Thursday, July 26, 2018

Soul Sentinels: A trek to remember

Soul Sentinels
Shiv bhaiyya, aur kitna chalna hai?” Baby’s voice echoes through the forest. A strident sun shines on her damp face. Sweat runs in rivulets down her collar bones. Other trekkers halt, exhausted. They look at each other. Consensus is established that Baby looks sexier when she’s sweating.

Shiv, our trek-guide, doesn’t consider her cry stop-worthy; not even a head-turn-worthy. He moves on with an impassive face, motioning us to follow suit. “Chalo, chalo,” he shouts with irreverence. As though he’s herding sheep. Baby curses under her breath and drags her feet again. Other members of B-204 wonder if she’s cursing at Shiv or them.

We are in Himachal, and trekking on the Pir Panjal range, towards Chanderkhani Pass. We have started the trek from Naggar camp, at around 5800 feet above the sea level, and aim to climb upto 12,000 feet in 3 days. It’s the first day and we’re already steeped in self doubts. The terrain is between steep and very steep. The sun is merciless. And the backpack is weighing us down. Our shoulders and legs are sore, our clothes drenched in sweat, and there’s no sight of bath in near future. The drinking water is fast running out; mouths are parched dry. Baby, Shivi, Sahithi and I, the four friends referred to as B-204, are quietly mulling over the choice we made (Baby is no longer quiet). For the uninitiated, the group name comes from the flat address we once shared.
Baby starts the trek with her war cry: Jai Mata Di! Let's Rock! 
L to R: Sahithi, Baby, this author, and Shivi. At base camp in Naggar
The reader can guess that trekking was certainly not Baby’s idea. This author had proposed it, and Sahithi had grabbed it with both hands and clapping excitement. Seeing this excitement, Baby had acquiesced. Shivi had protested the timing of the trip. Why? Because she was busy serving her notice period. If she worked 12 hours on an ordinary day, it obviously warrants that she clocks 14 when she’s about to leave the burden to mere mortals. B 204 took her protest with the force of an unclaimed baggage on an airport carousel. She was hurled into the plan with obvious pleasure of all, chiefly hers.

Back to the trek. We start at ten in the morning. Guide Shiv tells us that we will reach our destination by ‘around lunch time’. The initial walk, though hot, is bearable. But once we leave behind the roads of Naggar and take to the hills, the real climb begins. At first, it’s the stairs. Hundreds of them. We are not prepared for this because we’ve been dreaming of high jungles and rippling streams. When we protest, Guide Shiv calmly tells us that the real trek is yet to begin. This is just the crossing of civilization, the stairs will end in Rumsu village, he assures us. After an hour of non-stop stair climbing, we cross Rumsu, and enter into real Himalayan forests. The fun begins.

“Shiv bhaiyya, are there wild animals in the jungle?” Baby asks the guide. He looks into her innocent round eyes and says that a wild bear had recently broken into one of the Himalayan camps. We cringe. “But you have nothing to worry,” he goes on. “Bears and leopards in the forest have receded to inner circles because of influx of trekkers. Even if they do see humans, they avoid an encounter because they are themselves scared. Wild animals don’t attack unless they happen to come face-to-face with humans.” Since that’s not exactly comforting, we ask him what we should do in case such a confrontation happens. “You won’t be so lucky,” comes his cheeky response. The guy is stellar. We like him already.

To add to Baby’s pains, somewhere before Rumsu, some dogs start trekking with us. Apparently, it’s a done thing with all trekkers. Eventually, one big-black-furry dog chooses to stay while the rest wander off. He’s a perfect trekking partner. He patiently waits on us. He sniffs the path ahead and circles the entire group to ensure no one’s left behind. Baby too begins to get used to him. However, there remains a grim problem. He eats excreta and wallows in open sewers. That is a deal-breaker for our hygiene queen. Sahithi wrinkles her nose and shakes her head in disgust. Finally, after an hour of his diligent trailing, she turns to him, and delivers like a strict south-Indian matriarch: “Listen, from here, the path is very narrow and you are rubbing against us. In any case, you have come a long way from your home, and it’s time for you to return. Go back now.” Guess what? The dog obeys without a grunt. Even the impassive guide is stunned – he looks at Sahithi with saluting eyes.

With Rumsu and civilization behind us, the greens have started closing in on us. Apple orchids paint the landscape a lively green. The Marijuana plant is nearly omnipresent. Guide Shiv points out village-men rolling leaves in their backyards to prepare a joint. Slowly, but surely, the breeze begins to get cooler. Two hours into the trek, and we plod on with resolve. We even need to clamber up on all fours to negotiate rocky terrain. The ascent continues to be tough, but the sight starts to infuse life. 
Treacherous roads add to the thrill
The forest is a dense green, and totally unlike the jungles of south India that B-204 had previously visited. Tall trees with horizontally lined branches leave no space for undergrowth. Giant deodar and cedar trees stand like an army of gladiators. Their roots splay out like feet of giant dinosaurs. Far, far ahead, one can see snow capped mountains. It’s amazing how beauty can make us forget pain. We halt time and again, to soak in the view as much as to breathe. Somewhere, Guide Shiv relents, and lets us have the juice and biscuits we are carrying for lunch. Unencumbered of the bag, we collapse on earth, and down the food in a few minutes. We walk another two hours to reach the first camp; it’s only then that our guide reveals that our climbing time is the shortest he has known. And that the next few days won’t be as tough.

It is reinforced, through nature this time, that in almost all journeys, the starts are always the most difficult parts.

The first camp appears like a European countryside in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It’s a natural meadow with undulating land and perfectly green grass. Surrounded on all sides by Deodar and Cedar trees, the camp is nestled between two deep natural clefts. The sky above is a bright blue. The landscape is dotted with symmetrical tents. For as far as the eyes can see, there are ranges behind ranges of jagged Himalayan peaks covered with snow. Glinting like diamonds in the afternoon sun. There’s gurgling sound of water streaming down the mountain. There’s fragrance of vegetation and wild flowers in the air. It’s a veritable feast for all the senses. Four hearts tick off a bucket list item in unison: We fall in instant love with the place.
The breathtaking camp site 
Guide Shiv calls out to someone in his local language. From a corner of this camp emerges a dark complexioned man in ruffled hair and worn-out clothes. The man reaches out to us with a firm handshake. “I am Satish, your cook,” comes his confident introduction. We are amazed. This man Satish turns out to be not only an excellent host and cook, but also an able storyteller, shayari collector, and joke dispenser. Behind him are two demure teenage pahadi boys. What follows is a moonlight-washed night of purple sky, twinkling stars, cold winds, antakshari, music, star-gazing, dancing, and above all, silence. Before snuggling into twin sleeping bags each, members of B-204 know that this evening will go down in the best memories’ book.

Camping itself is fun. The cooks at camp understand the difficulty that city-dwellers face in purging body waste in 2 by 3 feet makeshift toilets. They therefore prepare ‘lingdi’ for dinner, a locally found wild stem, known to expel faeces like torrents. Throughout the night, our tent flutters with shivering gusts of winds. We sleep like dead logs despite severe body pains; for hard labour is the best sleeping medicine (the author’s massaging skills are widely deployed, but we’ll skip that here). Come morning, and we spot Sahithi running with the dedicated Bisleri bottle to an unseen spot beyond camp limits. We warn her about wild animals. “I’d prefer to be eaten alive than use those unhygienic toilets,” she shouts and she disappears. We think its lingdi, but when the phenomenon repeats every morning, we know it’s the Himalayan air.

Camp living changes perspective. We become more thankful to privileges we take for granted. We are thankful that we can brush our teeth twice a day. That we can drink water with twigs floating in it. That we can have hot food. That there is water to wash up after ablutions. Though it’s so cold, says Sahithi, that you can never feel if you’re washed enough. It takes us only one day to get accustomed to camp living. From the next day onwards, we go about like regulars. It’s strange how easily humans adapt to changes. Probably the best gift and worst curse of our race: we get used to anything.

Stud Guide Shiv at centre and cook Satish on extreme right  
The climb of next two days, four hours and six hours respectively, feel like a breeze compared to the first day’s labour. Moving in the heart of the mountain helps. The view and winds are splendid. The sun that tormented us on day 1 has now become an ally. The higher altitudes are so cold that the absence of sun sends shivers down the spine. The high and mighty peaks which seemed inaccessible from the base camp have come into a hobnobbing distance. The sense of achievement is deeply gratifying.
Babe in the woods
As we go on scaling heights, mountains reveal their hidden splendor. Unexpected waterfalls, view of rivers in the valleys, colossal trees split into vertical halves by lightning, traces of landslide filled in by shocking pink rhododendrons, sea of lamb and sheep herded by mountain dwellers…there is so much to absorb that our hearts are bursting with joy. The higher we go, the lesser the density of vegetation, the clearer the sight. All conjectures we have been making about neighboring mountains become unnecessary. We get nature’s message: You need to rise to see the truth as it is.

On the last day of climb, we leave our bags behind at the camp. Feeling like featherweight ballet dancers, I’m reminded of my favourite poet Neeraj’s words: Jitna kam saaman rahega, utna safar aasaan rahega. We ascend through incredibly green and gorgeous landscapes. “This is the part that remains under snow during winters, hence no trees grow here,” explains Guide Shiv. It’s so far away from forest authorities’ offices that there are acres of illegal marijuana farming. Our guide gauges the worth of one medium sized patch to be around INR 3 million. He concludes with the words, “There are all kinds of human on this earth. Some who clinch the Everest peak. And some who drain their entire heritage on drugs.” He spends his words like money. Deeply impressed, we’ve started evaluating him for Sahithi. Baby has omitted the bhaiyya from the Shiv. 

Feeling like a million dollars walking without the backpack
The Dhauladhar range, which has been running parallel to us, begins to look accessible. There’s barely any vegetation to block the view between the ranges. Within four hours, all covered in jackets and woolen caps by now, we come to a point where Guide Shiv says we have arrived. We are nearly on the top. Barring one mound that blocks the view, there are peaks and deep valleys on all sides. Beas looks like an uncertain pencil line drawn by a child. Eagles can be seen flying lower below in the mountains. Manali is a teeny-tiny dot; it’s mind-blowing to notice how far we have come. The view is magnificent.

“Why don’t we go to the top?” I ask our guide, who’s lying supine on the grass. “Because there is no path there, neither made by humans nor by mules,” he answers uninterestedly. I decide to climb that last one mound coming between the peak and me. I tell other members of B-204, who’ve all fallen silent by now. It’s the space where speech is unnecessary. And they know there’s no point in arguing. Baby is sitting on a rock, Shivi is lying down, and Sahithi is off to meditate. I start my final journey. Alone.

The guide was right. Since there is no path, the climb is a nuisance. I have to hold on to tufts of grass to pull myself up. The bugger didn’t tell me that the ground would be wet from recent thawing of snow. I slip twice. My heart has begun to beat faster. I’ve been struggling fifteen minutes, my friends are out of sight, and now I can’t even see the peak of what appeared to be a small mound. How we underestimate some targets. I remember the guide telling us to walk on very steep terrains as snakes slither on ground – in zig-zag ways. I try that method, and it’s definitely better than plain upward motion. But it’s taking longer. Despite chilly winds, my spine is dripping with sweat. Half an hour into the toil with situation remaining unchanged, I think about giving up. ‘Had you known how close you were to the goal, you’d never have given up,’ quotes collected since childhood come rushing back to my conscience. I take off my jacket and start again. After another fifteen minutes of extremely rough climbing, I reach the top.

Whistling winds and a glorious 360 degree view of snow-capped Himalayas reward me for the extra effort. Now I can see the moving dots of my friends. I wave hysterically, and surmise they wave back. I crash on the ground prostrate. An inexplicable joy has flooded my heart. I find myself kissing the ground through laughing tears. All I feel and know is that I’m grateful to life for living this moment. I’m grateful to every preceding condition that made my coming here possible. I’m delirious with the joy of being alive. And finally able to understand why elders said ‘jeetay raho’ in their blessings. From tip to toe, I’m drenched in gratefulness for being alive.
The Chanderkhani Pass: Connecting Pir Panjal to the Dhauladhar range
Ten minutes and a resolve later, I start the descent. It takes fifteen minutes to climb down what took thrice the time to climb up. The strain on muscles is so immense that my legs shiver for the next two hours. The same day, B-204 returns to the base camp. Stopping for Maggi in between; the moment that the trek stands redeemed for Baby. Guide Shiv teaches us to spot sweet wild berries, and we four get into the business like professionals. As always, we pluck the best berry for another. “Aapka pyaar bahut achcha hai,” comments Guide Shiv, visibly impressed by our bond. A silent prayer crosses our hearts. Three hours later, we are back at the Naggar base camp.

 B-204’s first trek is as memorable as possible. The nights of endless laughter echoing through the hills. The days of ceaseless bantering, much to the entertainment of fellow trekkers and Guide Shiv. The state of being enveloped in love – people’s and nature’s – as a most cherished gift of life.

Friday, May 11, 2018

भत तेरी की


माँ मेरी,

पता चला कि माओं के लिए एक अलग सा दिन होने लगा है. Mothers’ Day. हंसी आई सुनकर कि जहाँ पूरा जीवन समर्पित करना भी कम पड़ जाए, वहां एक दिन के समर्पण से कैसे काम चला लेती है सभ्यता? खैर, जब मानवता की माँ, यानी धरती के लिए भी Earth Day होने लगा है, वहां इंसान क्या चीज़ है! अगर वसुंधरा को चेतना में सामने के लिए एक दिन का कार्यक्रम पर्याप्त है, तब माँ-बाप-भाई-बहन-पति-पत्नी-दोस्त-प्यार-इत्यादि...सबके दिवस मनाये जा सकते हैं.

हमको पता है कि तुम भत तेरी की  करके विषयांतर करोगी. इस मामले में पापा से विचार विमर्श  कर पाना कितना intellectually stimulating है. वो इसके पीछे के socio-economic परिवेश को समझ बूझकर कितना अच्छा विश्लेषण करते हैं. बचपन में पापा dinner table पर philosophical discussion यूँ ही कर बैठते थे और मेरा मुँह खुला का खुला रह जाता था. रौंगटे खड़े हो जाते थे. विचारों की वह स्पष्टता. अध्ययन की वह गहराई. अभिव्यक्ति का वह ज़ोर. आँखों से टपकता जूनून. आवाज़ में गरजता विश्वास. पापा तो हीरो ठहरे. हम कैसे मन्त्र मुग्ध हो जाते थे. आज भी हो जाते हैं.

लेकिन तुम्हारी बात अलग थी. Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, फलाना डे, ढिमकाना डे. तुम सब डे को न मनाती न ठुकराती. इन days को नकार कर मैं और पापा इन्हें संज्ञान में लेते. तुम अपनी भत तेरी की हंसी में भूलकर इन्हें तवज्जो देने भर की भी ज़रुरत नहीं समझती. तुम्हारे असीम सागर जैसे अस्तित्व में ये सभी डे अपना आकार ही खो बैठते. कोई तुम्हें शुभकामनाएं देता तो तुम हँसते हँसते ले लेती, नहीं देता तो भी हंसती ही रहती, और occasion कभी याद नहीं रखती. मूलतः तुमको इसके होने या न होने से घंटा फर्क पड़ता. मैं सोचती हूँ, इससे भी प्रबल प्रौढ़ता का परिचय हो सकता है क्या?

अमुक डे या आम डे, तुम्हारा रवैया हर दिन एक सा रहता:
·         किसी भी काम को फटाफट निष्कर्ष तक लाना.
·         कोई क्या बोलेगा, सोचेगा जैसी निरर्थक बातों पर समय न बर्बाद करना.
·         बे-अदबी का जवाब मुँह तोड़कर देना.
·         किसी को कलपते देख सहानुभूति का सागर, दया की देवी हो जाना,
·         किसी गैर के दुःख में रो पड़ना, खुशी में बच्चों सी ताली बजाकर जश्न मनाना.
·         जब तक न हंसने की वजह न हो, हँसते रहना.
·         सीधी और सच्ची बात करना. सीधी और सच्ची बात पूछना .
·         किसी भी शिशु को, परिवार, पड़ोसी या गैर का, गले से लगा लेना.
·         अपनी गलतियों और बेवकूफियों पर ठहाके मार कर हंसना.
·         मौका मिलते ही किसी की भी टांग-खिंचाई कर लेना.
·         आही रे हमार बाछी कहके हमको पुचकारना.

तुम्हारे लिए एक अमुक डे पर मुबारकबाद देना तुम्हारे भव्य व्यक्तित्व के नितांत विपरीत लगता है.

इस जीवन का हर डे, अगर तुमसे छाया मात्र भी सहानुभूति और सुख सीख ले, तब हर दिन माओं सी प्यारी, माओं सी संवेदनशील, और माओं सी नरम हो जाए.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Back to campus as a recruiter: A study in humility



Dear IIMC students who participated in the Jindal Stainless internship selection test on April 5,

A day spent with you gave me much to remember, learn, and respect. It transported me back to my days at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, 13 years ago. I’d look at fellow students with awe, a tad too conscious of being present among geniuses. That was exactly how you made me feel among you. I was once again marveling at the selection procedure of IIMC, that brings home such an incredible talent pool. Once again, I was back in love with the college.

I have to admit that the intervening period had somewhat doused my faith in IIMC. I had met and interviewed a few IIMCians who did not make the cut. That was, personally speaking, disappointing. Considering how much of myself the college had helped me find, I expected better from its alumni. Forgive me for my ‘intellectual laziness’ (a termed refreshed by one of you that day), I was beginning to generalize that the good old days of rigour and devotion were gone.

Thank you for proving me wrong. My faith in young talent, and in IIMC, stands restored.

You were brilliant. Some of your compositions were so good that I was tempted to declare that the examinee is better than the examiner. The fluidity of expression, the thoroughness of thought, the depth of emotion, the construction of logic, the attention to details, the teasing openings, the thundering closings – you guys nailed it clean.
The journey of short-listing less than 10 students from a group of 140 bled my heart. In the end, I felt vain to be sitting in judgement. And yet, it had to be done.

I’m not sure if as a 21-year old, I could have written, or spoken, the way you did. I’m not sure if I can do that even today! As you took the stage, group by group, I was witness to a show-reel of talent. Some of you had steel in your voice. Some seemed prepared for national TV already. Some combined the playfulness of youth with the gravitas of seasoned professionals. Some of you possessed a vocabulary used by scholars to pen thesis papers. I have no qualms admitting how star-struck I was. I swelled with pride to think that I graduated from this college.

Today I want you to know, that that day, you were my teachers. You revealed to me, that the interviewer learns as much as the interviewed. And here’s what you taught me:
  1. Don’t lose hope because processes aren’t always hundred percent flawless: 4 panelists together shortlisted 5 candidates from a group of 140 candidates. Doesn’t this say enough about the possibility of missing half a mark here and there?
  2. Brilliance and fitment are two different things: You could be the most intelligent person in the campus, and still not make the cut. Your employer could be looking for something other than intelligence. Maybe expression. Maybe emotional depth. Maybe empathy. Maybe people-skills. Reflection is useful. Self-doubt is useless.
  3. Humility forms the base of learning: I remember an adage that says, ‘The day you think you know it all, you might as well be dead and gone.’ Being sure is very good. But being very sure…maybe not. In words of Shabana Aazmi, ‘Aapki mitti geeli honi chaahiye.’
  4. Each method of interview has its own value: I realized that the elementary grammar test was as important as the original composition test. And that a presentation could not substitute a face-to-face interview. In fact, each one of these was so important, that they influenced not only the next, but even the previous scores! There’s always room for course correction, for future and for past.
  5. Last but not the least, circumstances play a role: While the drill was on, I was waiting to get confirmation on the final number of interns. Imagine if that number was different. Chance has the last laugh.

Next time I am being interviewed, I will remember all this. I hope you, too, will. Thank you for giving me that day; it will remain indelible in my memory.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A farewell poem

Always polite, always firm, and yet, almost always open to correction, this boss of mine held aloft several principles I stand by. He deserves an ovation for how he dealt with difference of opinion. He is grace personified.
Amitabh Akhauri, our Boss, stands in the centre
There comes the boss
With the loud, roaring voice
His height may seem threatening,
But he’s full of little joys.
He’s got a special way
Of clearing through the clutter
Decisions, tough or easy,
He takes them without a flutter.
Strong where he must be
Else smiling all throughout
He’s humble, reflective, and kind
He’s sure, he’s tough, he’s proud.
He’s certainly a dear person
A Gentleman to the core
He infects happiness around him
His going does leave us sore…
His going does leave us sore…

Monday, January 22, 2018

मोह मोह के धागे


जाने कैसे घूम फिर कर हर बात, हर रात, तुम्हीं पर आ कर टिक जाती है.

तुम्हारे छोटे चड्डे के उधड़ते हुए धागों पर.
तुम्हारे बौराए हुए घुंघराले बालों पर.
तुम्हारी कविता जैसी आँखों-पलकों पर.
तुम्हारे चंचल भाव-भंगिमा पर.
तुम्हारे माँ जैसे स्वभाव पर .
तुम्हारी कल-कल बहती हंसी पर.
तुम्हारी इतराती-बलखाती अदाओं पर.
तुम्हारे सुकूनदेह स्पर्श पर.
तुम्हारे गालों के भंवर पर.

अनुभूति कुछ भी हो, दिनचर्या जैसी भी बीते. अहसास जैसा भी हो, माध्यम जो भी रहे. अभिव्यक्ति कुछ भी हो. निष्कर्ष तुम्हीं तक लाता है.

जब हर दिशा, दशा, मंज़र, रस्ता, गली, चौराहा एक ही मंज़िल दर्शाये - तो जान लेना चाहिए के वो भीतर तक घर कर चुका है. कि हम उसके उतने हो चुके हैं कि उसके बिना अपना पूर्ण परिचय देना कठिन पाते हैं. अपना पूर्ण होना भी. पूर्ण जीना भी.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Women Gossipers


They are everywhere. Slavering with stories and theories on women. They are found among both sexes. Gossiping about women is their chief pastime. Like herds, their thoughts on the subject are all the same.

That women envy each other. That women can never be true friends with other women. That women are poor drivers. That women nag. That women are family breakers. That parenting is a woman’s responsibility. That women are born to be homemakers. That career women are social threats. Etcetera.   

“You know what, when we men become friends, we barely care about each other’s wealth or assets. We simply chill out. But when women are together, all they notice is the jewelry and clothes of other women.” I’ve heard self-appointed social commentators explain. Let’s ask them – do you remember the cars and official positions of your male friends? Yes, you do. Because you take interest in cars and designations. People remember what interests them. Social conditioning is a significant determinant of interests. You and your sister saw your father driving car and chasing career. You and your sister saw your mother engrossed in daily management of household and fashion and cosmetics. Your sister is as good or bad as driver, as you are as cook and nanny.

It’s no rocket science to infer why men and women behave like they do. The human mind makes impressions right from its days in the crib. In absence of absolute examples, people grow on to consider their parents’ values as ideal values. Author of the book The Road Less Travelled, M Scott Peck puts it in a simple and brilliant way: Our first (and, sadly, often our only) notion of God’s nature is a simple extrapolation of our parents’ natures, a simple blending of the characters of our mothers and fathers or their substitutes. If we have loving, forgiving parents, we are like to believe in a loving and forgiving God.  If our parents were harsh and punitive, we are likely to mature with a concept of a harsh and punitive monster-God. And if they failed to care for us, we will like envision the universe as similarly uncaring.

Upbringing is hard to overcome. You are a living example of this fact.

It’s quite comical to see you talking about women envying each other. You get burnt to your last bone marrow if a fellow male colleague gets promoted ahead of you. You go hungry for the blood of brothers over family property and money. Your ilk leaves no stone unturned in impeding growth of your so-called brethren. 

The point is this. Envy, greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, pride are sins of humankind in general. They are not appropriated by any gender. Mind is not a sex organ.

If you haven’t seen women who are honestly good friends, I can understand that. Going by the quality of your thoughts, it’s not surprising to know the quality of women who surround you. I nevertheless hope that you get to witness true friendships among women. You have no idea how empowering, enlightening, and enriching friendship among women can be. If you had real friends among men, you would understand.

You take special joy in highlighting the detrimental role of working women in upsetting family balance. “The financial independence of women has caused imbalance in the society,” goes your narrative. Decoded, it means that women are no longer ready to bear with injustice because they can fend for themselves. Decent people call it liberation. Your kind feels threatened. Let me voice out your unsaid concerns: Damn, if my wife starts earning she will (a) not take shit from me or my parents, which is a huge problem (b) she will become street-smart and difficult to manipulate and (c) she will expect my equal participation in all the annoying house-work, potty-cleaning and homework-doing stuff. Arrgh.

You often point to biology to build your logic. You say women are natural parents because nature has endowed them to get pregnant and lactate. Meaning thereby that pleasure organs come with a responsibility. About time to look your biology with the same logic, no?  

I know there is very little hope in you, but I still bank upon it, so that your sons and daughters turn out different from you. And the world becomes a better place to live in. 


At this point, I bow to parents who spare their children such an abject image of women. They are the men who are too confident to feel insecure with power. They are the women who are intelligent enough to see through the farce, and courageous enough to call the shots. Thank you, Ma-Papa. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Life lessons from Airtel Delhi Half Marathon


I ran my first ever half marathon on November 19, 2017. Had it not been for the inspiration of my colleagues, I wouldn’t have known the joy of it. I thank them deeply for infecting me with the spirit.
To put it simply, a long distance running experience so unique and challenging, that it’s worth undertaking. That indicates why thousands of us have taken to running long distances. If this isn’t convincing, let me take you through the lessons. Learned in a hard way. And we know from experience, the harder we learn, the longer it stays.

1.       Humility is gold. We might be the best of our clan and society, but out there, one is a speck in the universe. There are so many people better than us. They could be younger, older, fatter, shorter, taller whatever. Let’s accept it – they are better than us.

2.       Limits are imaginary. Before I donned the Fitbit, I used to run comfortably. I could run hours without tiring, and I thought my stamina was good. Bullshit. I ran hours because my hours didn’t pack much. Fitbit revealed to me, much to my shock, that I ran at my peak heart rate only for 30% of my entire running time. I determined to improve, and I did. I took up the count to 90% during my practice runs. On the marathon day, I clinched a neat 100%.

3.       Teams achieve more than individuals. I was a comfort runner, or so I told myself. I would intersperse my runs with very slow jogs to restore my breath. On that day, running with hundreds of people of different ages and backgrounds, I realized that I could not slow down. Not even when my knees were knocking and my feet burning. It’s only then that I understood why humans accomplish the most daunting tasks in groups. Pilgrimages and treks are group activities. That’s why organizations achieve better than individuals. It’s the power of collective spirit. Humans are meant to inspire and be inspired.

4.       We become who we follow. Parents in childhood and Pinterest in adulthood instruct us to keep company of people who are driven and motivated. Marathons demonstrate why. Let’s observe ourselves. When we’re driving, we follow vehicles that are swift; that can cut through traffic like hot knife through butter. When we are in office, we migrate to leaders who perform best. Among friends, we find solace in those who can find solutions even in a haze of confusion. In life as in marathon, good followers go on to become good leaders.

5.       What you can’t measure you can’t achieve. Running is a joy, agreed, but one needs to measure its indices to improve the sport. Before practicing for the event, I never cared to measure my own performance. And when I did, I achieved what I previously thought impossible. Fixing goals beyond our perceived capacity is the trick to outperformance.

6.       Keep reserve force for the end. Any long drawn and difficult project requires persistence and truckloads of willpower. However, with some tact, the goal becomes easier to achieve. Marathon is a classic example of how one must strategize the run. Pace is important, but not at the cost of burn-out. In the end, what comes of use is the penny saved for the rainy day.

7.       Excellence is a habit. I was in the 5th km of my run when I saw the first runner on the opposite side heading towards the finishing line. They were the professionals. Unlike me, they followed the right diet, the right exercise schedule and the right running routines throughout the year, and not just for two months. They glided like human machines on the swanky bituminous roads of Delhi, inspiring awe within onlookers. They did the right thing all the time.

8.       Dance along the way. I do not know if 2 hrs 21 mins was a good finishing time for a first timer like me. What I know for sure is that I wouldn’t have achieved this without music on the way. Organizers of the marathon must have known that bhangra can be a legible drug for runners. There was live music and drums at every few kilometers throughout the run. However spent and fatigued my body was, I was infused with a strange freshness in my limbs when the beats of drums came floating through. For that duration, I doubled my speed without effort.

9.       Encouragement comes back in double measures. Barring a few groups, most running participants were strangers to each other. But that did not stop them, or me, from egging on fellow runners to not give up. This warm human goodwill unfolded all by itself. There was a raising spirit for every flagging spirit. And it came back to help the helper without a single miss.

10.   Choose your game. Marathon was a great experience, undoubtedly worth doing again. However, that might not be our best game. Dedication and practice will improve us, but we may still never reach the top. However, if that same dedication and practice was to be exercised on the sport we are born to live, the journey to the top will both be enjoyable and rewarding. That game, to say it Japanese way, will be the IKIGAI. 

I’m sure the more experienced fellow runners have other points to add here. This list and its author will feel enriched to know their views.
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