Two Sides of The Same…Country

Two Sides of The Same…Country

Little over a decade ago, I had just learnt how to drive a car, and, sorry; I must learn to be specific. I had learnt to drive a car in India. Yes, here, it takes more effort, selfless commitment, definitely more skill, and sheer bravery to even just want to learn to drive a vehicle here, let alone actually drive.

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Not even attempting to give you an idea of what it takes, here’s a picture I took on a holiday in Rajasthan a few years ago.

That said, every once in a while, random scenarios would pop up in my head. About what if I was driving and ‘this’ happened, or, how would I react if someone on the street did ‘something like that’. It was probably a natural part of getting accustomed to the newly acquired skill and to getting used to how perspective changes when you are behind the wheel.

I remember one of the ‘possible scenarios’ was about who would be to blame. Say, if a vehicle was driving within the speed limit, and if it were to inadvertently hit someone who decided to dart across the street at the last second. It would give the driver almost no time to react. So could the driver be blamed for the fault of a reckless pedestrian? One who, well knowing the risks, still decided to test their luck? The answer came back a resonating, ‘no‘. The driver could not be blamed. I then reassured myself with the example of trains. Trains travel at specific speeds, and have considerably large stopping distances. So if someone decided to cross the track when a train was close, and got run over, it couldn’t possibly be the engine driver’s fault? Knowing well that crossing tracks is unsafe, and that crossing streets recklessly, equally so.

It all seemed fine. Till yesterday. Yesterday, a speeding train in the state of Bihar in North India, ran over 37 [yes, you read correctly; thirty-seven] pilgrims who were crossing the track at the time. It was tragic. And it was the fault of the pilgrims. But for those who of you who don’t know what followed, angry crowds nearby went on a rampage, setting the train on fire, and attacking and killing one of the engine drivers, leaving the other one in a critical condition. [the news article]

So my theories on ‘who’s to blame’ went out the window. India. A superpower. Among the most promising economies, is still incapable of identifying who’s at fault in something as obvious as this unfortunate incident. It also gives one a glimpse into who we are. Not who we are capable of being, but instead, of who we have stooped to become. Hopefully not for long though. Knowing risks, we’ll still expect the other person to take preventive measures, while we try to kiss a runaway train, while we try to break Border Collies speed records while crossing before speeding cars. Yes, that’s who we have somehow become.

However, and incidentally yesterday itself, there was a story that ended the day on a note of optimism. Bombay’s public bus transport service, the BEST, has been infamous for menacing drivers who break signals, who have run over pedestrians, and damaged vehicles as well. In my family itself, we have two to three horrifying incidents to narrate. Of how BEST’s impatient drivers have damaged our cars just because they were in a blind frenzy to zip through bus stops and go home.

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BEST_Bus_Mumbai

But last night was different. I was driving mom to the market to pick up some groceries. The road I was on, required me to take a right turn to get into the market lane. However, before I could take the turn, there were vehicles coming from the opposite side, and passing my car on my right side. I had to wait with the indicator on, as 5-6 cars whizzed past. A BEST bus was approaching too. While I could have quickly made the turn, knowing them well, I decided to wait for him and the few cars behind him to pass. However, to my complete surprise, he stopped the bus, and signaled for me to take the turn, while cars patiently waited behind him. Still confused, I made the turn, mom still wondering if that had actually happened. Thank you, Mr. BEST driver, for the pleasant surprise.!

Well, we all have it in us to change. We all have it in us to make a positive difference. It all comes down to us deciding to make that choice.

I’ll leave you to think about this, with a quote immortalized by Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

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The Race Against..You.!

The Race Against..You.!

In this post, I am sharing my experiences while preparing for a cycling event held in Bombay last December. While it’s a little overdue, but whether you’re a cyclist or not, I am sure you’ll have some takeaways from this one.

I was working in Pune till last July, and had just returned to Bombay. While figuring out ‘what next’ on the life front, one of the entries on my list was to buy a bicycle. It had been over a decade since I last rode a bike, something I was really addicted to while growing up. So, after a good amount of research, and on a limited budget, I bought a 21-speed hard-tail mountain bike.

I had not been in the best of shape after my stint in Pune. Eating out everyday and lack of exercise had left me extremely unfit. Making it up a single flight of stairs would leave me huffing for the next 2 minutes, and leave people around wondering if I was having an attack. It was that bad.

So my decision to buy a cycle seemed more logical from a health perspective than for pleasure. After the first few days of trying to relive the fun days from my childhood, I was online when I read about the Godrej Tour de India 2012. Yes, a fancy name for cycling events that were to be held across 3-4 different cities. Now, before I unwittingly leave you shocked and in awe, let me clarify that the event, unlike its misleading name, was nothing at all compared to Tour de France (TdF). Unlike the 3200 km cycled by participants at TdF, this one was more of a social event, with the distance of the race being a comparatively miniscule 36 km.

Nevertheless, I was excited, and I felt it would be a good goal to aim for – to be able to finish 36 kms. – alive. For a regular biker, it might not seem like much of a distance, but for someone who was going to be riding after a decade, and given the state of ‘fitness’, I thought it was quite a challenge. The icing on this one being, that the course included riding on the Bandra-Worli sealink, the scenic pride of Bombay that allows only cars and is out-of-bounds even for motorbikes on regular days. That was worth the effort.

I started with riding on a stretch of road close to my place. The road used to be almost deserted back in the good ol’ days. Now however, it was an ocean of cars that I had to ride through. After cycling to the end of that stretch and back, I was thrilled with the flood of memories, with the excitement, with the thrill of riding again. But a little more, and I was also done for the day.

Way back, the best bike I rode had a 5-speed single shifter. The present one had 2 shifters like most modern bikes, and simply put, the shifter on the left switched  between 3 forward gears, and the one on the right let you toggle another 7; used in combination, they gave you 21 speeds. Now, the person at the store had perhaps himself understood and explained the concept incorrectly, so it took me some experimenting to figure out what combinations were best for different terrain.

Back to focusing on the race, my primary goal was to increase stamina, to build it to handle 36 kms. So, to get started with getting a perspective of the distance, I took my car on that stretch to measure the distance of one round on the ODO. It was about 4.4 km. So, the best distance I was doing as of now was 8.8 km at a stretch. And it wasn’t exactly continuous too, considering the few seconds one waited at each of the 4 to 5 signal lights. Those waits made an unbelievable difference as opposed to a continuous dash, as I would learn on race day. Even a few seconds at a signal lets you recharge to a great extent, as opposed to a non-stop dash.

Next, I began timing the laps, and keeping track of overall timings for the average day on my stopwatch. As the number of laps increased, one slowly begins to tire, taking the  average lap time higher. It boiled down to requiring quicker initial laps, and lower lap timings on the subsequent laps too. That again coming down to stamina. Needed more stamina.

There seemed to be problems with Godrej’s website for the event. There weren’t too many details about the race itself, and I was repeatedly calling their helpline to know more. They asked me to be patient till they got more news on it. It was September now, and the maximum I was doing was 4 laps. That’s 17.6 km. I figured that my weight had to drop if I wanted to go further, and to maintain the pace. So I stopped cycling for 2 weeks, and started walking instead. Everyday, or every other day. While this did not seem to affect my weight much, it must have converted some fat to muscle, since I noticed the difference in the cycling.

Still a novice when it comes to the intricacies of training for such an event, I often used to cycle about 0.5-1 hour after a meal and plenty of water, but never ate or drank anything while cycling. And my throat would sometimes get really dry, but I’d finish the number of laps I had set out to do, before heading back. I also didn’t know much about what foods to eat before and after such runs. As per my calculations, I needed to finish 8.2 laps to match the race distance.

I had planned to train for a little longer than that. If you train exactly for the minimum required distance, you might fall short on race day, and all is lost. But if you train for a little more than is required, not only does your total energy and endurance go up, but your capacities are well over the minimum race requirement. One evening, I felt quite upbeat, and set out to finish the race distance that day. I started little after 6 pm.

While I was in school and junior college, cycling to me was something akin to setting the soul free. I used to cycle a minimum of one hour every single day. Sometimes, I’d cycle for two hours. At the end of which, I’d be drenched in sweat. On a few occasions, after cycling for that long, I’d stop by the local market to pick up some things. The shopkeeper, sitting deep inside the shop, cut off from outside view, would stare at me dripping from head to toe and inquire with a concerned tone, if it was raining outside. I’d laugh it off, a little embarrassed, and say it was just me after some cycling.

On most other days, after I was done cycling, I would sit with some friends who would be catching up on daily gossip. I was mostly too exhausted to speak, so I’d sit there a while, drying up and catching my breath. But I could go on the next day with the same enthusiasm. It’s funny how the mind changes as you grow up. Now, with the countless thoughts running through my head, I needed to listen to music while cycling. Perhaps the traffic and the growing up had taken the charm away. So, carefully selecting a mix of soothing and energizing music, I would set off to practice.

That evening, after the 5th lap, time felt to slow down. The effort seemed unchanged, but the distance didn’t seem to get shorter. But I knew that I wasn’t going to go home without finishing a minimum of 8.2 laps, but it was also getting difficult to keep track of the number of laps. I started feeding the lap numbers into my watch. By now, my mind was almost asleep, with just one voice reminding me that I have to finish the decided distance. Some more effort, some dodging cars, and I finally finished my 7th lap. Then the energy seemed to pick up. The goal was almost in sight, not visibly, but reassuringly, in terms of numbers.

Now this stretch is close to the sea, and there is a strong wind blowing especially in the evenings. Hence on some stretches of the lap, it becomes really difficult to maintain pace with a strong resistance building up against you. Yet other stretches, where the road bent a little, seemed more favourable, and you could feel a small push that helped you pace faster.

Here I was, at the final turn, completing lap 8. And I continued. I had to go over the limit. After a little more mind-numbing peddling, I was done. Nine laps, and  39.6 km. Add the distance to and from home, and I had completed over 41 km. It had taken me a long 2 hours 40 minutes. Now I got to the calculations. On reading about how one should train for such events, I learned about how one needs to eat every hour, and drink every half an hour, and how one must learn to eat while on the bike.

That all came with a bit of a jolt, considering I had cycled 40+ km without any food or water during the run. And it had to take its toll. I was drained out and lethargic for the next 2 days. But then I got back to training, sometimes alternating cycling and brisk walking and even practicing eating and drinking while riding. Sometimes, in a span of 3 days, I ended up with a combination of 60 km cycling and 10 km walking, sometimes a little more.

Then one day, when following up with Godrej, I was informed that the event had been postponed, and the exact date was to be announced. That suddenly broke the pace of things, and I eased up quite a bit. A few weeks later, the website stated December 2nd as race day, and that the distance had been shortened. While the exact new distance was not stated, given the map, I estimated it at about 17 km. That was somewhat disappointing, considering I was longing for the 36 km experience. Again the excitement faded for a few days. Then, it picked up again and I returned to training. This time I thought I’d focus a bit on pace. After all the distance was shorter, so I might as well do it faster, considering I had trained for more than twice the distance.

I had a speedometer/ odometer [ODO] installed. It gave the necessary details: total/lap distance, maximum/ average speeds. With the ODO, came the obvious. To see how fast I could ride. Now remember again, this was a mountain bike, so it wasn’t the lightest thing on the road. And neither was I. I kept experimenting with timing the gear changes properly. I got up to a top speed of 34 km/h one day. Really thrilled about it, I continued trying. My cycle has extremely knobby tires, perhaps excellent for trail biking, but horrible for street riding. I did consider replacing them, but then decided to manage with the existing pair.

A rough pattern of wind direction on that stretch of road around that time of the evening had formed in my head, knowing which stretches had the minimum wind resistance. So I slowed down a bit before those parts, and with properly-timed gear changes and give-it-your-everything bursts, I clocked a top speed of 39.6 km/h. However, that strain caused a massive searing pain through my stomach and back. I was hoping I hadn’t toasted something on the inside, and decided to go a little easier the next time. While I never pushed it that much again, on several occasions, I rode hard till that pain just started, after which I eased up on the speed and effort. Unfortunately, I haven’t beaten that speed record of mine since.

Ride Hard #2

I went on afternoon to pick up my registration kit. I still have my race sticker stuck on my cupboard. The kit included a helmet too, something I had not bought till then. But when I looked at the bright green helmet, it reminded me of half a watermelon, hollowed out. Not a problem, I thought. I even considered sticking some leaves in it, making it perfect military camouflage headgear.

Ride Hard #1

Race day was fast approaching. I was getting really excited. Now, another issue popped up in my head. I was practicing in the evenings, sometimes nights. But the race was to start at 7 am on race day. Weather and body conditions are quite different at different times of the day. Your energy levels, the climate, etc. can significantly alter your performance. So on a few occasions, I reluctantly woke up early, grabbed a snack, and went for a few laps at 7 am.  I realized I wasn’t able to pull off the same distances early in the day.

I had planned to stop cycling 2 days before the event to save up some energy for it. 3 days prior to that, I had limited the laps to a maximum of three. For the serious enthusiasts, it is also recommended that you refrain from having sex for at least a few days before an event. You can’t imagine the effects it can have on your endurance. That said, with a few days to go, I was now trying to imagine the track, and imagine myself during the event, to better understand the conditions, the feeling, requirements, etc.

The flavored energy bars I used to carry, I knew would not be easy to eat while riding, so I broke them into bite-sized pieces without opening the cover. It came in handy on race day, as I just had to tear open the pack, and could easily pop a piece with one hand whenever necessary. I figured that at 6:30-7 am on a December morning, the air might be a little chilly. So I considered covering my nose and mouth with a handkerchief/ bandana, but then somehow dropped the idea.

The final check. Tires were filled to optimum pressure. Water bottle was brimmed. Bike was clean. Energy bar broken into bite portions. Music playlist was ready too. Unfortunately I hadn’t had time to get the bike serviced, a big mistake, since I had hoped to have the wheels balanced to improve the speed and efficiency. I had however oiled all moving parts, so it was alright to an extent. The brakes were working alright too.

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Finally, race day arrived. I had planned to get plenty of sleep, but could hardly sleep more than a few hours due to the excitement. Another suggestion. Make sure you blow your nose well before you leave home. Funny as it might sound, your nose will be your air intakes during the race, so the least you can do is keep them ready for easy breathing. My folks were kind enough to sacrifice their sleep and drive me there on that Sunday morning. The road leading to the main venue was jammed.

An ocean of cars was visible in the sunrise, bicycles peeping out of the trucks or hanging on stands. At the venue, there was a lot of noise, a lot of show. The race was pushed back by half an hour. The chief guest was running late. For a chief guest, they had chosen a politician of all the people they could have invited. Now I had kept breakfast at a moderate, so as no to pack too much and feel sick with all the peddling. So I had expected the three eggs, 4 slices of bread, and a big mug of tea to see me through the race. I was hoping it would last the wait and the race too.

Anyway, he finally arrived. I was standing almost midway through the crowd, halfway to the entry of the complex, which was the starting point for the race. Scores of randomly placed bikes stood ahead and behind. I saw my folks at a distance, waving encouragingly. Seeing the excitement around, and proud that I was participating; they had decided to wait on. Someone announced that there were some foreigners who were apparently professional riders who were also participating. I saw some of them. They had some mean looking bikes with all kinds of kits and accessories. They looked like they could survive a month with that kind of gear.

A renowned fitness expert was there as part of the gig, and he was making the crowd leap to his warming up exercises. I zoned out with the music I had carried, and was doing my own warming up, impatiently waiting for the race to begin. I also knew that the breakfast was only going to last so long, so any delays would mean less energy. Apparently, there were over 3000 participants. That was terrific for a cold Sunday morning, I thought.

Finally, the politician flagged us off. It took a while for people to scramble shakily towards the narrow starting point. I was pushing myself along, till I got past the starting point, and then I saddled up and literally was on fire. Some participants were there for fun, some apparently not in the best of shape, participating for the spirit of the event, chugged along. Yet others, charged up as I was, fired through the crowd.

I sped ahead, but barely three quarters of a kilometer down, I regretted not covering my nose and mouth with a bandana. The cold air and the hard peddling were giving me a slight cold and running nose, and making breathing difficult. Nevertheless, I kept at it. I overtook several riders, some were a short distance ahead, some closing in from behind. Both silently urged me on.

The professional riders were way ahead by now, the gap between them and the next set of riders widening by the second. I finally got onto some familiar stretch of road. Not that it meant much or made any difference, but it was just that I somehow felt this was home territory. After a few minutes on that stretch was the moment I was waiting for. We turned in at high speed onto the sea link.

You can imagine and simulate race settings all you want, and yet, there will always be things on race day that will surprise you. The wind resistance on the sea link was unimaginably strong, and from constantly changing directions. I started taking small sips of water, and knew it was time for a little eating too. You have to eat long before you are going to need it, so don’t wait till you start getting hungry or powerless, it might be too late to serve the purpose by then.

One of the professionals had stopped and was filling air into the rear tire of his bike with a pump. I was shocked. What else did he bring along? Though yes, most professional bikers do carry air pumps, tire tubes even. Along the sea link, there were volunteers handing small bottles of water to cyclists. Several cyclists in front seemed to be amateurs, and not only were they throwing the bottle lids on the road, but after taking small sips, were tossing the almost full bottles themselves too, forcing me to zigzag my way to prevent risking losing balance over them.

The route was to head to the end of the sea link, turn back, and head back to the venue’s starting point. By the time I got to the end of the sea link, I was beginning to tire a bit. The long wait had used up my breakfast, and the new addition, my helmet, was resulting in a good amount of perspiration dripping off my forehead.

A few riders easily overtook me. There were now one or two familiar looking riders, those who had overtaken me earlier, and whom I was now overtaking. Every minute or two, I would push harder, either to overtake a rider in front, or to avoid being overtaken.

A few more pieces of the energy bar and some water went in. I knew I was not getting the timing too well. To understand the concept, try imagining making a glass of Tang. A few spoons of Tang, and a glass of water. Now imagine the cycling is draining that Tang and water in disproportionate quantities, and your objective is to keep the mix tasting ideal at all times, by accordingly adding more powder or water at regular intervals. The moment the taste goes off, you’re draining more energy than replenishing.

I got to the last section of the sea link, and having driven there often, I knew that the road slopes very slightly downward, so I geared up and pushed to the limit, just to set a maximum speed for myself. The ODO maxed at 38.7 km/h. I knew that was the fastest I could go right then, given the wind resistance, fatigue, etc. Nevertheless, I tried maintaining pace while getting back onto the main road.

As I got to the end of the familiar stretch, I noticed a lot of bystanders, watching riders zip past with curiosity. One section of road was blocked for the race, and I could see policemen holding traffic while we crossed an intersection. I was now onto the final kilometer. It was exhausting, considering it was non-stop unlike the breaks I got at signal lights during training. I still did all I could, to maintain pace.

As I neared the finishing point, there were a lot of people standing waiting and watching the cyclists return. I was coming in real fast, and had to take a sharp left to re-enter the venue. Just before taking that turn, another cyclist, clumsily lined up with me, perhaps fascinated by the crowd and oblivious to the fact that at that speed, we would be cutting too close while taking the turn in. Now normally I would have slowed down and let him pass, but the energy was just too high. I really didn’t care if it meant colliding and falling, I was not going to slow down. We barely managed through the turn, and slowed up ahead just behind the riders who had finished before, and were waiting.

I was exhausted, and drenched. A few moments later, I saw my folks waving. I got off the bike and walked a little unsteadily towards them. They were thrilled that I had finished the race, and reasonably fast too. My dad was kind enough to have stood at the finish line and kept count. He said I finished about 150th. I couldn’t believe that, considering the 3000+ participants and all the awesome bikes.

After that rush sank in, I felt the drain. I took some big bites of the energy bar, and came real close to blacking-out, but thankfully didn’t. I sat for 2-3 minutes, and then we were ready to leave. The entire event went on for several hours after that, with a lot of celebrities involved. But I had a trip out of town planned with some relatives for later that day. So I left immediately, all the while savoring my own little personal victory.

I had taken 44.39 minutes to complete, averaging 23.2 km/h with a maximum speed of 38.7 km/h. A recovery breakfast at home, checking my personal race statistics and a 200-km drive followed suit that day. But that wasn’t half as exciting as the action-packed 17.3 km that morning.

What I did learn from this race, is that you don’t need competitors to perform or to do your best. And in the entire world, you could not possibly get a more worthy competitor, than yourself. So if you keep improving on where you were yesterday. Sooner or later, you will definitely achieve your goals and more. More often than not, your race is only with yourself.

So, get ready, set. And, firing on all cylinders, GO.!

P.S.: If you’ve made it so far, I thank you for reading this experience of mine, and encourage your to share your comments, either regarding this post, or about similar experiences of your own, not necessarily to do with biking. But about any race that you had, against yourself.

Time For Us To Bhaag

Time For Us To Bhaag

In continuation to my previous post on Milkha Singh and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag [BMB], here is another small piece in connection with an article doing the rounds about how Milkha Singh never held the 400m World title [link], as portrayed in BMB. [Again, ‘Bhaag’ is Hindi for ‘run’]

In humble defense, all I’d like to say without getting into specifics, is that maybe he never broke a world record, or maybe he broke some record where there were three runners ahead of him who also broke the same record, which of course still doesn’t give him claim to something he didn’t win. Maybe the record was at an altitude, or the 400 m then wasn’t exactly 400 m (it was sometimes measured it in yards). And, Milkha Singh himself has said that only about 80% of the movie is factual. And given his humble background and sincerity, I doubt he would have allowed or given wrong facts. So, hoping that now we’re all agreed on that, allow me a few minutes to share my view of the movie, about why I feel Milkha Singh is so important, and about an important underlying concept.

For a long time now, I have believed that we Indians are quite a pretentious lot.

Take Ratan Tata for example; an outstanding businessman and gentleman who is admired by most, if not all of us. But, the hurdles we as a country have placed before him don’t quite add up. Be it with setting up of an auto plant for the Nano in W. Bengal, or problems with their repeated desire to re-enter the airline business. Can you think of any similar hurdles faced by corrupt businessmen? I can’t. And yet, other influential groups even pull-off successful IPOs with no actual business to show.

Some entrepreneur circles have some often repeated (and increasingly boring!) questions. They include ‘when will India give the likes of a Google, Apple or Facebook to the world?’ Or ‘will India be able to build one of the greatest businesses of the world’? The problem is that these questions, just like the pretentious outlook, are superficial.

Indians have helped build some of the greatest global companies. Some stats for the uninitiated: 12% scientists and 38% doctors in the US are Indians. 36% of NASA employees, 34% at Microsoft, 28% at IBM, 17% at Intel and 13% at Xerox are Indians. And these stats are from way back in 2008.

So, again, it isn’t that Indians are not capable. But perhaps many Indians in India seem to have a crab-like mentality rather than one of encouragement and support. And reality continues to be quite distorted for a lot of us.

We spend considerable time trying to lay a claim to fame in every world event imaginable. Don’t believe me, try these:

  • Britain’s royal baby will have a karmic connection with India, an astro-numerologist predicts
  • There was an Indian connection in the delivery of Britain’s new prince – One of the doctors present at the birth of Prince William and wife Kate’s first child was Sunit Godambe, who grew up in Mumbai (India)
  • Last financial year, Red Hat became the first Linux vendor to breach the $1-billion revenue mark, recording $1.3 billion. This growth story has a strong India connect
  • Scientists testing saliva samples from Prince William’s relatives discovered a direct link between the future king and a woman who was part-Indian
  • Nobel laureate, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer has an India connection – he came to Bhopal immediately after the gas tragedy to express solidarity with the victims, noted Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan
  • God particle: ‘India is like a historic father of the project’
  • There’s an Indian connection in 4 films with 36 Oscar nominations

We claim from a distance. And yet, we often fail to see or acknowledge legends walking amongst us. We give our lives, money and time for cricket, and yet curse and scorn when the hockey team doesn’t qualify for an event. We seem to have taken ‘freedom of speech’ the wrong way around. It does not mean we sit pretty on our couches and ridicule and brush aside the important, and hang out our drooling tongues for an international spotlight. It is about knowing what is right, what is important, what is fair, and what is inconsequential.

BMB is not about a claimed shot at breaking a world record. It is about how a ‘nobody’ with an unimaginably horrific childhood, overcomes, pursues and persists to win. And makes India a little bit more well-known, the world over. A tale of inspiration, introspection and encouragement.

It is ironic, that a Pakistani general conferred the title of ‘The Flying Sikh’ to Milkha Singh soon after a race in which he defeated Pakistan’s own Asia champion; yet here we, not so proud but quite cynical and underplaying. We are arguing over facts in a movie, albeit important ones. But in the process, we are losing sight of greater lessons that can be learnt from a glimpse into his life.

So for starters, let’s just stop simply laying claim to events, people or successes, however remote. Let us change. Let us create, and work together, in such a manner, that when we have something wonderful and new to offer, the world will take notice and itself shout out about the Indian source or contribution.

Running

Feedback from a friend about a post

I just received probably the best feedback yet, regarding a post on my blog,  ‘Death and The Maiden‘, from Jimmy, a good friend of mine.

Now Jimmy’s the youngest friend I have. At over 65 years of age, he’s actually more fun to hang out with than some people my age. His sense of humour would make the rest of us look grumpy. And that’s when some of his dirty jokes aren’t leaving people red in the face with embarrassment.

Anyway, he is excellent at writing, and even better at poetry, and he was kind enough to email me this.

Here’s what he wrote..

Dear Shrutin

Read your article on the analysis of suicide – well analysed and considerable inputs

Perhaps sometimes it is not as simple as it appears. How often does one comment He/she had everything going then why

Another factor which is of great importance in keeping the balance tilted to the right is the “guardian angel ” This is extremely important and I say this from personal experiences I have been extremely  fortunate in this regard

There is a lot going for you and your writings are extremely profound. A thinker in the making. It is not important if someone likes it or not but if it sets even one person thinking it is good.  Keep at it my friend

Jimmy

Thanks a lot buddy.! Truly inspired and humbled by it.

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An uncle and a friend

An uncle and a friend

I just heard a few hours back, that one of dad’s closest friends, Eshwaran, passed away this morning. That was extremely bad news.

I had probably met Eshwar uncle and his wife several times as a toddler. And then I met them nearly a decade or more later, probably when I was in the eighth or ninth standard at school. And yet the meeting still feels recent.

Anyone who ever knew him, knew him as an extremely light-hearted and jovial person. But something else apart from his great sense of humour came across strongly too. And that was his keen interest in photography. That, and of course the way he expressed that interest. He was probably around 40-45 or so at the time. But he’d sit and chat with me as if I was just another buddy of his. And yet, the conversation was always extremely interesting, relevant, and still, simple enough so as not to bore an easily distracted kid.

He would tell us about some hilarious incidents from bachelorhood when he, dad, and some friends hung out together. He would then literally zoom in on an important part of his life, his hobby, photography. And he’d  give us a vivid description of some amazing scenery that he’d seen. A scenery he had taken several photographs of, several years before. And yet, he’d remember it with more clarity than any of us would remember our last holiday anywhere. And he’d almost get into the technicalities of how he’d place his real fancy camera on the tripod on a slope perhaps, and adjust it to get that right shot.

Or of another incident at another holiday spot that would be amazingly breathtaking, and how he’d proceed to click innumerable pictures of. And it didn’t end there. Back in the day, photograph films had to be developed, and he’d do that too himself. So he’d talk about that too. The dark room, the negatives, and then, how exactly the pictures would have captured to a satisfactory level, a beautiful sunrise, or sunset, or a vast stretch of lush green.

And all that talk would just express his true love for his hobby. That was probably one of the few times when someone’s passion for something they absolutely loved doing, came through very strongly. I even bought my first camera on his recommendation; and just like he said, snaps did come out ‘superb’.

Not only did I learn quite a bit about the basics of ‘clicking a snap’ from him, but also little lessons on perfection. While most of us nowadays just pull out a digital camera and fire away, the little extra effort that I take when clicking snaps to make sure they come out good, are to a great extent, thanks to his photography tips  that I got on the few occasions that I got to spend time chatting with him.

And in our world of fads and herds, a few people like Eshwar uncle, stand out for pursuing even a hobby with more interest and dedication than many of us show towards even our work.

Uncle, you’ll live forever in our minds, and it truly has been a pleasure knowing you, as an uncle, a friend, and most importantly, a great human being.

And while I’ll always regret not having spent enough time with you; a line from the movie, Mr. Deeds, comes to mind; that I’ve reworded a little, and that goes like:

We never hung out (enough), and that makes me sad…

All the good times we could’ve had…

But when I die, uncle, you better say cheers…

Cause me and you are hanging at the pearly gates…

I’ll bring the beers… I’ll bring the beers.

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