicle to drive; it was a chance I had to take. Not being a provider would hurt my idea of masculinity more than it would hurt me to end up dead driving a bike. So I did take that chance and I drove. First, with a lot of trepidation, then with abandon, at least till the time a WagonR arrived on the scene- my first car. We always chose the advises which are the worst. I chose to ignore the driving advice, chose to ignore eating advice, but stuck to the advice of not exerting myself physically- for twelve years. I bloated to eighty two kgs, rediscovered the pleasures of writing and ate with the excitement of a man right out of the prison. But then I was hit by a looming threat of diabetes. Days were morose and colorless. I would fret and frown but did not for a while, surrendered.

Then one day, do not know what hit me. I trust it was looking at my daughter who wanted
Me with Nonu
to play with me and I shouted at her. It hit me then. She is six years old and I shuddered at the thought of what I will be when she hits twenties. And I, having given up the failed attempts at gym, I hit the trail. I huffed and puffed through the first round in the nearby green oasis of the Deer park.  It was a struggle with uneven track, and the first round of 1.35 Kms was a severe challenge on my out of shape body. But it was away from the prying eyes of the trainers in the gym, no one to suggest when to begin and when to stop. Some   people love that gentle nudge by well-bodied      

         men in the gym, not yours truly.  So I went out  and bought the wherewithal required to take running as a routine. If you treasure your solitude like me, running is the thing for you. Well, biking, swimming could also qualify, but running is all that I have ever done. Sir, those shorts, that expensive running shoe came in right under the disapproving gaze of the missus. She would look at those fancy bags and then at the stationary cycle long since being used as a clothsline to dry washed clothes. I could see the anger, cynicism and mockery in those eyes which once sailed a thousand ships for me. Believe me, sir, in weakness, we are always most alone. It is a double-edged sword, we are weak because we are alone and we are alone whenever we are weak. With the old song of Michael Bolton, When I am back on my feet again  humming in the back of the mind, I would go about buying things. I would ignore the scorn, the cynicism. It was reclaiming me. I would remind myself of the old Ayn Rand quote that even in “I love you”, ‘I’ comes first. Without I, there is nothing. Mostly, when in love, we let go I, which is one of the most fatal mistakes which results in a feeling of loss, and at times loss of health and many other things. For those newly in love- never surrender ‘I’, that is the solemn promise our maker has made to us, to make us different from anyone else. The two shall never merge, the two shall come together and bloom together, but never must one fuse into one other.

Well, missus got me an iPad Nano. I got it loaded with NikePlus. With all the expensive gear which I had mainly bought to ensure my commitment to my new cause, and with loud music from my days of youth- the Rocky theme song-“The Eye of the Tiger” and “Brilliant Disguise”  in my ears, I hit the street with a vengeance. I would run, struggling with each mile up as a steep challenge. I would whisper my daughter’s name, assuring her that Baba will make her proud and run another mile. And then, I sometime in August, stepped out of the close confines of the park. My left knee ached, my heart pounded but I would on weekends hit the road with the metro card in my pocket. I would run to the India gate and come back by Metro. It was a good six miles run. It was feet over asphalt, what people who know term as urban running. The inclines were within limit but the trail was hard. I bought a knee supporter, but after a while, ran without it. After some distance, the pain would vanish, only to come back few hour after the run. I began to realize that the feet, the body is merely the tool. I 
did not need to manage the worker, I needed to get the boss on my side and rest will follow. And  then, once I ran 10 miles. I was happy. My mind told my body to run one mile and then another and it followed with minor protests. Then in October was I registered for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon with an almost clear mind of making a fool of myself. To get a finisher medal, you need to complete those 21 Kms in less than 2:45 hours. I felt in my heart that I will turn out to be the last guy on the track, huffing and puffing, reaching in around three hours. But having come this far, there was no going back. I would come back from office and go out for run. Winters had arrived and parks would close. So I would run on the street. I would travel for business and carry my shoes. One additional luggage, but then I would run in Bangalore and Kolkata.

The day of marathon came and I did run. It wasn’t very easy for a lonely runner. I did not have back-slapping pals who would come and wake me up at four in the morning on the day for the run. I was a middle aged man struggling to stay alive in best form possible. I wanted to be new for my daughter, for my wife. I would after my sickness many times would wonder if she would have felt that she made one big, wrong decision in life. I wanted to be the right person. She had seen me as infallible man, infallible in strength, in principles during courtship. I wanted to be that man. I had to do it alone, but then every man has to do it alone. Few are able to do that, to emerge out of that darkness. I went and I ran. My Airtel record came at not-too-embarrassing 2:22 minutes and my NikePlus was kinder to me with a reading of 2:17 minutes.

I felt redeemed, renewed and refresh. I wanted to write this post to figure out for myself the reasons. I am not able to. But then it is a mix of the reasons. As I ran more, I read more about running. I also learnt that contrary to the  
 mythical writer, writhing in addiction of alcohol and drugs, waiting for an imminent death, can.  chose to be healthier. And to my surprise, I realized that most writers are. In fact, it would be hard to decipher if Maugham was not a better writer because of regular swims he went on. After a while, running becomes meditation, things become clearer. Haruki Murakami has anyways written a whole book about running (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running).  If he can run and write he must be doing something well. It is not very easy for a writer to do an Apple (I read, that people lined up outside the bookstore through the night before the release of his latest book). It is not necessary that we all run, but dance, swim, bike but don’t sit idle. Don’t say you do not get time, don’t say your body doesn't listen. Bribe the boss with arguments which would appeal to its reasons, the workers will follow. See what works for your mind- your wife, your child, your ego, your self-love. Whatever it is, stroke that feeling. Running is not physical. It is emotional. It is all about your mind. The wheels of the chariot of time rolls in only one direction. Let’s render significance to our ordinary life on this ordinary planet to an ordinary star in this vast galaxy of time and space. Let us live our lives to the full. Let us forgive others and ourselves for the sins of the past. The journey out of the deep, dark well of desperation is always lonely, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and we have friends and fun waiting for us there. 2014 is gone and done with 2015 awaits us. Let’s reach out to this New Year, do new things, reclaim our lives.  Let us run, friends, let us run. Let us decide, to quote Dylan Thomas that we

Do not go gentle into that good night,
 Old age should burn and rave at close of the day,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Failed Schooling

Of late, a video of teachers in villages and small towns in India went viral with teachers not knowing the spellings and basic general knowledge like the names of presidents and prime ministers so on and so forth. It invites many comments, acerbic, funny, condescending, demeaning. To me that whole video was so sad and heart-wrenching. 
It is a sad commentary about our schooling. It is thought-provoking. What is the point of putting kids in school when they are neither equipped nor evolved enough  to be place for learning. They are not place for sharing of knowledge but rather a place where a kinship of ignorance is kindled. Teachers in most government schools in India are broken individuals who as a result of failed fate or abysmal aptitude couldn't do anything better but to teach. 

They aren't overwhelming souls brimming with knowledge, but have dark gaping holes of ignorance churning with sadness inside. They are teachers since they couldn't be anything else. And it isn't not as much about salary and compensation as about the falling gratitude of parents and students alike as a society. I am yet to come across kids studying with an intent to become a teacher when they grow up or parents who want their kids to become teachers when they grow up. It is a failed profession. True, there are some really great teachers, who really love the fact that they hold the solemn responsibility of moulding the next generation of people. Someday, those little people walking awkwardly with bags bigger than their bodies will become the custodians of the nation and the world. How many kids have access to them? 
I remember recently having seen a movie on the flight in which the English teacher gets into a tiff with the newly arrived painting teacher over the primacy of their respective subject over the other. How many of our teachers take that kind of pride in subjects they teach? How often they come out as playing, worshiping and nurturing the subjects they teach?
Until the day we have people wanting to be teachers, dreaming to be teachers and have a general access to teachers like that, such videos are nothing but a source of sadness for a nation that wants to be a world teacher. Teaching is a very special job. It is not about teacher's training. A great teacher need not necessarily be trained in handling kids well, he should be trained to handle his subject well. He must want to, love to get his student love his subject, and yes, he must believe his subject to be holding the key to human evolution. 
Without improving the quality of teachers, the campaign like No child left behind is useless since schools itself are being left behind. Teaching has to be a profession of joy and patience and godliness. Teachers have to be Demi-God and we must create an environment in which they could become one. They should be able to set example and we must let them be able to do that.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Review- The Summing Up- Somerset Maugham

Is it not amazing that precisely at the time when you start believing in the childish notion of knowing all there is to know, like a bolt from the sky, awakening descends on you, as you suddenly find yourself, ignorant, devoid of any knowledge. The good part is that this revelation is not particularly embarrassing or demeaning, rather you feel elevated and enlightened with the understanding of your own smallness. Reading "The Summing Up" by W. Somerset Maugham was one such moment of revelation. I am just through with getting my book of philosophical essays published, and while I would take all the praise which would come from friends with a pinch of salt and sincere humility, a little strike of wickedness, allowed me to secretly feel happy with the praise. But that was till I came across this book, which once I picked up and finished reading, left me dwarfed and happy at the same time, in the backdrop of the greatness of the author. 

The book is autobiographical in nature, although, Maugham in the book itself, waves off any suggestion of auto-biographic nature as he starts the book with the statement "this is not an autobiography nor is it a book of recollections. So there are no controversial chapters, with people casting aspersions on the truthfulness of the accounts, but the author more than makes up for the juicy gossips, with a rare sincerity and razor-sharp honesty as he with disarming simplicity says " I have no desire to lay bare my heart, and I put limits to the intimacy that I wish the reader to enter upon with me. and says "There are matters on which I am content to maintain my privacy". Here is a writer who seems to be supremely confident in the quality of his writing to be strong enough to arouse enough interest in the readers, without leaning on the "Juicier chapter and racy content" to bind the interest. Although he does demonstrate a degree of disenchantment as he says "Everything I say is merely an opinion of my own.The reader can take it or leave it" or when he says "I do not much care if people agree with me. Of course I think I am right, Otherwise I should not think as I do, and they are wrong, but it does not offend me that they should be wrong. Nor does it greatly disturb me to discover that my judgement is at variance with that of the majority." Despite the disclaimers to its autobiographical nature that Maugham has spread through the book, there is no denying that the book is absolutely autobiographical in nature although it stays confined to the limited area of author's life that is the part which deals with him as a professional writer. Although the book briefly touches upon Maugham's childhood and ancestry, it essentially examines the impact it might or might not have on his writing skills and style.  

The effort that the author makes to keep the book simple and honest are mighty obvious, still the depth of Maugham in terms of literature results in gems entailing profound life truths slipping through fingers, and noticeable all across the book like "There is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain" or " Perfection has one great defect, it is apt to be dull." or when he says " Most people have a furious itch to talk about themselves and are restrained only by disinclination of others to listen." "You can get a great deal of entertainment out of tedious people if you keep your head. "The Value of culture is its effect on character. It avails nothing unless it ennobles and strengthens." is one such jewel, towards the last few chapter as he dwells on his interest in writings of philosophers like Kant and Nietzsche, the book moves to a completely different plane as he ponders over intricate and complex subjects like the meaning of life and comes with great statements like "I was taught that we lived in the presence of God and that the chief business of man was to save his soul." But apart from the profound truths which the author cleverly hides in the fabric of the book, it is his struggles in being a writer which makes the book a great read for anyone who seriously wants to take writing as a profession. As he speaks about multiple iterations he put his work through to get the right word and structure, his efforts to enhance the vocabulary, and his deep interest in reading as a way to enhance and improve on his own writings, is something, which makes me believe, that if I were the person finalizing the curriculum for creative writing, I should seriously make this book a mandatory reading. And above all, summing up, which it opens your eyes to the fact that writing is not a profession of idle men (and women), it needs a great degree of devotion and commitment to be a decent writer, and in the process, as Maugham would do with his novels like "Of Human Bondage" he secretly passes the keys to be better human being in your hands, without your realizing it, unless you are watchful enough.

The Writer's Block- Looking Pack From my Old Post

(This was first published on Hubpages)

When Dreams were Young

There used to be a time, when as they say, spring was in the walk and the dreams were young, when words would float in front of my notebook and land softly as today my toddler walks around in the room in the winters of Delhi..on the tip-toes. Dreams were beautiful and not yet impossible. Truth seemed to be an idea which lived and breathed next door and not a distant idea. Those were the times when an equitable limitation of resources cut across the social position and we all stood in front of each other, devoid of the fig leave of social backgrounds. Calls would be made through the public call booth across the road from the Hostel and with new mobile set was not a status defining instrument but only a flight of fantasy. In all our nakedness we shall be all be judged as friends or not by those around us, simply by the grandness of our dreams, our understanding of our ideals, and more importantly, by our ability to love. Love, I had in my heart in abundance, writing poetry on the back of cigarette packets, which friends claim even today to be of readable kind; reading the material which would transport me into an era of self-belief, and belief in all that is good in life. Everything good in life was possible, and all that was needed was to merely stretch the hands out wide, with a heart full of conviction as The Messiah taught the pilot in the books by Richard Bach. I read it, pretty happy in meeting in thoughts with authors good enough to be published and make a best-seller. 

The Now

The words come out on the screen, which replaces the notebook of the past, apologetically. A gloomy mist descends over the world with a minor trace of sunlight in the form of my toddler, who is constantly trying all the time to cope up with my cruel mood-swings, I just hope that her efforts to accommodate my mood swings outlives my ability to grow beyond them. I know, it is cruel, but I know it is true and is almost as cruel as truth can be. I keep on thinking if the world in which I live has changed or have I, as a pesky and demanding inhabitant changed. Was the world always like that, ruthless, competitive and all the time measuring me against the scales which were all tilted against me? and I was living in my own euphoric world of imaginary goals and ideals, that I never noticed the crookedness of all straight-lines which I drew around myself as pointers to what I presumed then to be a life of delirium. The words, enter as a soul wretched with poor self-esteem and poor acting ability thrown on the stage to perform an act of consequence, with conviction of not fitting in deeply placed in the heart. Was it that I was happier then because all the expectations of life I had with myself, which I could control and change and shift, thus the goals closer or farther as I wanted to? I do not know, what I know is that then I could be kinder to myself and to the world around me, and I have somehow, now, pushing people to the walls asking them to play the roles as the play which I have scripted requires them to, become to be the living equivalent to the movie recently released called "Despicable Me". Nothing comforts, this unkindness which I had not seen in my life even in the days when Nietzsche and stoic philosophy literature replaced the lofty, happy world of Erich Segal has now descended so deep down, that now I find myself unbearable and writing, which always came to me as an answer to my disturbing dreams, has eluded me, as a disappointed friend who came to meet me after a long time. I hope, somehow, I can run after my long lost friend, beg him, reason with him and ask him to stay back, for I need this ray of sunlight in my life, to pull me out of the depth of darkness. Writing for me is a way to converse with myself, and as with verbal conversation, in the face of emotion, the lump rises in the throat, the clot rises in the pen or the kepboard mocks me, of what I have become. But I have to write, even if it does not make sense to anyone, including myself, as there is no other cure that I know of. 

Cheeky Quotes