Saturday 24 October 2015

A little spark of madness

A little spark of madness.

"You've only given one little spark of madness. 
If you lose that, you've got nothin"
:Robin Williams

It was a Thursday morning,  I was at work in my office when I got the call.  The caller was a herald of good news.  I was informed of torrential rains in Matheran.  I knew what had to be done.

Aryan was at school.  Namrata was at college.  Neepa was busy.  
But sometimes, a man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do.

I left for Matheran.

On route, I received a message on What's app from a friend.  It read, "Every morning I get up and look through The Forbes list of the richest people in the world.  If I'm not there, I go to work."

Profound words of wisdom.....The friend didnt mention who actually said those words.    
I gave them some thought.  I wasn't even the richest person in my house, let alone my street.  But here I was on my way to Matheran, on a weekday afternoon.  

I arrived at the Dasturi car-park (Matheran is a car free zone and car's aren't allowed beyond Dasturi.  One needs to walk 3km into the Center of town from there.  Normally the car park is overrun with cars, so much so that people start parking them on the slopes leading up to Dasturi.  But today it was desolate.  Only a half dozen cars were parked and monkeys were jumping around on some of them.    

I picked up my back pack and started the 2.5 k walk towards our house.  A dense fog had settled onto the whole mountain. There was a light drizzle of rain.   There were no humans around, the path was desolate but the mountain was alive,  the birds were chirping and the monkeys were swinging on the trees overhead.  

I reached our house and opened the door.  The silence inside the house was deafening.  As I laid down my bag in my room, I could feel the quiet.  It was as if I had switched on some noise reduction earphones and not only were the earphones blocking the noise from outside but they were blasting silence into my ears as well.  I felt unsettled with this much silence.  It was overwhelming.  The occasional sound of a bird singing or a cricket in the forest outside seemed excessively loud.  

I quickly changed into my running clothes and trail shoes and stepped out.  The fog had become even more dense and I could now barely see 10 strides ahead of me.  But in running, as in life, 10 strides of visibility is a luxury.    Normally one cannot see what life holds for one beyond the breath one is taking,  10 strides of visibility was plenty to run.

The air was nice and crisp and clean and cool.  There was no dust in the air.   The chirping of the crickets and the songs of the birds was enough.  I did not feel the need for my ipod.   And then the fog got denser and the visibility dropped even further.  Heavy rains had eroded the trail and stones lay exposed.  The ground was carpeted by leaves.  I focused on each step as if my life depended on it.  I forgot the world, I forgot everything. There was just me and the trail.  

I heard the rain falling on the forest cover. For a while nothing got through as the water simply accumulated on the leaves of the tall trees and then suddenly amongst thunder and lighting it seemed that the heavens opened up.  Now extra large drops of rain fell in torrents.  Within a few minutes, small rivulets started pouring onto the trail and i found myself running in ankle deep water.  I found myself running through small pools where the trail was flat, I found myself floating downwards on small waves where the trail went downwards, i found myself running up against the stream where the trail went up.  I was riding the waves.   Large drops of rain continued to drench me and I felt i couldn't get any so wet even if i jumped into a swimming pool.

At a clearing in the forest, I came to a halt.  I wanted to look around and treasure the moment.  And what I saw next, I will remember until the day I die.  Not 25 feet away from me stood the most beautiful deer I have ever seen.  Our eyes met.  We both stood motionless for a few seconds and then in a fraction he disappeared.

I ran back home filled with emotions that I cannot describe.   Sometimes we experience, things which are tangible and yet not sayable.  Some feelings happen in a place in our hearts where words cannot enter.   There are moments in life so sacred that even whispering about them would be sacrilege.

I returned to the house, happy and spent and drenched to my bones.   I showered and changed and opened a pack Neepa had prepared for me.  A bottle of wine and a plate of cheese.   Our housekeeper Sushila who stays in a separate outhouse built on the grounds, had purchased fresh bread from the village baker.

I settled down in the Veranda of the house with my glass of wine, cheese, bread and "Memoirs of Hadrian".  

But as i sipped my wine and read this wonderful book, my mind kept replaying my run.  There will come a day when I can no longer run like this.  There will come a day when my limbs are no longer strong and when my body is robbed of its freedom.  But I know that when that day comes, I will be ready.  I will just have to close my eyes and I will be transported to that spot of clearing in the Matheran forest, that holy ground, and I will be standing there sharing eternity with that deer.  And now i know that whenever the day comes, I will no longer  begrudge the loss of my strength and ability to run for I have already lived a full life.

I am back in my office today.  It is another working day and as I go through the Whats app messages which have piled up, I notice the message that my friend had sent:  "Every morning I get up and look through The Forbes list of the richest people in the world.  If I'm not there, I go to work."

These are interesting words.  Money is terribly important in this world.  It makes many things go round.  I think that money is one of man's most important inventions.  Without money as a mode of exchange we would all have to turn into farmers or hunters to earn our means of sustenance.  Money helps put us through college, helps us with healthcare and helps us run.  It is fabulous to earn great wealth.  But it is equally important to spend it.

Osho says that, "The treasure trove which is not used is empty even when it is full, and the treasure trove that is used is full even when it is empty.  Existence gives us treasures, immense treasures, but one has to search and dig for them by oneself.  There is no wealth bigger than life itself and one who cannot see wealth in that will not find it anywhere else."

There are riches and then there are riches.  Good health is life's greatest treasure, its greatest wealth.

I Google and find out that it was Robert Orben who said, "Every morning I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America.  If I'm not there, I go to work."   Robert Orben was a comedian and a magician.    

I think that all great comedians are men of profound self-awareness because Robert also said, " Time flies.  Its up to you to be the navigator,"   I certainly don't want to spend all my days trying to get onto that elusive list of the worlds richest people.  I have neither the inclination nor the talent.  There are some other places I would rather be.

But, I am at my office today.  I do need some amount of money.   Neepa and I plan to go run a marathon in the United States in January 2016 besides taking Aryan to Disney. 

So today i have to sit in my office, but I am so sore.  The run on the trail has used up every ounce of my energy.  Every bone and fibre in my body hurts.   I am so happily fatigued.   But I smile because the weekend is coming up and Neepa wants to run long.   

And yes, I am on my own list.  I made it up.  I'm the Warren Buffet of happiness.

Friday 23 October 2015

Paradise Regained

Paradise Regained

Aryan and I aren’t really that much into hockey unless we are at our home in Matheran.  But once there, things change.

There are no paved roads in Matheran and people use walking sticks to safely traverse the trails.  The narrow wooded trails full of undergrowth and layered with leaves are a source of danger to most people who gladly buy the beautifully handcrafted walking sticks sold in the small village market.

But for Aryan and me, a walking stick held upside down becomes a perfect hockey stick.  All we need is a ball and then the massive 60-feet long empty veranda in our house becomes an ideal ground for a pitched one–on-one hockey battle.  And what a battle it is!

There are no rules.  There is pushing and shoving, holding and pulling involved.  The ball is occasionally kicked away from the goal with the leg and sometimes one uses ones hand to stop the ball from rolling towards the goal.

And all through the battle, there is laughter and happiness.  At every tackle, I laugh and hug my boy. He thinks I am obstructing him from reaching for the ball but this is my greatest joy, to hug my boy again and again.

The game ends when the walking stick shatters or when a misdirected swing of the stick finds a shin instead of the ball.

The end of the hockey game then leads us to the next sport.

Our house is surrounded by a dense forest with lots and lots of monkeys.  The locals often use hand catapults to drive away the hordes of monkeys.  But for Aryan and myself, the hand catapult is not a weapon.  It is a toy and we find all sorts of non-living targets to test our skills.
Our favourite target being the light pole.

And twice a day, it is time to take long lazy walks in the secluded quite woods.  The game played at such time is to spot insects or snakes in the dense woods and on the leaf covered forest floor.

I watch my boy with love and affection and I see his innocence and playfulness and I think, “Please buddy, don’t grow up and lose your sense of wonder and joy, don’t be filled with tension and anxiety and stress.”

I remember Tagore’s poem, “Playthings”

“Child, how happy you are sitting in the dust, playing with a broken twig all the morning.

I smile at your play with that little bit of a broken twin.

I am busy with my accounts, adding up figures by the hour.

Perhaps you glance at me and think, “What a stupid game to spoil your morning with!”

Child, I have forgotten the art of being absorbed in sticks and mud-pies.

I seek out costly playthings and gather lumps of gold and silver.

With whatever you find you create you glad games, I spend both my times and my strength over things I   never can obtain.

In my frail canoe I struggle to cross the sea of desire, and forget that I too am playing a game.”      

I remember Tagore’s poem but I am filled with joy because I know that I am truly blessed.

I am not burdened with age because I have learnt the secret of happiness.

Every morning, I wear my running shoes and I am out on a journey to rediscover my childhood.

And there is nothing compared to running in matheran In the Rains.

The rain pours down on me.  I am drenched to the bone.  There is a deafening sound of rain drops on the forest canopy.

All around me I hear a cacophony of songs. The birds and the insects are singing.  

My raindrop cleared eyes are focused on the trail, I notice the myriad colours of the leaves carpeting the floor, I keep a look out for the rocks sticking out from under them,

I keep a lookout for roots sticking out of the ground, I am focused on gauging the depth of the puddles on the trail. I am mindful of the moss-coated rocks which lie amongst the leaves. I run over the leaves and through the puddles.  The water splashes all the way up to my knees.

I run with faith that my feet will find solid ground.  I run with faith that the floor will not shift beneath my feet.

I am silent, I am peaceful, I am meditative and I am in love with my life.

I am once again, a child at play. I am as fresh as every rain drop falling from the sky.  I am filled with joy, I am filled with wonder. I have no tension, no worry, no stress.

I am enjoying a second childhood and this one is even better than the first.

It is better because I now value it more. I attach more significance to it.  I understand life a little more now than before.    

The first childhood disappeared without my appreciating it.  

But now I have seen the world, I have seen the darkness and the light.  I am now filled with a certain amount of wisdom. And so when I run, I am filled with love and innocence, with gratitude and with light.  I appreciate what I have.

I have regained and rediscovered my childhood.    

I need not die or be reborn to enter paradise.    

All I have to do every morning, is lace up my shoes and step out. . . and sometimes, I have to pick up a walking stick and go into battle with Aryan.

Paradise is always near !! 

Friday 16 October 2015

Eat your Jam - today

Eat Your Jam Today!
“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day”: Alice in Wonderland.

I truly believe that every runner must keep a log book.  It is simply a book where he or she can log the miles run, along with some basic information about time, pace, kind of terrain run on, weekly total etc.  This helps a runner know where he’s been in terms of his training and where he is headed. 

The training program written in advance into the log book helps one plan the work week because after all, we are all people with day job’s and real life has to be manipulated around the running program. 

Sometimes, looking at the log book after a race, helps one identify what went right and sometimes what went wrong.    

I started keeping a log book since the time I started running about 10 years ago and I can look up what I did in terms of running on each and every day in the past 10 years. It almost seems like the, “This day in history” column we see in some newspapers. 

I normally have two log books next to my bed, that of the current year and that of the year gone by and I often like to look at exactly the same day and week of the previous year.  This helps me know where I stand in terms of my fitness.  Having written down my future training program into the log book weeks in advance also helps me know what is coming and helps me prepare mentally.

But all good things taken to an extreme can be abused and at some point become counterproductive.

On Friday night, I fell sick.  I suffered from food poisoning.  I spent most of the night in the bathroom, doubled up over the pot, pucking out the contents of my stomach.   The night left me so dehydrated that the next morning, the Doctor administered two bottles of IV fluids. 

I lost my Saturday morning run.  I spent most of Saturday in bed but I hadn’t recovered enough to even go and run on Sunday and consequently lost the Sunday run.  I spent most of Sunday also in bed.  

On Sunday evening, I opened the log book to total the week’s mileage.  It broke my heart to write 0 km for Saturday and 0 km for Sunday.  I opened last year’s log book and saw that I had done a 15k on Saturday and 25k on the same Sunday.  The weekly total fell short by 40k as compared to a year ago.  I felt extremely sad.

But by Sunday night I felt reasonably recovered and was determined not to log in another 0k for Monday, especially since the old log book showed that I had run an easy recovery run of 10k the previous year. It also bothered me that another 0k would ruin the week planned ahead.

As the alarm rang on Monday morning, I was torn.  Should I go run or simply take one more day of rest to ensure total recovery?  What was the right thing to do?  How must I live today as today dictates or should the past decide my current course of action? Must I run today as today dictates or should I let my future running plans dictate what I run today?

I remembered one of my favourite poems by Kalidas which I had learnt as a student in the 10th grade:

Look to this day
For it is life, the very life of life........
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new.
I pondered over the words and I knew what I had to do.  I also had support from various quarters. 

At one end there was Kalidas, glorious and full of divinity and at the other end was Alice in Wonderland. 

I’ve always hated Alice in Wonderland, especially when I was a kid.  I hated the idea of chasing a rabbit down a hole and the name Mad Hatter seemed to me extremely disturbing.  However, it does have its share of wisdom which was lost on me at that time.

The Queen tells Alice that she will employ her for “Two pence a week, and jam every other day.” The Queen further clarifies that, “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day”.  So Alice objects, “It must come sometimes to jam to-day”, “No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”

Lying in my bed that morning, I realized that that’s how I was living.  Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, never jam today. 

I had forgotten that this moment was the only real moment that there is.  I couldn’t make my plans based on either last year’s log book or on the future schedules written down in the current years log book.  I had to live each day as it dawned.  I had to live each day to the best of my ability.

I knew I had to make a decision for the day, which was relevant for that particular day.

I knew I needed one more day of rest.

I stayed in bed that day.  I didn’t go to run.  When Neepa returned from her run, I joined her in the garden for a cup of coffee and a slice of toast and yes, I did put a lot of Jam on it!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Life : A place where all your questions are answered.

Life : A place where all your answers are questioned ! 

I slept badly last night.  The pain in my left shoulder was pretty bad and every few hours, it woke me up.  
I have injured my shoulder while learning how to swim.  Most people swim to relax while I’ve injured myself while swimming!! The very thought makes me cringe!  

Over the last 10 years, I’ve had my share of running related injuries.  I’ve now embarked on learning two new sports: swimming and cycling. Makes me wonder what is in store for me?
As I lay awake last night, in bed, waiting for the pain to subside, I thought back to that brave day, about a month and a half ago when I decided to train for a triathlon.   I wrote a blog about my ambition and announced it to the world! (Ok, I understand, the world is a very large place. I announced it to the infinitesimally small group of people who care to read my blogs)    

As I lay in bed, I thought about a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip I had read. 

Calvin is running hard with his arms extended to catch a large dark balloon which is falling. He is totally focused.  He has a smile on his face and a quiet confidence which says, “I’ve got this”.  He is totally sure that he is going to catch the balloon.  Just as he is about to grab it, the balloon bursts.  The balloon had been full of water! 

He walks away, drenched, disgusted and disappointed. 

He mutters, “How can something seem so plausible at the time and so idiotic in retrospect”

To do a triathlon, just because my son showed me a cartoon video, which depicted the fleetingness of life?   What was I thinking? 

Learning any new skill at the age of 49 is hard.  Learning how to swim freestyle at 49 is particularly hard.  But I’ve been at it for approx 45 days.  At least 3 times a week I show up at a local pool.  The pool is full of young small kids. One could stack many of them one upon the other and they would still not reach my shoulder height.  I soldier along with them.  They effortlessly swim the 50 meter length of the pool, touch the wall and turn back.  I start sinking at the 40 meter mark and then when I somehow reach the 50 meter mark I have to hold onto the wall for dear life, to catch my breath.  By the time I recover, they have almost reached the other end.  

Coordinating my head, arms, hips, legs, and breathing, all at the same time, is a bit too much.  Normally I cannot coordinate amongst my head and heart.  

I’ve looked at YouTube tutorials for swimming and I understand that you cannot fight against water.  It has too much resistance.  Brute strength can’t win, one needs skill.  I can’t pound my way along.  I need to glide.  I totally get the concept...intellectually.  But when I jump into the water, all understanding is lost.   

I’m struggling. 

And I haven’t even got to road cycling yet.  My friend Ashok has come home and helped service my Trek MTB. (I haven’t yet invested in a road racing cycle.) Ashok added all sorts of stuff to make the cycle road worthy (New lighter pedals, new sleeker tyres, new aerodynamic handlebar, water bottles etc).   He’s done such a great job that even a TDF participant won’t mind taking it for a spin.  But so far I’ve only loaded it on a home trainer and am cycling once or twice a week for about an hour.

Meanwhile my running has fallen apart.  After doing 3 or 4 swim sessions a week, one weight training session, 1 or 2 cycling sessions, I barely drag myself out of bed for perhaps 3 running sessions.

Last year during the same time period I was pulling off 90km per week of running.  This year it’s more like 40km.

I now don’t know where I stand.  I am quite lost.  I don’t have any answers. 

Is this where I want to be? Instead of being bad at one sport, I am now bad at three.

How and why did I end up here?  And where is the ‘here’? I no longer even know where I stand.  

I’m stuck in total insecurity.  There is total uncertainty.

After 10 years of running.  I pretty much knew all the questions one could ask about running.  I also knew some of the answers.  I’d be the first to admit that I didn’t know all the answers but I can say with a certain degree of confidence that I knew most of the questions. 

Now with the combination of swimming, cycling and running, I know neither the answers nor the questions.  I don’t even know what I don’t know.  It’s as if someone has changed all the questions to my known answers.  Or perhaps there are new answers to my old questions.   

I am reminded of a Osho Zen story.  There were two Zen temples.  They were rivals.  Both the temple priests were so much against each other that they told their followers never to look at another temple.  

Each of the priests had a boy to serve him - to go and fetch things for him, to go on errands.  The priest of the first temple told his boy servant, “Never talk to the other boy. Those people are dangerous”.  

But boys are boys.  One day they met on the road and the boy from the first temple asked the other, “Where are you going?”  The other said, “Wherever the wind takes me.”  A great statement!  Pure Tao. 

The first boy was very much disturbed and offended and he could not figure out how to answer.  Frustrated and angry and guilty, he went to his master and told him what had happened.  “I’m sorry that I spoke to him.  Those people are strange. What kind of answer is this?   I asked him where are you going, a simple formal question and I knew that he was going to the market, just like I was going to the market.  But he said, “Wherever the wind takes me!”

The master said, “I warned you but you didn’t listen.  Now look, tomorrow you stand at the same place again and when he comes, ask him the same question.  And he will say wherever the wind takes me.  Then you also be more philosophical and say, “If you don’t have any legs then?” because the soul is bodiless and the wind cannot take the soul anywhere- What about that?”

The boy wanted to be absolutely ready. The whole night he repeated his question again and again and again and the next morning very early he went and stood on the spot and at the exact time the other boy came.

He was now going to show the other boy what real philosophy is.  

So he asked, “Where are you going?  But the boy answered, “I’m going to fetch vegetables from the market”  

Now what to do with the philosophy that he had learnt?  Everything he had learnt was of no use.  This was a new answer to his old question.

Life is like that.  You cannot prepare for it, you cannot be ready.  Each moment is a surprise and no ready-made answer is applicable. “

After 10 years of running, I once again find myself in a place where I don’t know what I am up against.  I don’t know anything about the problems I will face.  The familiar has now been exchanged for the unfamiliar.  I have no idea about the challenges which lie ahead.

What a place to be in.  It is a total lack of control.  For some time now, I was no longer afraid when it came to running.  Even a bad race, a slow race, taking an IV, Puking on the road, cramping, or even a DNF was something I was no longer afraid of.  After all, I’ve been there and done that. 

But I am now, once again, in an unknown and unchartered place.  

I am afraid and insecure and uncertain.  

The only thing in my power now is my reaction to this new situation.  

All I have is the freedom to react.   And that freedom, is perhaps, what life is all about.  

Will I ever learn how to swim and cycle and run and participate in a triathlon? I don't know.  But I am ready to explore the new questions.    

I’m 49 years old and I’ve never felt more alive.