Running is my Religion and I continuously try to convert non-runners into becoming runners.
But, what can I do? I can’t help myself.
However I am not alone. For many Mumbaikars the most sacred day for our religion arrives this year on the 20th of Jan, the day we run the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. The auspicious days however begin with the expo where we go to meet our fellow runners and pick up our Bibs.
On Friday 12th, as I stood selling T-shirts at the SCMM expo to support treatment of children at the Tata Cancer hospital, I could feel the excitement amongst the thousands of runners coming in to collect their Bibs. I felt a close kinship with these runners. These are my brothers and sisters.
Friday, the12th of Jan, also happened to be Swami Vivekananda’s birthday and earlier in the day, I had read the text of his 1893 Chicago speech given to the Parliament of World’s Religions.
Although he gave the speech in 1893, the parallels between the sentiments expounded in his speech that day and those of our experiences as runners today are astounding.
He explained that India was a tolerant nation. He believed that Indian's believed not only in Universal toleration, but also accepted all religions as true.
He quoted a hymn, “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their waters in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various as they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee.”
As we stand on the start line on Sunday 20th, we runners, will be the best embodiment of Vivekananda’s India. Amongst us will be slow runners and fast, businessmen and industrialists, doctors and teachers, craftsmen and students, the very rich and the very poor. Amongst us will be people of different castes and different tribes.
But no one will know who is which. These differences mean nothing. We will all just be runners.
For the next few hours we will all be involved in our personal journey to become better than we are. We will be engaged in a journey to push ourselves beyond our physical and mental limitations. Our speeds and distances may vary but our destinations will be the same. We will all be uniquely alone and yet we will all be in it together.
Vivekandanda described, the Parliament of the World’s Religions as an assembly which vindicated a wonderful doctrine that was contained in the Gita.
“Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.”
Our assembly of runners is much the same as that Parliament which met in 1893. It embodies the same search. Running is our path to finding and improving ourselves. It is our instrument to make ourselves better humans: physically, mentally and spiritually. It purges all the negativity from our lives. It is our path to Godliness.
Whether we stand on the start line of the dream run, the half or the full marathon, we are all struggling to reach for Him, who is somewhere deep inside us, pushing us along. Running provides us with one possible path to reach Him.
Vivekananda would have been proud of us.
But as I said, like all zealously religious men, I realise that I end up being a bit too preachy. I mistakenly believe that running is the path to everyone’s salvation.
This dogmatic approach often leads to Neepa reprimanding me. She says that I must mind my own business . She suggests that I must keep all religious philosophy to myself and simply shut-up and run.
So at times when I find myself preaching a bit much, I remind myself of Mulla Nasrudin’s folly as told by Osho.
“Mulla Nasrudin's family was upset because the girl he was planning to marry was an atheist. "We'll not have you marrying an atheist," his mother said. "What can I do? I love her," the young Nasrudin said. "Well," said his mother, "if she loves you, she will do anything you ask. You should talk religion to her. If you are persistent, you can win her over."
Several weeks went by, then one morning at breakfast the young Mulla seemed absolutely broken hearted. "What's the matter?" his mother asked. "I thought you were making such good progress in your talks about religion to your young girlfriend."
"THAT'S THE TROUBLE," said Nasrudin, "I OVER DID IT. LAST NIGHT SHE TOLD ME SHE WAS SO CONVINCED THAT SHE IS GOING TO STUDY TO BE A NUN."