The Olympic Spirit

Another glorious Olympics have come to a close. Heroes from within the contingent of heroes were selected, the human spirit soared itching to hear about what drove these champions to achieve, to relentlessly push themselves. 

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetorch/2016/08/21/490854388/closing-ceremony-for-the-rio-summer-olympics-live-blog

We thumped our fists in the air when the first Iranian woman, Kimia Alizadeh, won an Olympic medal, cheered the many girls who overcame societal pressures and barriers to go on to the Olympics from the Indian contingent. We pondered about the need for a personal struggle in order to achieve, we loved the concept of the Refugee team, and rooted for the heroes from this contingent as did the rest of the world. There were a few media gaffes quickly pounced upon by the judgmental social media audience: armchair solutions to world problems, that we mused about on our couches.

We went on to have discussions with the daughter, that we hope will stay with her long after the Olympics are over. In times of strife, humanity can be a marvelous force.

We are not folk who regularly watch Sports in the home. The odd cricket match aired at odd times is watched by the husband with bleary eyes. A few final matches of basketball or tennis comprises the bulk of our Sport watching thus far. However, I cannot fail to notice that every time we do so, it has a profound impact on the toddler (like the time Stephen Curry came to play) .

Every evening depending on the Olympic event aired, there was an inspirational performance at the old home.

Olympic

Simon Biles and Dipa Karmankar flew to perfection in the gymnastics events, only to be followed by an evening of the toddler and his sister jumping off the broken sofa and spinning before landing perfectly on two feet. The doting brother gave his sister a score of 9.9 for this impossible feat.

The swimming events inspired many strokes and dives on the Queen bed.

Courtyard badminton flourished. Flighty shuttles soared to tree tops requiring brooms and sticks to dislodge.

The track and field events saw much charging about the house. Feverish runs between the kitchen and the garage were timed. After every fast charge up and down the house, we noticed the toddler also ran the slow motion version of the run. He thought he needed to run the slow-motion replays telecast by the television networks too.

The Men’s marathon was run in the rain. That meant he needed another hasty shower before bed, since he sprayed water on himself and ran 26 times around the house.

As long as there are broken beds and shuttles stuck on tree tops in enough number of homes, the Olympic torch will burn on as bright and promising as ever.

Onward to Tokyo 2020.

Lessons From The Little Blue Train

The Article below also appeared in The Hindu in the Open Page on May 10th:

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/looking-back-at-a-little-blue-train/article8576823.ece#comments

My mother ran downhill through a steep slope in order to catch her little blue train to get to school, where she taught, everyday. We lived in a small place nestled in the Nilgiri Hills, where everybody knew everybody else and even though we might not have been invited to Tea at the train driver’s house,  he obviously knew my mother. He would see her pelting down the hill, practically skating on the little seeds dropped from the Eucalyptus trees above, as he maneuvered the train around the mountainside. He would wave a friendly hand to her telling her to slow down indicating that he would wait for her to board. What is a minute here and a minute there was his philosophy, and one that entirely suited the place and times.

lovedale

The Nilgiri Mountain Railways was not competing with the Rajdhani Express or the electric trains of Mumbai. The little steam engine was a joy, and intended to show people that true joy in living came from hard work with a dose of huffing while going uphill and a friendly toot and speed moderation while going downhill. The journey, it steamed, was the most important thing. Chug past the lakes and mountains, cling to the cliffs, take deep breaths of the nippy air and keep moving while you can.

Nilgiri_Mountain_Railway

From Wikipedia: Picture Credit: By Nsmohan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37242880

When people ask me about the banes of urban living, I rank not knowing the train driver quite high up on the list of grievances. I have to run up 50 stairs like an asthmatic calf to get to the platform.  So many times, just by virtue of being stuck behind a set of folks who refuse to budge on the escalator, I have missed the train. More often, I charge into the train just in time to have the doors close behind me and then stand there panting and mooing for breath.

When one considers how often I have flown past steps and hopped past debris and skidded into the train, I suppose it is only fair. A matter of tempting fate long enough. One day last week, a quick look at the watch (set to two minutes past the actual time), and another look at the car clock (set to three minutes past the actual time) revealed that I have a 30% percent chance of making it to the train if it was on time and a 43% percent chance if it was a minute late. Give me a chance at something like that and I mysteriously transform into a demonized matador bull:  I will lower my head and point head train-ward and charge like a demon with horns. However I was not feeling sufficiently bull-like that day, more like The Reluctant Dragon.

reluctant_dragon

The Reluctant Dragon is a marvelous children’s book written by Kenneth Graham. In the book, the villagers are keen to slay the Dragon assuming all dragons are vicious. The Dragon, however, wants no fighting or flame spewing. He simply wants to rest his back against a rock, think and write poetry.

The train doors above me opened and I looked upwards while running. I forgot about the raised platform around the 57th step. It was then that I took a toss. Now, when I say ‘Toss’ in that flippant manner, it does not truly capture how much an ass it makes one look.  Well, there really is no comparison with the animal kingdom, I mean have you seen deer trip or donkeys slip on the mud? That is set aside for the two-footed I believe.  The point is that the step hurled me and I fell spectacularly. My bag flew one way, my legs the other, while my knees scraped along trying to keep the bag and legs together. I lay there trying to resist a bizarre urge to laugh out loud, though I could feel the stinging pain in my scraped knees. I did chuckle to myself though – I must have looked like a prized fool sprawled there first thing in the morning when folks have important things to do and places to be. One cyclist evidently late for her own train, said, “You okay?” and I said “Yes”. She gave me the Thumbs Up and cycled off.

As I stared at the departing train to see if I could detect a smirk from anyone on the train, I need not have worried. The shiny silver train streaked off glinting against the morning sun as efficient and indifferent as ever. I did not know which was worse, the physical pain from the bruises or the indifference of the departing train. Just as quickly as laughter had come, I found much to my embarrassment, that tears stung my eyes.

No one knows whether the kind train driver who waved to my mother is still alive today, but I miss the likes of him in today’s world.

Funcionando en México

Puerto Vallerta, Mexico found itself entertaining some folks who were determined to make the most of the couple of days in the place.  We gorged on fruit smoothies, had our fair share of entertainment by looking up the local art galleries like we were aficionados, and enjoyed a kind of a salsa-belly-dance program put up by the staff at the resort that made us look down at our own flourishing mid-sections a bit wanly (but we quickly washed this uncharitable thought straight down to the belly with another smoothie). The room had a dashing view of the ocean and the mountainous coasts nearby, and I enjoyed lolling around with a book in hand. The husband liked the idea of room service and we found ourselves eating at midnight just because we could (Could those poor belly dancers do that?). All fine so far, but for one snag. The day after we landed, we were to run a half marathon and say what you will about a run like that, it demands that you put in the time and effort before hand. Last minute efforts can only take you so far. We thought of it every now and then and then waved a hand away at it, and the thought went away – lifted and replaced by a beautiful tropical thought of taking a walk in the beach, or worse, lying down on the beach with that book.

puertov

On the day of our departure, however, I felt like I had to do a great many things in Puerto Vallerta. We had not done parasailing yet, we had not run in preparation for our half-marathon, we had not been to the cool, swirling waters. Say what you will about the Nourish-n-cherish household, but we do not hold back on whims like that. We take spurs-of-moments for a spin, we act impulsively, enthusiastically and then, wait and lick our wounds and let the experience ferment itself till it can turn into a good tale for the blog.

I set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. and got up promptly at 8 a.m. The husband is never pleased with the alarms I set, but that makes for another blog entirely. The mists of sleep shroud me and refuse to disperse when the blasted alarm rings every time. This is one of the times, I am lost for words and the poor h feels like a complaint lodged in the wee hours can have an effect on me and improve my alarm setting capabilities. I like his optimism.

Anyway, so there we were, at the hotel entrance at 8:15, ready for a run through the streets of Mexico. The hotel valet looked us up and down politely and said that people do run sometimes and we were welcome to try, but it is not a hot pursuit in Puerto Vallerta. I disagreed. It was the hottest thing to do. The temperature was a raw mid-90 F, the humidity a trifle high, but that apart, ideal conditions.  We ran on the streets of Puerto Vallerta for a good 4-5 miles taking in the sights of a stirring business community. Small shop owners were up and about splashing water on the pavement outside their shops. They came out with their little hooks and started hanging their wares for folks to see. The humidity, splashing of water before the shops, hanging-the-wares, everything reminded us of India and the more we looked the more similar people were. Some people smiled at us, some could not mask their curiosity as they looked at us, children peeked at us shyly, some looked warily to see why mankind does things like running when there are hot Huevos Rancheros to be devoured.  We gave them all a pleasant time by thumping up and down their pavement on the way to the beautiful Pier.

Running_mexico

We beat it back to the hotel looking like dogs thrown into a stinky pool and panting like the best of them. The high temperature and humidity in the place had drenched us with sweat through and through.   A dog on the sidewalk gauged our conduct with professional interest. I felt that we must humor him and tried a dog shake to shake off the clinging moisture, but apparently I don’t make a very good dog, for the fellow was not impressed and turned away. The mild sea breeze we encountered at the pier was long gone. We may have made poor dogs, but red-faced monkeys? We could have taught them a lesson or two. We crawled up the stairs to the hotel lobby and the valet asked us where we had been with concern in his eyes. I told him we had run to the pier and back.

“To the end of the pier?” he asked, his eyes widening with surprise.

“Yes. “ said I

“Very good Señorita. Great Señor” said he.

I don’t know about you, but when we impress hotel valets (who came to know of our existence about an hour ago) like this, we beam widely. We are not the kind of folks who regularly impress those around us with displays of our physical prowess and this kind of enthusiasm strokes the dormant hero in us. We feel like we have the potential to achieve great heights and that is why you could have seen me charging down a beach and chasing a man with a parachute an hour before we were to leave for the airport.

Part 2: Parasailing Adventures.

Castor Oil, Running and Other Things

In a moment of weakness the husband and I signed up for a half marathon together. The fact that it was on my birthday was the clincher. Every time I participate in a running event, I love to see the placards that the folks use to encourage the runners. This time did not disappoint either. In fact, given that the course hugged the coastline for the most part, we had a fun run on the whole. There was music throughout the course. African drums, a senior citizen band, piano, bagpipes – you name it. Every mile there was something to look forward to. The Big Sur half marathon was truly a gift for the ears, eyes, heart and mind.

Picture from : http://www.bigsurhalfmarathon.org/
Picture from : http://www.bigsurhalfmarathon.org/

Image Courtesy: http://www.bigsurhalfmarathon.org/

The incident I am about to relate happened after the Mt. Whitney hike but before the half marathon. It is important to get the chronological order right for what I am about to relate stalled the half-marathon practice for a good three weeks. It was about the time that Indian families around the globe were navigating chaos in their kitchens while celebrating Diwali. But there was a chaos of another kind in our household. The little fellow had fallen ill and was kept home from school. As the fever subsided, he started complaining of stomach pains. He was ill and his pain induced sympathy in the onlooker (there was probably about 86% pain and 14% drama, but all the same).

One day after a stern morning at the Doctors and a particularly lethargic pharmacy visit, I walked into the house dazed and stopped in my tracks. I must also mention that I had not really slept well in days. At first, I thought it was a hallucination I was having. There, in front of me were two grown men (father and grandfather) and a lady (grandma) baring their stomachs and massaging castor oil into it. Not only that, they were smacking their lips like it was tasty business and rolling their heads like they were in a spa and getting a first rate massage from a fantastic masseuse. “Err..” I managed to say after a moment of stunned silence, when the tummy-rubbing adults turned to me, nodded and went about their belly business again. A moment later, I think the husband realized that the scene before me was not normal, and told me that they had decided to try the placebo effect with the toddler in pain. They told him that if he rubbed a little bit of castor oil on his stomach, he would feel much better, and the fellow was resisting – great big tears rolling down his cheeks, looking miserable. So, they decided to go in for a demonstration of sorts.

The daughter sometimes shows wisdom beyond her years and had refused flat. She was peeking at the scene from a safe distance, lest she be pulled in. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Our laughing was so infectious that the son forgot his misery for a shining few minutes and reluctantly smiled too. It was beautiful to see.

Let me yank you back to the half-marathon now. It was around the eighth mile that I began having misgivings about the race. Till then, it was music, running, and coastal views. But around 8th or maybe the 9th mile, the mind started playing its little tricks on me. What was I thinking?  Music? I could have listened to some of that at home. Running: wouldn’t a 3 mile run have done the trick? Coastal views? I could have driven here with a picnic basket and so on. The husband, who was running with me, was his usual effervescent self and I urged him to go ahead because I was developing a knee grind. I ran on a little slower than usual when I saw a person with a board that said,

What seemed like a good idea 4 months ago, doesn’t seem so brilliant now, does it?

That placard did for me what castor oil did to the tummy ache. I burst out laughing, and suddenly, there was a certain energy in my stride, a determination in my gaze. The husband slowed down to join me and we ran on together determined to make the best of it.

Happy Thanksgiving Folks and Laugh. Laugh as heartily as you can.

P.S: The son is fine now

Lord Love a Glove : CIM Relay 2013

The toasting weeks of the summer are just giving way to the crisp days of autumn, when we say, “Maybe we should sign up for the California International Marathon Relay. “  (Henceforth referred to as the CIM Relay folks)

There is little (if any) resistance to the suggestion: after all, what greater joy than going for a run in the cool morning air and getting to be part of the relay?

No points given to guessing who came up with our team name: Rainbow Dashers.

The misgivings start later, much later. It is when the trees are barren, having shivered all their leaves off in the cold, when the winds are vindictively fierce and the nose feels like it has just visited a dreary corner of the freezer in the refrigerator that one begins to doubt the wisdom of undertaking a run in these conditions. A run, not only threatened by abysmally low temperatures, but also requiring the exchange of a toddler between the runners. 

When we headed out to Sacramento for the CIM Relay, I remember thinking that we must be nuts to do this. However, that feeling has never stopped us from doing things. Even so, the temperature forecast was showing a bleak 24 degree fahrenheit, and the winds whipping around us the previous evening were not friendly. The next morning, we headed out to start the car with a very sleepy toddler weighing thrice what he normally does because of the layers he was wearing and sat in the car for a good ten minutes before the defrost button could do its work and show us the path ahead.

rainbow dashers2

By the time I started my run, the sun was out. I took the chip from the husband and handed the toddler over to run. (There was a deja vu moment here when we realized we had switched the daughter as a toddler at the same point before) The deceptively bright day meant there was ice on the road and that made running slippery. Hmm.

Then something amazing happened:  There was little chance of my slowing down because if I slowed, I would freeze. So I ran, and then I felt a soaring happiness in my heart, a certain nimbleness to my being. My soul leaped and my mind took in the people, the signboards, the cop cars, the fruit trees, the beautiful houses along the way. I ran along listening to people chat to each other while running. Crowds energize me more than I realize and I increased my pace. I batted the cold away and in this elated state, senselessly took off my gloves. Within minutes, my fingers were numb and I could not use my hands to put them back on. What an idiot I must be? I worked up quite the sweat before I got feeling to creep back to my fingers, and then resolved to take in the beauty of the surroundings with the gloves on. Lord love a glove.

All too soon, I rounded a bend and saw that my turn was over and I had to hand the chip over to the last runner in the group. All I knew was that I could have just gone on. The Rainbow Dashers put up an impressive show both at the relay and the buffet afterward.

rainbow dasher1

Go Rainbow Dashers! (Not doing this -> So doing this -> What was I thinking? -> Just do it!  -> Gotta do this again: the CIM 2013 )

I am waiting to do it again. Thank you Rainbow Dashers Team (Viv, Sri, Sur & Self).

rainbow dashers

Rainbow Dash

I was waiting to break into my new running shoes. Like a child waiting to play in the rain, I cast loving looks at the shoes every now and then and vowed to get up early the next morning and go for a run. Maybe my excitement rubbed off on my toddler son, but he was up before the lark and waiting for me by the shoes before my run. “Amma. Thum Amma Thum. Thunning Amma Thunning. Shoos thunning.”

(Lexicon: Thum: Come, Thun: Run, Shoos: Shoes)

My shoulders sagged a bit, but he had an enthusiastic-puppy-look about him and so off we went. The pair of us running with a stroller in hand. It was my plan to bundle him into the stroller a little way in and then run. But the fellow had plans of his own. He ran with his little steps by my side. I could walk, but he insisted I thun with him. So, I than. For this pace of running I needed no running shoes, but it was wonderful.  He kept running, then squealed and stopped to see a passing truck. We ran again. A few feet on, there was a pile of dry leaves. We both jumped in there, squashing the leaves and listening to the crackle under our feet. This run was not going to be measured in terms of distance, that much was certain. We crushed the leaves underfoot till a yeti couldn’t have gotten a crackle out of it anymore. We ran some more and spotted a children’s park nearby and made for it. We chased birds, played in the swing and walked back – the toddler a spent force, but still refusing to sit in his stroller.

 

Rainbow Dash
Rainbow Dash

As we walked back that beautiful day, the sun burst forth with a few well chosen sprinkles of rain and we walked home under a glorious rainbow that the child said was ‘Ennow Tash’ (‘Rainbow Dash’ is the name of a pony princess or some such thing that he is forced to watch with his older sister. This famous Rainbow Dash has a wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Dash#Rainbow_Dash) I am sure this will become  a  problem later, but for now he is proud he knows about Rainbow Dash, the pony princess.

When I read this article about an artist collaborating with her 4 year old son, the story warmed my heart. It reminded me of that run that became a rainbow dash and how what I planned turned into something far more meaningful just because I was willing to let go. Maybe, if we relinquish control more often, we will find joy in different ways.

http://busymockingbird.com/2013/08/27/collaborating-with-a-4-year-old/

 

What did you do over the week-end?

Come Monday mornings and I am cooking up interesting answers to the ‘What did you do over the week-end’ question. See, sometimes Geeta Ben comes a-cookin’ and we get some good old Hindi action. But really nothing that can make people sit up and say enviously, “Wow! How jealous I am of your captivating adventures over the week-end?!”

A friend of min had blogged about the very thing a few years ago:

http://am-kicking.blogspot.com/2005/10/how-was-your-weekend.html

I suppose “Ate more than usual” sounds far less glamorous than “Holidaying by the lake nestled in the mountains and having a moonlight dinner to boot. Oh and did I mention that my brother did a 100 km cycle race in the pouring rain in London? No? Well…not only that, my brother-in-law ran a half marathon in New Delhi in the stifling heat. But you know – nothing else!”

Yet, that is what happened. The week-end saw different continents bear the brunt of the exercising streaks that seem to have hit different factions of the family tree. We cheered them on in spirit (and food) and applauded them as they each achieved their targets, while we holidayed in the mountains.

Congratulations to the cycling and running brothers – we are all proud of you.

I sloped around with an Ask-me-about-my-week-end look all day and folks ignored me.  Years of being at the receiving end of boring answers does that I guess. When I could bear it no more, I decided to come online and blog about it. You see the window of opportunity for a question like that is so slim. By Tuesday morning, you are already pushing your luck. On Wednesday, if some one asks me about my plans for the upcoming week-end, I plan to deftly steer the conversation towards the last week-end and give them the works.

Woof Woof!

The husband did well I thought, and yet they gave him a dog biscuit. I mean to say, I did think of rolling up my sleeves to bark at the fellow, but if a non-barker got a dog biscuit, what would a barker get? I was in no mood for bones at the moment.

The h. and his friends performed admirably at the San Jose Rock ‘N Roll half marathon. One of them actually ran like he had a fierce dog at his heels the whole way through and finished in an hour and 36 minutes. I wonder whether they gave him a dog biscuit! If not, I might have a case on my hands what?

Anyway, the point is when these marathons are conducted, there is a goodish amount of food given along the way and at the finish line. Having run a long distance, it is not uncommon to see marathoners sweating and panting like dogs, queueing up at these lines to pick up food. Bananas, oranges, water, rotten tasting fiber bars left to please the smarting eye on the kitchen counter till the lady of the house discreetly gets rid of it, salt tablets, foil cloaks – this is where they make their money back. I mean, these marathoners actually pay to run, so here is where they get their ROI is the general consensus. I once saw a fellow’s pants stuffed with assorted peanut packets, some chocolate chip cookies, three oranges and 2 bananas, and he wasn’t even halfway through the food line.

This, though was the first time I saw a dog biscuit packet in the accumulated finish line wealth. It is entirely possible one mistook the panting and yipped one at him, but I thought it mean. The husband was so biffed, he went and collected a beer bottle to make up for it.

Woof Woof and a Bottle of Beer!

Go Blazing Turtles!

Well I suppose you live your life thinking your blood flows in your veins and all that. I am no physiologist myself, but I know that blood is a viscous liquid and is essential to life as it flows between Point A and Point B. So, imagine my chagrin when my blood froze! I tell you, it is a physical phenomenon that happened to me. Recently. At the California International Marathon Relay that self and a couple of fellow sufferers ran in bitterly cold conditions.

These are the times when I suspect the husband of ulterior motives. Regular readers would remember that he ran his first marathon 4 years ago in Sacramento (the same one). Maybe, he felt I hadn’t gushed enough, or given enough credit for running in the cold. So, we found ourselves under this very man named as Captain running the relay in sub-zero temperatures.

So, here goes: I grant it to him. You were awesome running in the cold like that. I think you were topping old man, just fantastic (lay it on thick, lest he signs me on for some more of these cold-blooded events. Never does any good if you find yourself freezing and running in the whipping icecream maker just because you were a syllable short in the praise is it?!)

The team was christened ‘Blazing Turtles’.

I was the last runner, and was consequently pottering about with nothing to do for a good 3 hours after the race started. To get to the relay exchange point, Oba from Suroba fame, displayed an impeccable sense of direction to get me to the right spot. All she had to do was the exact opposite of what I was telling her to do with the help of a GPS. Voila – there we were. In the right place at the right time. Very simple really. I don’t know what all the fuss was about. Tsk Tsk. Thanks Oba.

The husband was the third runner, and there is something vaguely disconcerting when the relay runners hand over the chip, if they happen to be husband and wife. As he fumbled for the chip, we chatted a bit. On reflection, it resembled a grocery list. I was telling the husband to buy some

(a) Hot cocoa for the daughter, and while he was at it

(b) Some cream. You know what?

(c) Maybe, some chocolate chip cookies too.

I would have gone on in this perfectly inane vein, if the husband hadn’t give me the stern look, and sent me packing. We were running out of toor dal and tomatoes at home!

The term ‘breezing past’ is eerie in this context, since the reader will think I was breezing past somebody else, but it was actually the wind breezing past all of us! I wasn’t running all that fast. I just felt that way, as I was running with a bunch of people who were at Mile 20 of a full marathon. I felt a trifle guilty to be running this energetically during the last leg of what must have been a COLD marathon. I started around mile 20, and was legging it with the ease of one who had no intentions to staying out there a minute longer than was expected. If you’d set a dog behind me, I would have liked it better, since the Sports teacher at my School found my performance impressive on such occasions. However, I belonged to the team called Blazing Turtles and worked hard to justify the latter part of the team name’s spirit & plodded along.

The event was great, and in keeping with my finish line tradition, I finished before my folks could find parking in reasonable spots. I loitered about the spot, picking up free goo-gels and wondered why I hadn’t bought a book along. If I could carry 12 lbs in clothes, why not another 2 lbs as a book on my person?!

The team finished in 4 hours and 9 minutes. Always a pleasure to blog about it after the blood has started flowing again and the cheeks have gotten their rosy flavor back.

Go Blazing Turtles! (Team: Viv, Sur, Sri and Sau)