Friday, 10 February 2017

The crossroads of history

At the crossroads of history !

'Standing at the cross roads of history', is such a well known and important phrase.

Reading it again, in Andrew Solomon's book, Far and Away, made me think of a few things.

Yesterday was Aryan's last day at school.  He is done with the first 10 years of schooling and now after the 10th grade exams, he will embark on a whole new chapter in his life. He is, in a way, standing at the crossroads of history.  His own history, mind you, but history nonetheless.   After all, each one of us is the most important character in his or her own story.

When Aryan came home from school he didn't seem particularly upset about the closure of such a major chapter in his own life.   I think it's because he knows that so much more is now going to happen.  Life has great things in store for him.

Watching him reminded me of my last day at school decades ago.  I still remember that I was relieved that school was at an end.  I hated my school and I distinctly remember one of the girls crying in class on the last day and wondering, "what's wrong with this girl ?"  I guess I was excited about the days to come.  

I was sure that the future would be better than the past.  
I was standing at the crossroads of history.

5 years later when I finished college, I was again only mildly sad about the fabulous time that I was leaving  behind.  I had loved College but I was excited about the future.  I was about to go to study in the United States and the future held so much promise.  
I was standing on the cross roads of history and ready to plunge  ahead.
I was sure that future would  be better than the past

Six years later, I broke down as I sat in the departure lounge of the Logan Airport, Boston, as I left my beloved United States to return back to India.   I loved my friends in the US and my life there and was heartbroken to leave the States and I fell on my knees and kissed the floor as I boarded the return flight.  

But still there was tremendous hope about the future.  I was to return to India and start work with General Electric Plastics and start a whole new chapter in my life.    
I was sure that future would be better than the past.  
I was once again standing on the crossroads of history.

Working for GE, getting married, and leaving GE to start my own business were again all major crossroads in life.  Each time, there was sadness at leaving behind a major chapter of my life but there was always hope about the future.   The crossroads lead to greater happiness and a better future.

A few years later Namrata was born and then Aryan was born and life continued to change and there were always happy new events to look forward towards.

There was always sadness at the end of a road travelled, but there was always excitement about the new road on which I was embarking.

I started running at the age of 38 and the last 12 years have just been completely awesome.

My dad always used to tell me that his life used to change dramatically every 10 years.  Mine has been perhaps changed more or less in the same pattern .  Every decade has seen great changes take place.

Yesterday, over lunch, my mom and I were discussing the health issues of a relative and my mom suddenly asked me.  "Amit, How much life insurance do you have ?"
The question took my thoughts to the question of my mortality and the well being of those I will leave behind.

I turned 50 , seven months ago.  And I realised that once again I am perhaps at a new crossroad.

5O is such a major milestone and I wondered what the next decade will bring !

Will my strength ebb now ? Is it time to start packing up ?
Will I be able to run the races and distances and speeds that I still want to ?  How many comrades are left in these legs ?

Must I look at the decade to come with the excitement that I've had at each crossroad in the past or will the half century that has gone past be the glory days of my life?

For a while, I hesitated.

Can the future, now that I am 50, be even better than the past ?

Andrew Solomon one of the greatest journalists of our time, writes in his book, Far and Away, about his 9th grade teacher who used to keep using the phrase, 'standing at the crossroads of history' in describing the lives of the great important figures (Ramses II, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson).

Every time the teacher used the phrase, 'standing at the crossroads of history', young Andrew Solomon envisioned them as brave men and women who disregarded traffic lights, turning sharply left or right where everyone else had planned on proceeding straight ahead.

I like that vision.  To think of every major decade as a traffic light with options on how I wish to proceed.

I think only I have to decide what I want the future to hold.

The direction that I want my life to take is of my own choosing.

And I want the decade to come to be the best years of my life.

Good health, a happy family and loads and loads of great exotic runs around the world await me.

Ever Onwards then, through the the traffic lights of history !!

Friday, 30 December 2016

I'm infallible

I'm infallible because I'm me.

"Amit, sometimes in life when you do something very very stupid, there is no point in beating yourself up over it.  Just admit that you did something stupid. And since you're an accounting student, open up a ledger account in your life book and name it  'stupidity account'.  Write down those moments in there and move on" :
(My Dads advise to me. )

I hate it when I'm wrong at anything.  I hate it when I make a mistake.  I hate it when I do some something completely stupid.

Now, that isn't a quality necessarily unique to me. Everyone hates such.

The big flaw in my character is that I hate to admit that I am wrong. I hate to admit that I ever make a mistake.   I hate to admit that I'm as fallible as the next person.

I believe that I'm the guy who is always right and the mistake is always attributed to someone or something else.

How can I be wrong ? I'm the guy who is almost enlightened.  Running made me so. It has brought me into a space where I'm calm and composed and completely  "aware".  

I'm always in the moment.

I can never make idiotic mistakes like most "normal" people do.

Sometimes even when circumstances conspire in such a way that the only conclusion that may be drawn is that I am, on occasion, a complete idiot, I know in my heart,  that I'm not really at fault.  The fault lies somewhere else.  On someone or something else.

Last evening, I had my dear friends Rajiv and family over for dinner.   During our conversation, I realised that my watch wasn't recording my heart rate.  
As the conversation proceeded to demonitization, I forgot about the dysfunctional heart-rate feature on the watch.

Earlier today, I had to be on a 10:45 am flight to Coimbatore.  My routine is that my wife, Neepa , always comes to drop me off when it's an early morning flight.

At 9:15 am as we walked towards our drive way, I saw that my driver, Khwaja, had come to work 15 minutes earlier than usual  and so I told Neepa that Khwaja will drive me to the airport.

On getting into the car, I told Khwaja, "Khwaja , drop me to the airport, jet airways".

After that, I first checked Twitter to see what Obama had said last-night in his year-end press conference and then I remembered the "heart rate" disfunction in the watch and started fiddling with the watch.

We reached the airport at 9:35 am and I noticed that there was a reasonably long line at the entrance gate where they check the tickets and the identity card.

There were about 8 people in front of me but the line went reasonably fast.   I was one person away from being checked when I realised that I was at the wrong terminal of the wrong fxxxxing airport !

This was the old airport.  I needed to be at the new T2 terminal!

Me! The frequent world flier ! The platinum card holder ! Me ! I was at the wrong fxxxung terminal!  In my own city ! Who the fxxxx can I punch? Who is to blame for something so idiotic ?

I ran out of the terminal, one hand holding the overnight check-in bag. The other hand holding the lap-top bag and the print out of the ticket and my wallet and my drivers license.

Frantically I called up Khwaja. "Khwaja ! Come back ! You've dropped me to the wrong airport ! You fool !!"

I hung up and waited for my heart rate to settle.   I decide not to tell my wife about this.   I knew she will tell me that I didn't pay attention to where I was being driven to.  I knew she will tell me that I was on the phone.

But I felt it was her fault.  These are details SHE needs to remember and if SHE had come to drop me as planned, this would not have happened.  Neepa !!!

After 5 mins , Khwaja calls me " Amitbhai, the security is not letting me enter the drop off area ! They say I can't come.  Because there is nobody in the car to drop. They won't allow a passenger -less car in the drop off area "

"where are you Khwaja ?, I shouted.

"I'm at the right turn... after the straight ...where I dropped you ."

"What right turn ?"

"the right turn ...after the straight "

"what right turn..... what straight ?"

"the right turn .... after the straight "

"ok I don't understand a word of what you're saying. ....come back to the security roadblock , I'm coming there "

I sprint like a madman for 500 meters, the handle of the new overnight check-in hand bag which I'm holding in my left hand  breaks.

I realise I'm still holding my wallet , print out of ticket , drivers license , and laptop bag in my right hand.

I need to be "mindful" I think. I need to be "aware".  I shouldn't drop anything,  I tell myself.

I reach the security point. No Khwaja.  I call him.

 "Khwaja where are you ? "

"I'm at the right turn...after the straight, where I left you"

"Fxxx Khwaja ".

I sprint.... Another 500 meters.  I reach the main road (eastern express highway ).

I call him again .....

"Khwaja I'm on the fxxxing highway now , outside the airport. Beyond the Sahara star 5 star hotel, where are you ?"

" I'm at the right turn ....after the straight...... but I will come to the highway"

I wait for him.

Should I tell neepa ? I wonder...

Perhaps She needs to check the flight schedule for next Coimbatore flight ?
I might need to buy a new ticket.

I call her : " neepa ! I got off at the wrong airport "

"What ? You were on twitter ! You didn't tell Khwaja where to drive you.  How can you be so stupid? "

"Neepa I was checking  my heart rate......"

"you will miss your flight.  Where are you and where is Khwaja ?"

"he's at the right turn... after the straight.... .....Neepa, I'm disoriented. Which way is the T2 terminal , Towards the right on the highway or towards the left ?"

"To the right ! Amit ! You don't know where T2 is ? You don't pay any attention ? You were on your phone. Where is Khwaja  "

"He is at the right turn ....after the straight....₹&&;:/()&&@₹;  .....Neepa I'm taking an auto rickshaw  "

So I flag down an auto-rickshaw and tell him take me to T2.

Neepa calls me back: "you think an auto is allowed onto the T2  access road ?"

"Neepa ! How the fxxxx do I know? .  I've never been there in an auto.  I don't know. Can you call Khwaja and have him follow me ?
In case they don't allow an auto inside the access road approach to the T2"

The auto goes forward at a glacial pace.  We take a right turn under an overpass.  The auto driver bears left to go straight.  I tell him we have to take a complete "U" turn to go toward the T2.  
He says no.  We have to go straight.

I tell him "No. you take U turn. I'll tell you how to go "

"no sir.  You have to go straight "

"no, you take u turn. "

All the time I'm thinking.  This is neepa's fault. She needed to drop me to airport.   I'm not supposed to deal with this crap.

Fxxxxxz Khwaja, I search for my car.  I look outside and behind the auto to find him. He's nowhere in sight.  Fxxx Khwaja  !

The auto driver takes a U turn.  500 m later he says the access road is shut for auto rickshaws .  Only cars are allowed in !

"Why the fxxxx didn't you tell me that before ?", I scream.

"I told you, let's go Straight . You said take U turn. It's your fault "

"But you didn't tell me access road is closed for an auto ! "

"I told you, let's go straight "

But YOU didn't tell me access road is closed for an Auto ! "

"But I told YOU, let's go straight "

I call Khwaja.

" Khwaja where the fxxxx are you ?"

"I'm coming to access road ", he says.

I tell the driver. Ok drop me at the access road entrance.

He drops me there.

The meter says ₹30/-   I give him a ₹100/-

He just looks at me.
"aren't you going to give me anything back ?" I ask him.

"No", he says and smiles and  looks at me as if I'm an alien life form

I see Khwaja drive up.

I run towards my car.

One hand holding the overnight check in bag with broken handle and the other hand holding my laptop and the other stuff.

I get into my car.  We zoom towards the T2.

I get out of the car and run towards the entrance.

I reach the jet airways check-in counter.  

Thankfully, I have a business class ticket.

But there are 2 people ahead of me in the line. I call out and say, "excuse me, I'm sorry but I'm late for my flight "

They let me through.

I call up Neepa. I tell her it's her fault that she didn't come to drop me to the airport.

I can hear Namrata laughing in the background .  

Neepa shouts at me and says that it's not her fault.

She shouts, " Accept that it's your own mistake.  You didn't pay attention. You were on your stupid phone "

I can hear the laughter at the other end of the phone.

Neepa says they are visualising me running on the Tarmac trying to flag down the plane.

I realise that they are laughing their butts off at my cost.

Neepa reminds me, "why weren't you  "mindful" and "aware" and "in-the-moment" ?"

She continues with complete sadistic satisfaction , "Own up. Only you are responsible for this.  You were on your phone "

"Neepa ! It isn't my fault", I said with a smile, " It's this crap Garmin watch with the heart-rate disfunction...  "

The journey

I read a beautiful poem last night on Maria Popovas' brilliant website: "Brainpickings".

The poem called "The Journey" is written by David Whyte and is about ending relationships.

The poem and what Maria wrote about the poem on her website was on my mind earlier today when I finished my first and last long run in preparation for the mumbai marathon.

I had a terrible run and realised that I'm in terrible shape and might not manage a sub 5:00 time at the mumbai marathon and consequently not qualify for Comrades 2017.

As I struggled through the excruciatingly hard run, I thought about my relationship with running.   I started running when I was 38.  I am now 50.  It's been quite an awesome journey.   But as I struggled today with what used to be a simple 30k, I wondered how long this fat, old, un-athletic body of mine can continue on.

The desire to run the 89km Comrades is strong and ever present but the toll that the pounding takes on my body is cumulative and journey is getting harder each year.

As the dark night sky broke into a dark blue and then an orange glow, I searched inside myself to find an answer.   How long can this journey be sustained ? And if this journey and relationship with Comrades is to end, what then lies in the future?

The truth is that I don't know if this was just a single very very bad run or a harbinger of the ashes to follow.  I simply don't know.

Although the poem, "The journey" is about the harrowing experience of leaving a relationship and the accompanying pain it did fortunately end with faith in what the future may hold even without the relationship.

"THE JOURNEY"

Above the mountains the geese turn into the light again Painting their black silhouettes on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be inscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky to find that first, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written something new in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving."

So I would like to think that , even as the strength fades quickly now, I'm not leaving.  I have faith that no matter what happens in the future with running Comrades, I will always find pleasure .  Perhaps of a different kind.  A different freedom. A different light .

Who knows, Perhaps I too am just arriving !

Galileo and running shorts

In praise of Galileo and running shorts.

They welcome you according to your clothes.  They see you off according to your wits : Old Chinese saying.

It is really unfortunate that our clothes symbolise to a certain extent who we are perceived to be or who we wish to be perceived as.

I think our clothes should be fashioned to allow us to do in comfort that which we wish to do.

It is obvious that we must run in shorts as opposed to a long robe.
Shorts are designed for running.  Long robes are designed for other things.  A Religious leader, who is meant to guide some of us in our heavenly quest,  will rarely be seen in shorts.

So Running shorts, are by nature short,  so that they don't impede our stride length.  They are airy and well ventilated so that there is no heat buildup.  They are made of soft fabric so there is no chafing. There is a inner lining to stop our personal properties from spilling out and about.

Besides these, as I recently discovered, there can be several other good uses for running shorts.

This came to mind because I was recently reading a book by Dava Sobel titled "Galileo's Daughter".  
It gives a modern take on the history of science.  It tells the story of Galileo the man, the father, and one of the worlds greatest scientists.

Galileo, in his earlier years (1589) procured a teaching post at the University of Pisa but constantly got himself into trouble by his refusal to wear the regulation academic regalia.  ( a long black toga)

All of us know the legend of Galileo throwing cannonballs of different size from atop the leaning tower of Pisa  to demonstrate that objects of different weights don't fall down at different speeds.  

The author Dava Sobel sympathises with Galileo's distaste for the official long black toga that he had to wear.  The author explains how it would have hindered young Galileo's progress up the spiral staircase of the 8 storied tower as he carried up the cannon balls.

Sobel writes, " Galileo deemed official doctoral dress a pretentious nuisance, and he derided the toga in a three hundred line verse spoof that enjoyed wide readership in that college town."

Clothing gets in the way of men's and women's frank appraisal of each other's attributes, argued Galileo, "while professional uniforms hid the true merits of character under a cloak of social standing.  

Worse, the dignity of the professor's gown barred him from the brothel, denying him the evil pleasures of whoring while resigning him to the equally sinful solace of his own hands.  

The gown even impeded walking, to say nothing of working"

I had always associated Galileo with someone who with his telescope had first discovered the marvels of the celestial bodies.

I now discovered that Galileo had an eye for all sorts of bodies.  

I was fascinated that he lamented that his official dress came in the way of "the pleasures of whoring" and that he had other  "use of his own hands" besides focusing his telescope.

I realised that seeking "Heavenly Truths"  does not stop one from seeking "Earthly Answers".

We are then finally all humans.  Some of us holding a telescope pointing towards the stars.  Some of us wearing running shorts hoping to reach the finish line.  We all have our own unique tools which bring us joy.

So from a purely pleasure seeking point of view , it is unfortunate that Galileo was a scientist and not a runner .

Cause if he had been a runner, a good pair of running shorts would have sufficed for all his earthly needs...

The bulbul story

The Bulbul story ... continued. 

Earlier today, in the afternoon, as Aryan and I sat in his room studying chemistry.  I saw my beloved bulbul spending some quality time with his mate.  

They were both sitting quietly , doing "Nothing".   There was no hurried rush to find food, or the constant flurry of activity with which they normally surround themselves.  They were, to use Aryan's words, simply chilling.  

This crazy bulbul, for the last 6 months, has been a constant source of pain and frustration for me.  

He has woken me up almost every morning with his pecking at his own reflection on my reflective glass window.   
Sometimes, even his mate would accompany him.        He would not only peck at his own reflection but would also hurl himself at the window in a way that his wings would hit his reflected enemy.   The amount of ruckus he's made early in the morning has made me want to kill him on more than one occasion.  

And he has done this pecking, like clockwork, every morning and then in the afternoons. 

I know this because in morning he would wake me up and later in many of the afternoon when I came home from office to study with Aryan, we would watch him from Aryans room (while we sat studying) pecking away at my window.  ( I can see  the outside of my rooms' window from Aryan's window)

Last week, after coming to my wits end, I finally went to a web site and figured out the way to stop the bulbul from pecking at his own reflection.    I put up a cloth outside the window and covered the glass ! 

Since then, the bulbul has stopped coming to peck at his own reflection.  

Today as I saw the bulbul and his mate relaxing in the afternoon, I  thought of the sheer amount of time and energy that the bulbul had spent in fighting his own reflection.  I know for a fact that there was no other bulbul trying to steal his mate or enter his territory.   But he was completely convinced of this and had spent so many hours fighting this completely imaginary fear.  

The amount of damage he must have done to his brains and skull as his beak banged away at the reflective glass must have been tremendous.   

The time he spent fighting his own reflection could have been spent on finding food or building or guarding his nest or simply hanging around with his mate doing nothing or perhaps even doing something constructive.   (Doing the right 'nothing' sometimes and doing right 'something' sometimes is the cornerstone of every good relationship, be it amongst bulbuls or humans) 

And so I now wonder.  What are the things that I worry about ? Which imaginary enemy am I pecking away at ? How much energy of mine is getting wasted on fighting a fear which really isn't there and is but a fragment of my imagination. 

I watched the whole futility of the bulbuls fight with his own reflection. 
He never saw it. I saw it clearly.   

This whole episode reminded me of the movie "Men in Black".  
In the movie "K"(tommy lee jones) opens a locker at a train station.  The small locker is inhabited by tiny alien creatures (C 18 Locker aliens) who think that the locker is the whole Universe and who looked upon K as the "the keeper of light " since he had left his watch (the light giver) inside the locker.  This watch illuminated the locker with its fluorescence.   
To the small aliens, inhabiting the locker, it was the entire Universe and all their problems were real and the size of locker was the sum total of their Universe 

In the last scene of the movie, K and J ( Will Smith) open another door and then they find that they themselves were inside a similar small locker which they had thought was the Universe.  They were in a small locker themselves.  The world outside was huge and there were gigantic aliens walking around. 


I saw the bulbul who in his understanding of the universe was fighting with his real enemy. His problem was real to him. His enemy was real to him.   But his position and the futility of his fight was completely apparent to me.  He was only fighting himself. 

But I realise that I too am a bulbul. 
I too am fighting imaginary fears and enemies.  I too am banging my head against imaginary problems.   

This world and its problems are part of my tiny locker.  
I too am doing so many idiotic things And banging my head against so many imaginary problems. 

I just hope that in the days to come Someone puts a cloth on my reflective glass and makes my imaginary fears go away.  And then, perhaps, I too can end up sitting with my mate, every lazy afternoon, in the shade of a lovely tree doing the right "Nothing" or perhaps doing the right "Something". 


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Registering for Comrades 2017

Registering for Comrades 2017 : Are you going about it slowly ? 
Great poetry crystallises our thoughts in a way prose rarely can.  
It helps us answer questions in a way prose rarely can. 
I love Mary Oliver's poetry, especially the ones about love ! 
Earlier today, someone called me on phone and discussed her desire to run Comrades.   
She hadn't registered yet she said, and was taking this decision very very seriously. 
She felt that this race is so big, so difficult, so momentous that she needed to go about the registration process after a great deal of deliberation.  
Such deep thinking and evaluation takes time, she said.   One must arrive at the decision slowly, she felt. 
She asked me how I had arrived at this decision to run Comrades in 2009.  After all, at that time, there had been not a single person from India who had run this race. I was to be the first and there was no guidance and no path for me to follow.  
"Did you take slow deliberate thoughtful steps?", she asked. 
I recited Mary Oliver's poem about Love to her as an answer.  
The poem is titled : I DID THINK, LET’S GO ABOUT THIS SLOWLY. 
"I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps. 
But, bless us, We Didn't ."
That's how one registers for comrades, I told her.  Don't think.  Just fall in love.  
I hope she registers for Comrades 2017. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The staircase

Our house has a big main central staircase.  

From our hall, the staircase with 12 steps takes us up to a landing.   The Landing has two doors. One opens into my dads room and the other into my gym.  The staircase then turns and continues upwards for another 5 steps. This second landing leads to a long corridor which connects our library, my son Aryan's (aged 15) room,  my daughter Namrata's (aged 20) room and my room (quite old)   

My room is at the far end of the corridor, So every time I go back and forth from my room, I pass all the other bedrooms on the way.  

Last night , I was going up the staircase after dinner with aryan in tow.    He was just a step behind me and keeping pace.   Although I was climbing up at a brisk pace,  I wondered if I was slowing him down and so at the first landing, outside my dad's room, I paused to see if he wanted to run up past me.    I stopped and gave him some space. 

And suddenly, I missed my father a lot. 

In the later years of his life, my father used to climb up the staircase one step at a time.   He wasn't in pain or discomfort.   It was simply old age.   His feet had lost their ability to sense touch and so he used the strength of his knees and calves to climb up while being unable to sense the staircase with his feet. 

So after dinner, very often, when he and I were going upstairs to our respective rooms, I used to either go ahead of him or if he started up the stairs first, I'd wait for him to reach his room.   

I didn't want to rush him by being right behind him. 

So last night , I paused at the landing and gave Aryan some space to carry on. 

Aryan seemed completely unaware even of the fact that I gave him space.    So I continued up and he followed me.   

And I wonder when the day will come when I do slow him down.   I'm sure the day will come but yesterday wasn't that day. 

My dad stayed with me long enough to ensure that I became independent and settled in life.  I hope I can do the same for my children. 

The Comrades marathon registrations opened up on the 1st of September and I intend to register for the 88k Up run which will take place in 2017.    I hope that I can follow that with Down run in 2018 and then the Up in 2019 and then the Down run in 2020 and then Up run in 2021 and hopefully that will bring me to 10 Comrades finishes.   At which point I might as well run my 11th Comrades with a green number bib. 

As Aryan grows stronger with each passing day my prayer is that I can stay abreast with my boy on the staircase, at least until 2022.    

And then, although I hope I keep running, I won't mind if he starts racing up the staircase past me.