Tuesday 15 January 2013

Running is my Religion

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."


Saturday 5 January 2013

The Golden Age of Running

'Out Of The Past' was the name of the store, and its products consisted of memories: what was prosaic and even vulgar to one generation had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp. (First Lines of a book written by Gil Pander in the movie Midnight in Paris)
Neepa and I celebrated the last day of 2012 by running 35k in the hills of Lonavala.  It was a fabulous cool morning and we were back on our favourite road between the Lonavala market and Amby valley.  We hadn't run on this road since we finished Comrades training in April 2012.  As the sun rose and revealed the road, we felt that we were meeting our old friend.  As we ran along on this the last day of 2012, I thought about the year gone by.
What a fabulous year it had been! 
I had run 2 races in America and 2 in South Africa, I had run 2 races in India as a running reporter for Star TV and also the Mumbai marathon as a pacer. My daughter had run her first 10k. 
I have enjoyed a fabulous life! 

And so, as we reached the 17.5k point, I looked back at the last 7 years of my life since I started running.  I was 38 years old back then and my life has since been changed beyond recognition.  All those marathons runs, the new lifestyle adopted, the new friends made, and the new countries visited just to run marathons! Life has been magnificent.  

I felt a bit sad that the 7 years had gone by so fast and I almost wished I could be transported back to the day I went for my first run.  I felt nostalgic.   I wished that I was 38 years old again and just beginning my running days all over again.   I was worried that perhaps the best days were gone and the magic would never return.  I was worried that this body of mine, this bundle of emotions, would never make it up those steep hills again. I felt a longing for the past 7 years.
I wished I could be 38 again.

This feeling of nostalgia, reminded me of my favourite Woody Allen film, 'Midnight in Paris'. 
Like most Woody Allen movies, this one too is really funny.  At the same time it deals with our nostalgia and fondness for the past, our disappointments with the present and our anxieties for the future.  

The hero of the film Gil Pander (brilliantly played by Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of being a great novelist. 

Gil is writing a book centred on a man who owns a Nostalgia shop (a store which sells memorabilia).  Gil is visiting Paris, a city he loves and where he wishes he could live along with his fiancée Inez.

Gil is a slightly melancholy guy who has been struggling with his first book and Inez is very critical and unsupportive of him. She continuously looks down on him and his ambition to become an author.  She wishes that he would stop writing this book and would just continue writing screenplays that made him very good money.    
All day long as they move around Paris, Gil wishes he could move permanently to Paris but Inez wants to live in Malibu. 

One night after a few drinks he steps out for a walk and is transported at the stroke of midnight into the Paris of his dreams, the Paris of the 1920's and there he gets to meet his cultural heroes: Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Picasso's girlfriend Adriana.
He even gets to hear Cole Porter sing on the piano:
"Birds do it, bees do it,
Even educated fleas do it,
Let's do it, Let's fall in Love"

Gil believed that the 1920's was La Belle Époque, the Golden Age (because according to him, all the great artists he loved had lived in the 1920s in Paris)  and he wishes that he could stay forever in that Golden Age.

Gil then falls in love with Pablo Picasso's girlfriend Adriana.  He purchases her earrings and declares his love to her. They kiss and before they know, they are invited inside a horse-drawn carriage by a richly-dressed couple and are transported further back in time to the 1890s.

Adriana is now very excited because she considered the 1890s as the Golden Age. She had always fantasised about living in the 1890s, to her that age was la Belle Époque. 

Gil and Adriana are taken to Maxim's Paris, and eventually to the Moulin Rouge where they meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas.  These were the cultural heroes of the 1890s and as far as Adriana was concerned, they were the greatest. 

But when Gil asks Gauguin and the others their thoughts about the greatest era, they opined that the greatest era was the Renaissance.

Gil who lived in the 2010s believed that the 1920s was the Golden Age but Adriana who lived in the 1920s believed that the 1890s was the Golden Age and the heroes of the 1890s seemed to believe that the 1500s were the greatest. 

It seems that each generation looks at the time gone past with nostalgia.  People feel that the time gone by was the Golden Age while the present and the future were not good enough. 

Paul, a pedantic character in the film says, "Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is Golden Age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."

By the time Neepa and I finished our 35k that day, I had finished my nostalgia trip.  7 fabulous years had gone by and now at the age of 46, I am a middle-aged chap. But I am not going to deny the present and I am absolutely delighted with what the future holds for me.  I am stronger now than I have ever been and I have plans to run races for many more years to come. 

This is something running does for us. We runners don't dwell for too long on runs gone by but we focus on the present and dream about the runs to come, the races to be run and the new friends to be made.   
After that last run of 2012, I was ready to say goodbye to the year. I was already excited about the New Year and the experiences it would bring.

I will expectantly await the 2 a.m. mornings alarms which will awaken Neepa and me as we prepare for Comrades 2013, I am delighted with the thought of glasses full of delicious wine which will be shared the night before the long runs, I cannot wait to experience the deep satisfaction which follows those inordinately crazy long runs,  I am expectantly awaiting the long phone discussions about training runs and their scheduling with my friend Sushant, I am anxiously awaiting the long and cramped flights to distant lands to run new races. I eagerly await the meeting of old friends on the start-lines and the making of new friends who shared my passion, I am ready even for the excruciating pain of the deep tissue massages and disappointments of some missed runs. 
I am so proud that my daughter Namrata will run her first half marathon in 2013 and I am so happy that Neepa will be running alongside me every step of the way.

Yes, we runners celebrate our past, but nostalgia does not tie us down.  We don't really wish to go back to the past...to a time gone by.  We remain excited about the future. 
We have faith that our best is yet to come.

The Golden Age... La Belle Époque...is not a time in the past.  The Golden Age starts now and will take us into the Future! 
La Belle Époque begins when my eyes open every morning.  It begins when the Sun rises. It begins when I tie my shoelaces. It begins when I step out the door to run.

Welcome to 2013!