Friday, 27 November 2015

Running with Forrest

"Mama said they would take me anywhere.  She said they were my magic shoes": Forrest Gump.

Running with Forrest

Forrest Gump, is one of my favourite movies.  Like most fellow runners, I love the part where Forrest runs across America.  Those visuals touch my heart. As the music soars and Forrest runs, my heart longs to run with Forrest.

However the reason I love the movie is because of the tremendous wisdom that this fictional character is able to impart.  
The most instructive part of Forrest running, according to me, is not when he runs, but when he stops.

Let me explain myself.
As Forrest keeps running across America, a growing group of runners start following him.  Forrest never actually articulates his need to run except to say, "I just felt like running".

The reporters keep asking him, "Are you running for world peace, for the environment, for women's rights, for the animals?" But Forrest keeps insisting that he runs because he feels like it. It seems that they can't believe that somebody could do all that running for no particular purpose.

And then, suddenly Forrest stops running, the group of runners following him stop behind him.  Forrest stands and looks around as the group waits expectantly behind him.  They expect him to say something profound.   
Forrest turns and looks at them.

And the following dialogues take place:
One of the followers says: “Quiet. Quiet, he's gonna say something.”
Forrest: “I'm pretty tired.  I think I'll go home now.”

Forrest then walks toward the group.  The group parts for Forrest as he walks down the middle of the road, and walks past them.

Now the runner who had spoken earlier exclaims with despair in his voice, "Now what are we supposed to do?

I love this part.  I love the question, "NOW WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?"
It always reminds me of the Ancient Greek aphorism, "Know Thyself".
Emerson wrote that "Envy is ignorance, Imitation is suicide". 

These poor chaps who were simply imitating Forrest, no longer knew what to do once he stopped running. They had never articulated their own search, they had never formulated their own reason for running, and hence they were lost the minute Forrest stopped running.

They were inspired by Forrest but they had not assimilated his goal as their own.  They were simply imitating him and such imitation will always be fatal.

I love a story told by Osho:

“Zusia, a very religious man, was dying and he started praying.  Tears were flowing down from his eyes and he was trembling.

And somebody asked him, “What is the matter? Why are you trembling?”

He said, “I am trembling for a certain reason.  This is my last moment, I am dying.  Soon I will be facing my God, and I am certain he is Not going to ask me, “Zusia, why were you not a Moses?”

For if God were to ask this question, I would be fine because I have an answer. I will answer, "Lord, because you didn’t give me the qualities of a Moses”; and so there will be no problem.

He will not ask me, “Why were you not Rabbi Akiba?”
For if he asks me this question, I would be fine, because I have an easy answer.  I will tell him, “Sir, you never gave me the qualities of being an Akiba, that’s why.”

But I am trembling because if he asks me, “Zusia, why were you not Zusia?” then I will have nothing to answer.  Then I will have to look down in shame. That’s why I am trembling and these tears are flowing.

My whole life I tried to become Moses or Akiba or somebody else, and I completely forgot that God wanted me to be just Zusia and nobody else.  Now I am trembling, now I am afraid.   If he asks this question, what am I going to answer?” How will I be able to raise my eyes when he says, “Why were you not Zusia?  You were given all the qualities of being a Zusia, how did you miss?”

To be inspired by someone is fabulous but to imitate someone is to commit suicide.
Every man is unique with his own strengths and weaknesses. 

To be inspired is great because through another one can glimpse one’s own hidden possibilities. But every man’s path to enlightenment is his own.

I love the Zusia story because sometimes I have often found myself in a slightly similar trap.

As training for the Mumbai Marathon gets into high gear, I watch with fascination as my friends aspire to achieve fabulous goals.  For many of them, no distance seems too long, no volume too high, and no speed too fast.  They seem to know exactly where they are going.

I am inspired by them and am tempted to adopt their targets as my own.  But I need to remember that although I am inspired, I need to understand my own reasons for adopting such targets.

Early into his run across America, Forrest Gump meets a young man.  The young guy runs upto him, filled with excitement and says, "It's you.  I can't believe it’s really you."  And then he starts jogging behind Forrest and says, "I mean, it was like an alarm went off in my head, you know.  I said, here's a guy that's got his act together.  Here's somebody who's got it all figured out. 

Here's somebody who has the answer.  I'll follow you anywhere, Mr. Gump"

The problem with this approach is that Mr Gump may have the answer, but the answer will be unique to him. It won’t be the answer to your question. If you follow Forrest Gump you will reach his destination, not yours.

My friends have their own reasons and their own answers. Do I have mine? 

A fellow runner chasing his own personal best time and distance may have got his act together but if I am to follow him, then I too must get my act sorted out for myself and by myself. I can't rely on someone else's answer.  

I must remember what Emerson said, ““Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

In the movie, as children, Jenny Curran and Forrest have a conversation: 
Jenny: Do you ever dream, Forrest, about who you’re gonna be?
Forrest: Who I’am gonna be?
Jenny: Yeah
Forrest: Aren’t-aren’t I going to be me?

So as I train for the Mumbai Marathon, I look at my friends who are seeking speed and endurance and strength. 

I have learnt to admire them, I long to learn from them and I regularly seek inspiration from them but at the same time 

I never forget to ask myself: “Who am I gonna be?”

And the answer is always the same: I can only be me!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

An antisocial Ass

I went and spoke in Shanghai to a group of Asian Businessmen and my talk was a great success.  It was an extremely well organised event. 150 people attended and each one was given a copy of Dare to Run.   There were two translators who translated english into mandarin.  This was my first experience with this and it was brilliantly done. The translators were very competent. 
I know they did their job well because 90% of my punch lines were well received and I knew that the audience got it !   

The applause during and after the speech gave me the assurance that they enjoyed the talk.  The book signing and selfie routine which followed assured me completely. 

But I think my host was unhappy.  I do not blame him.  
I behaved selfishly and unfortunately he might never understand why. 

I arrived at the hotel on Friday evening at 6:00 pm. My Hong Kong- Shanghai flight had been delayed by almost two hours and by the time I reached the hotel in Shanghai I was tired. 

My gracious host had not only sent his personal car and office colleague to receive me at the airport but had also come himself to meet me at the hotel.  

He invited me to join him and a few of his friends for a round of drinks and then for dinner. 

I told him I was tired and would request to be excused. He did not show his disappointment. 

On Saturday morning, I had one of my worst runs in recent memory.   I ran a beautiful road on the waterfront in the business district of shanghai but it was hot and humid and my legs refused to move. This was perhaps due to the accumulated fatigue of travel. 

It took me 1:30 to run 10k and I simply struggled. I ran out 5k from the hotel and struggled back. 

I later did some tourist stuff in Shanghai and returned to my hotel room.   A conference inauguration dinner was planned at another location and I was requested to be ready to leave our hotel at 4:30 pm. I was told that I would be back in my hotel after the dinner by 11:30 pm.   

Now I thought about that.   I normally go to sleep by 9:30 pm.  But there were other issues as well. 

On one hand were the pros : 

I would get a chance to make new friends and acquaintances and widen my knowledge and horizons. 

I would get to listen to speeches in mandarin (but translated into english ) about things other than sport and running.  The speeches would be about how one grows a business and how to be successful in life and if I paid attention,  I might actually learn something out of that.  

But there were come cons :
I had to attend to some of my work back in india and I  wasn't keen on staying up that late.  

So I told my host just one of my two reasons for not attending:  I told him I had to attend to office work and hence could not leave the hotel by 4:30 pm.   He was slightly disappointed. 

My talk was scheduled for Sunday morning 11:00 am

It went brilliantly.   I stayed in the hall until the last question was answered. The last book was signed and the last selfie clicked. 

After that, the room broke up for lunch.  I ate some food and sneaked back to my room for a nap.   

My official duties were done.  
By then the weather outside had changed completely and it was now cold and raining and foggy.

My host had, after my talk, insisted that I attend the gala dinner of the conference, which was scheduled for 7:00 pm.   

He informed me that it was a RMB 1500/- per plate affair. 
At an exchange rate of ₹11= 1 RMB that's a ₹16500/- dinner.   

I did not tell him but this would have certainly been the most expensive dinner I've ever had in my entire life. 

He informed me that one of China's most famous chefs was employed for the night.   

I told my host that I would message and let him know my plans. 

I woke up from my nap at 4:30 pm and looked outside my 13th floor window.   My room overlooked the river.  All I could see out was rain and fog. 

I messaged my host that I regretted my inability to join them for the gala dinner. I told him I was going to step out to run. 

I decided to go out and run 10k.  I ended up running 20k in 2:01.   It was one of the most enjoyable runs that I can remember in a long long time. 

The waterfront was desolate. There wasn't a human in sight. It was freezing cold.  It was foggy and it was raining.   

I ran effortlessly and with total joy and freedom.  I simply kept running and would have kept running if it had not become very dark.  I felt so incredibly happy. 

I missed my dad.  I wish I could tell him of this wonderful opportunity to speak in China. I wish I could tell him how much people in another Nation had enjoyed listening to me and that they had told me that they were inspired by me.  

It would have made him so proud to know that I was invited to speak in China and that the organisers are now considering calling me to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Korea. 

When I finished my run, I stood for a while on the waterfront thinking of the two hours that had flown by.  I reflected on the blessing. 

I thought back to the last days that my Dad had lived.  Watching him lie in bed in a semi-coma state I had often wondered what he would be thinking at that point.   Was he in a position to reflect back on his life and think and relive and reflect upon the the happy moments of his life.   In those days I had really prayed that he was able to disconnect with his present state and transport himself into his wonderful and successful life, into the years well lived. 

As I stood on the waterfront after finishing my run and watching the huge cargo ships sailing on the river, I decided that if a day comes when I am lying in bed and waiting for the end to come. I will, amongst other happy thoughts, think back to this completely wonderful run that I had enjoyed on the waterfront in Shanghai.   

What a wonderful blessing to have so enjoyed the weather and scenery and good health.    

I had exchanged a ₹ 16500/- dinner and the possibility of pleasant conversations with new people for a run which to me was priceless. 

As I left for India the next morning. I messaged my host and thanked him for his hospitality.   He messaged me back.   His message saddened me.   

He wrote, "Thanks again Amit. Sorry we could not provide our hospitality!   You did not even eat any of the dinner we prepare.  Very sorry about that.  But our members love your presentation! On behalf of our organization, I would like to thank you for you to come all the way to talk to us." 

I wrote back to him and tried to explain how much I had enjoyed running on the waterfront and I thanked him profusely for the opportunity to run in Shanghai. 

On returning home, Neepa and Namrata told that I should have attend the gala dinner.  

They told me that I wasn't a nice person to have done that to a nice host.   I often tend to agree with them. 

So I've spent some time today thinking back upon that run. 

I close my eyes and transport myself back to that waterfront in that cold wet Shanghai evening.  I was truly happy for those 121 minutes.   I know my host thinks that I'm a complete antisocial Ass. 

It's too late to convince him otherwise, besides I can't really even try to convince him because I agree with him.  I am a completely antisocial ass     .

So now if someone gives me a time machine and transports me back in time to 4:30 pm on Sunday evening, to the moment just before I sent my message to my host,  I would have another opportunity to write to him. 

I would write to him the following message , "thank you so much for your kind invite. But I regret that I can't join you guys for dinner.  I really need to step out and run"