So he asks, did you do the ‘foool marathon’. I nod in agreement. “You actually did the foool marathon” he asks three quarters in disbelief.
Savagely moving a large lump of paan from one cheek to the other making visible a coloured tongue with a resplendent red, as he sucks in air, producing a hissing sound. For a moment, the sound reverberates across the the space in the lift we both share.
After 42 kilometers of running, I am finally in my apartment and taking the lift home. This is a man that I know.
We meet in the lift often. He hisses for a while longer. I fear he may suck all the oxygen out of the lift. He runs his hands over his pronounced paunch. “Will I ever be able to’, he asks. I have just about energy to tell him, that that’s exactly where I started two years back.
Regular readers here, know about my running and the pompous spin that I give to a rather pedestrian pastime. Okay, strictly not ‘pedestrian’. This after all is about running.
‘Demented bluster’, lead me to think that I indeed could run the full marathon and register for the 42 KM. Announcing with fanfare and chickening out before implementation is what the government is teaching by example. I announced it too. Not out of great admiration for the government, but it was frankly a very convenient option! I could always quietly slink away.
The blokes at Striders had a different plan though. Challenging, pushing in an ever so non obtrusive manner, ‘slow & easy’ manner that it would fit in the category of non-invasive surgery. Of the mind.
The kind that the missus would call ‘magic’ because, her pretty much invasive attempts to get me to other things like stack up read newspapers in a manner that could be called ‘mildly orderly’ has only resulted in massive inaction that could befit a lump of limestone. Or something of that ilk. You get the idea, right ?
Practice happened over the last several months. Regular travel made me regularly irregular. But running is an activity for which all that you would ever require is a pair of shoes. So I ran alone wherever I went. Often inviting the attention of curious onlookers sipping in coffee from roadside stalls in remote corners of India.
More often than not, inviting the attention and unrequited anger of stray dogs. I presume they were mad at me. Perhaps my speed was incongruent with my heavy breathing. They would wake up and holler as though they spotted Veerappan or someone. Upon seeing me, some would whimper and growl. Mostly in pity I presume. Most others would just not bother to do that either!
The group at Powai I train with is an awesome bunch. Sticking together. Often chatting, laughing and infusing an excitable energy. A special mention must be a made of all friends. Hitesh in particular, who runs barefeet : my running partner! He is a much faster and far more experienced bloke that ran alongside for most of practice and the race too.
On D day, I did run. 42.2 KM. Surprising myself with a time of 5.07 hours. But that’s not the story. Or rather is just one part of the story.
The story of how Mumbai turned out to cheer us is, is the big story !
Expecting beautiful women ( and handsome men), evidently just out of bed , take notice of balding, paunch carrying projectile, would come close to ‘a wonder of the modern day world’! But to see them cheer for me ( yes, I looked all around in surprise, I was the only character in 50 meters), was, mildly put, very exciting.
Or for that matter. Slum kids who lined up the roads of Mahim, who erupted into such dizzying shouts of joy when a runner give all of them a high five, as they held out outstretched hands.
‘Bhagho Uncle Bhaaaaaaago’ ( run uncle run), they screamed. From the stress on the ‘bhaaaaggoooooo’ their estimation of how fast I was running was apparent.
I ran, holding out my hand to the kids. What caused them excitement to have a stranger running and giving them a high five is something that is beyond my brain, but boy, it sure did energise me like no other sports drink or energy drink can. Taxi drivers cheered. Old men shouted slogans for me. Some men stared in disbelief. Even cops clapped and gave us a thumbs up sign.
These as you can see, are beyond the realms of everyday life.
Running is an exercise as much for the mind, as it is for the body. Especially long distance running ! And sometimes when you run with a complete stranger, even for a few fleeting moments as he passes you or you pass him ( or her), a strange bond is shared. Acknowledged a few times with a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘keep going’ or a ‘well done’.
At other times, the silence is broken by an exchange of heavy breaths or the sound of feet pounding the pavement. Not a word is spoken. Not a gesture exchanged. Yet, conveying much.
Ofcourse, there are exceptions like the ‘elite runners’. Those Kenyans, Ethiopians and others. Who by the time I finished the race would have fathered two kids and sent them to college. But the point is not about speed. The 42 KM is one heck of a distance. The body knows that. The point, is about the mind. That opaque thing called 'mind' has travelled a longer distance.
Heres a world of thanks to all friends who called, texted, wrote on the FB wall, clicked on the ‘like button’, sent messages on the BBM and for the few who actually travelled all the way to South Bombay to cheer... I have nothing but a gaping sea of gratitude. You made it possible.
This is a world where the following are common : Running for office. Running away from problems. Running away with the neighbour. Running from the media etc !
But the real running, the running on the road holds untold charm, an almost surreally unbelievable sense of freedom and wins some amazing friends.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it !