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.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

All for one, one for all

The image of the three of you.

Standing barefoot on Candolim beach; clouds gathering over the horizon. The sky a stormy shade of grey. The breeze in your hair. The ecstasy in your hearts. The silent bonds of love all around and within. The sea swelling and roaring in its full glory.

The image of the three of you.

Sprawled on one of the beds of B-204. Shoving and pushing and making and giving way. In order to accommodate four adults in a space meant for two.

The image of the three of you.

Poring over a sheet of paper. Blank as a bare wall. Motifs and messages shaping up in all eyes, waiting to be drawn. Glitters, water colors, paint brushes, round chips of mirrors, ribbon, balloons, bustings reading HAPPY BIRTHDAY – all Itsy Bitsy branded – strewn over the place. Like a riot of colours. And then, the perfect idea strikes. Thoughts start taking shape on paper. In cards that will become most cherished possessions of life. Achingly beautiful patterns. Soulful messages.

The image of the three of you.

Sitting around the dining table. Laughing hysterically over yet another banal matter. Comments and wise-cracks adding pitch and length to the laughter. Like camphor to fire. The droning fan, the puffed red heart over the kitchen wall, the teddy-family on the TV table, the small hearts in the living room, and the wood of the very table itself: all standing witness to days & months & years of pure bakar. Of friendships that start off without a purpose, and turn into, a purpose itself.

The image of the three of you.

Under the forceful jet of Munnar waterfall; gasping for breath. Holding on to each other like children to mothers. Of dancing away to glory in cool Bangalore nights. Of sharing food and all things good, each person faking being-too-sated, to let another have more. Of gentle touches and soft kisses packed with most potent medicinal properties. Of antaakshri in sleeper buses. Of meditation. Of chores. Of feigned annoyance. Of endless teasing. Of innumerable memories, moments & conversations – all enshrined within the deepest recesses of the heart. Locked safe. Keys thrown away to the winds.

Of Baby – my Queen. Her child like honesty. Her unveiled swagger. Her ability to conclude with a finality even pope wouldn’t dare question. Her staggering intelligence. Her sheer honesty. Her apolitical viewpoint. Her bargaining style of ‘don’t-say-no-to-someone-as-cute-as-me’ suddenly transform into ‘do-the-hell-as-I-say.’ Her cunning at cards. Her forceful charity. Her confident lies and even more confident confessions. Basically, her confidence. Her undisguised affection (or the lack of it). Her eloquent eyes. Her sexy goddess body. Her being born to rule. Her call of ‘Sonal didiiiiiiiiiii’…pure music to my ears.

Of Telugu Auntie – my gorgeous. Her heightened olfactory powers. Her accented English. Her calibrated Hindi. Her lady-like grace in public. Her child-like insanity in private. Her waterfall like layered laughter. Her winking as she does that. Her deep sense of purpose. The weight of her personality.  Her irresistible tresses. Her dreams and her power. Her unquestioned professionalism. Her self-enamored throws at the mirror. Her simple heart, coupled with a logical mind, making her vulnerable and terrific at the same time. Her poise and self-esteem. Her being vehemently strong.

Of Nani-dadi. My sanskari babe. Her need to organize. Her selfless giving. Her absorbing attitude. Her endless ability to assimilate. Her relapses into tradition. Her being ‘traditional with a modern outlook’. Her hung-up habits. Her powerless protests. Her unfathomable contradictions. Her boundless energy. Her frugal living. Her maniacal sense of responsibility. Her talent for small talk. Her monumental simplicity. Her enormous world-view.  Her prompt helpfulness. Her self-effacing humor. Her lateral, naughty mind.

The image of the three of you. Of each one of you. These million montages…they’ve segued into  the fabric of my life. I have invested myself in you, without knowing, or trying to. Standing transformed beyond imagination. From a self-sufficient person, to one in need of counsel and care. From being happily-fiercely alone, to being from you. From seeing myself from my eyes, to seeing myself as you would want to. From being completely independent, to luxuriating in the joy of surrender.

The image of the three of you pulls together parts vital to me, hitherto scattered, forgotten, or ignored; and makes me whole again.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


मस्त पवन सी चाल चले वो

चुटिया पीछे झूली जाए

जाने कैसे वो हंसी खेल में

छू कर देती गम के साये


काम करे ऑफिस में जब वो

मोदी का भी सर झुक जाए

रसोई, कपडे, घर, इस्त्री में

रोज़ नए इतिहास बनाये


बात रही जहां आवभगत की

लोगों को पलकों पर बिठाये

खाली पेट आप चल दिए तो

पोटली बाँध कर घर पहुंचाए


Friend, philosopher, guide कभी,

कभी बकैती की पुल बनाये

dance करे मवाली वाली

Mimicry से सबका दिल लूट जाए


परी, घुंघराले बालों वाली

नानी दादी सी गुणों में समाये

चुलबुली, चटपटी, प्यारी, कोमल

तुमसे दिल-घर रौशन हो जाए

अब तुम बिन हमसे रहा जाए

अब तुम बिन हमसे रहा जाए…

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Story of the Ring(s)

This was her third flight in the day; finally taking her home. Toying with the silver ring on her finger, Janhavi, for a change, was too tired to entertain thoughts. There was a time when the mere sight of it lifted her spirits, or doomed them, depending on where she stood on the wave of love. Whether she was riding the crest or drowning in the troughs. That was years ago, when hope still nestled in her heart. That’s when she had cultivated the habit of running her fingertips over the smooth curve of the ring. Strange bittersweet comfort would suffuse her nerves upon feeling that circle of love. Presently, she turned and toyed with the ring absentmindedly. In plain mental ennui.

That’s when his voice fell like sledgehammer on her conscience. Suddenly alert like a dog, she sat up with a start. All senses acutely at work. Within seconds she searched the source. Sitting two rows ahead of her, on the right side of the aisle, she saw the head whose every contour she knew. By heart. By hand. By every living cell in her body. It was him, unmistakably. Engaged in banter, joyous and lively as always, his vicinity flooded with laughter.

Her heart sank into her shoes. Breath eluded her body. Her ears burned. Copious tears emerged without warning. Oh! It was him! The bliss of finding a lost god. Oh! The pain of holding oneself back. Her stomach gurgled loud in the absolute stillness of her body. Sandwiched between two strangers, Janhavi dug her face into her chest, and took long breaths to stay alive and sane. Wiping her eyes and nose discreetly to avoid becoming a sight.

Holding her heart tightly between her teeth, turning her ring vigorously by now, breathing heavily and slowly, Janhavi put her focus four feet ahead; on the head she would press to her chest like life itself. The recall came then, and her fingers paused mid-way. She looked at the ring beneath them, the silver ring, which was bought by her for herself. After having found him, she had handed over her only piece of jewelery to him. To the love of her life. He wore it with pride and love around his neck as a pendant on a silver chain. The ring touched the centre of his sternum – her sanctum sanctorum. A million kisses had transpired between that place her lips the day before he returned it to her.

Only when the flight touched earth in a series of bumps did she realize they had landed. Hundreds of thoughts, dialogues, possibilities and climaxes, that could be in the one-hour flight, presented themselves in all histrionics to her mind, and escaped with equal speed and agony. She hung in a state between indecision and delirium, unable to say or do anything. She only watched him ceaselessly. She rose with him, and followed every move of his. His getting up, taking his bag out from the cabin luggage in one brisk move, giving way to his neighbor. Feeling the gaze of someone standing like a statue in the middle of a row, oriented towards him like a sunflower towards the sun, he turned in that direction.

Their eyes met. Time froze where it was. Unsaid words were gulped down the throat.  Tears rammed their way through his insides to reach the frontier of his eyes. Eternities were exchanged through sighs weighing like a few million galaxies. Time and space hung in suspended animation. The spell broke when a hand rested itself on the man’s shoulder, enquiring if everything was alright. “Of course,” the reply came a bit too quick. Visibly dishonest.

The moment, after four years of endless yearning and longing, lasted only a few seconds. She saw his back moving towards the crowd, exiting the airport, getting lost in a sea of bodies. What she didn’t see was his hand clutching tight the silver chain that still hung on his bosom, and an invoice of a platinum ring lying in the crevasses of his wallet, dated four years ago. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Of People and Papayas

Of the few mercies granted by life, one is ensuring supply of things. Things, not people. One would rather opt-in to be supplied with desired people, but life doesn’t grant anything that’s people dependent. Except oneself. If you get what I mean.
Thrifty hearts, however, find solace in ascertaining anything little they can. Even if it’s something as plain as papayas.

And so it’s heartening to note that it’s within my reach to plan my fruit supplies every week. Being working and managing home all by oneself has its challenges. One has time to stock up the fridge only once a week. While other fruits don’t play very hard to get and survive, papayas are particularly snobbish. I mean an apple will taste the same on Monday and Friday, so will pomegranate. But papayas and bananas belong to the category that have to be picked carefully, their ripening stage staggered day-by-day, to make sure that you get the correct taste on your breakfast table each day.
After a year of buying my own supplies of my breakfast papaya, I understood one thing it wanted to teach. That a papaya will never be on a Friday what it is not on a Sunday.

When fresh stock arrives on a Sunday, the ripe ones that you will use within week’s first three days are easy to choose. You look for babies which are a pastel orange and firm to hold. Neither too soft, nor too hard. In a sweet-spot between the two. The choice is usually correct. As in, you have to be partially blind and touch-insensitive to get that part wrong (if you are a true lover of papayas).

It is the week’s later part papaya that would be hard to select. Rows upon rows of unripe papaya would lie there, staring blankly at you, while your head buzzed with the problem of plenty. Those cross-roads were very confusing for me, till I learnt the lesson. There would be greens with the pallor of yellow, there would be yellows with the promise of orange. Then there would be those whose one half were olive green and the other half bright orange as though only one side saw the sun. Which of these would you select in the hope that it would provide the desired taste after being wrapped in layers of paper for three days?
After a year of experimenting on this subject, I have found the answer validated and established through experience, which my gut had told me in the first instance. That a papaya will never be on a Friday what it is not on a Sunday.

No matter how unripe, how green and hard, if the fruit has a promising hint of orange, it will emerge right. It will tickle your palette with delight a few days later. It will sate your senses. Why? Because it had it inside from the first day itself. Whereas if you were to pick up a green or a yellow in the hope that it would ripen to sweetness, you will get in the end what you saw in the beginning. It may be perfect to touch and visibly ruddy, it may even be nutritious and juicy, but it will be shorn of that essential sweetness. Shorn of the exactitude that your heart yearns for.  

Now you see the uncanny resemblance between papayas and people? If they are not from the very birth what you desire of them, if that streak never existed in them…it will not come. No matter how hard you try. No matter how hard they try. These people, these papayas…they may look perfect from outside. Perfectly ripe, perfectly healthy, perfectly coloured.

That they are tasteless, you alone will know.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

माँ के लिए फेसबुक गाइड

माँ मेरी,

बचपन से आज तक तुम हमको पढ़ाती-सिखाती आयी. यह तो तुम ही बता सकती हो कि तुम्हारे पाठ-प्रवचन का हमपर कितना असर पड़ा. हम तो बस इतना जानते हैं कि हम मिटटी रहे और तुम मेरी कुम्हारी, जो इतने प्यार से हमको ढाली कि हम तुम बन गए.

खैर, गए हफ्ते जब तुम्हारा फेसबुक पर आगमन हुआ, तो हमको चुहल हुई तुमको पढ़ाने की (यहाँ मेरा 'अनुभव' - तुम्हारा favourite शब्द - तुमसे ज़्यादा है). ज्ञान उड़ेलने की दुनिया में तुम स्वेच्छा से चली हो, तो शुरुआत चलो हम ही करते हैं. 

सबसे ज़रूरी बात सबसे पहले. फेसबुक दुनिया का आधुनिक मेला है. बटन दबाते ही जीवंत हो जाने वाली इस दुनिया में साधारण रूप से सम्भले हुए लोग भी रोज़ाना 40-50 मिनट बिताते हैं. इसलिए चौकस रहना . समय की बर्बादी में अगर कोई और मनोरंजन इससे आगे है तो वो है सास-बहू सीरियल.  जब तुम सीरियल के मोह में कभी नहीं फसी (thank god for that), तो मुझे उम्मीद है ये भी तुम्हरा कुछ बिगाड़ पायेगी. वैसे सीरियल और फेसबुक - दोनों की मूल सामग्री एक सी है - दिखावा, ईर्ष्या, सुनहरे सपने, दार्शनिक ज्ञान, बनावटी सुंदरता, इत्यादि.

यहां गज़ब तमाशे देखने को मिलते हैं.  अजीब विकृत सा मनोरंजन है. प्यार का इज़हार आमने -सामने हो हो, यहाँ इसकी होड़ लगी रहती है. मज़ा तब आता है जब प्रतिभागी, जिनमें कई मियाँ-बीवी, ससुर-दामाद, सास-बहू, ऑफिस सहकर्मी शामिल हैं, एक दूसरे के लिए प्यार की गंगा-यमुना बहाते हैं.  बाहों में बाहें डाले ये लोग यथार्थ में एक दूसरे के खून के प्यासे हों, और ये तथ्य पूरी दुनिया को विदित भी हो, तो भी फेसबुक पर यह प्रचार नहीं रुकता. पता नहीं इनमें से क्या अधिक हास्यास्पद है - फरेब की खूबसूरती या इंसान की कुरूपता.

हमारे बड़े पुराने कह गए, “Be slow in choosing friends and slower in changing.” ज़ाहिर है, फेसबुक इस विचारधारा के बिलकुल विपरीत है. यहां व्यक्ति से मिलना तो दूर, फ़ोन पर ही बात करके दोस्त की सूची में उपस्थिति दर्ज हो जाती है. कई ऐसे लोग भी देखने को मिले जो सिर्फ दोस्त बनाने के लिए फेसबुक पर बैठे हैं. आये दिन उनसे दोस्ती की सिफारिश आती है. इन लोगों के दिल में सूनापन है या  अईयाश, यह तो मुझे ज्ञात नहीं, पर इनसे दूर रहना निस्संदेह अपनी सुख शान्ति के लिए अच्छा है. यहां दोस्तों की तादाद जिस अनुपात से बढ़ेगी, समझ लेना दोस्ती की गहराई उसी दर से घटेगी.

फेसबुक के दोस्त तुम्हें सुबह से रात तक यह बताने को उत्सुक रहेंगे कि वे कहाँ कहाँ गए, क्या क्या खाया, क्या क्या खरीदा, क्या कुछ सोचा, किससे किससे कौन कौन सी बात की वगैरह वगैरह। यहां तक कि वे कैसा महसूस कर रहे हैं, उस ख़ास अभिव्यक्ति की सुहूलियत के लिए स्वयं फेसबुक ने कई चहरे ईजाद किये हैं. वो किस भाव से गुज़र रहे हैं ये बताने के लिए बाक़ायदा drop-down लिस्ट है! कहो भला, जिन अनर्गल बातों से मन में निपट लेने को ही सूझ समझा जाता था, आज उनकी नुमाइश को इतना तवज्जो मिलेगा, कभी तुमने सोचा था? मैं तो कहती हूँ, मार्क ज़ुकरबर्ग को सर्वश्रेष्ठ मनोवैज्ञानिक का खिताब सौंप देना चाहिए. बदलते मानवीय परिवेश में इंसान की बुद्धि का इतना सटीक पूर्वानुमान लगाना, और उसपर अरबों का व्यवसाय खड़ा कर देना, सिद्ध ज्योतिषी है आदमी.

वैसे फेसबुक के कई फायदे भी हैं. भूले बिसरे दोस्तों से तार जुड़ जाते हैं. प्यारे लोगों की तसवीरें सहज रूप से दिख जाती हैं. खुशियों को बांटना और शुभ समाचार से अवगत रहना सरल हो गया है. दोस्तों रिश्तेदारों के जन्मदिन आप ज़रूर भूल जाएँ, पर यह यंत्र आपको सब याद दिलाता चलता है. किसी का ध्यान किसी बात पर ख़ास आकर्षित करने के लिए तुम उनको 'tag' कर सकती हो (फेसबुक चहरे भी पहचानता है). कुछ नासमझ लोग तुमको बिना बात tag करेंगे. तुम उनको बिना बताये खुद को untag कर देना. Candy crush खेलने जैसे बेकार प्रस्तावों को अनदेखा करते चलना.

कई बार सोचती हूँ, आजी आज जीवित होती तो इन्टरनेट के इस जमघट पर क्या टिप्पणी करती (और वो कितना रोचक होता!)

अद्भुत नज़ारे, उत्तम लेखन, प्रेरणाप्रद उक्तियाँ, झटपट खबरें, निराली घटनाएं, विविध परिप्रेक्ष्य, आम ज्ञान से भरपूर है यह मैदान. कुछ स्व-घोषित बुद्धीजीवी यहां के स्थाई निवासी हैं. उनके मुंह से ज्ञान सांप के मुंह से अमृत बरसने जैसा प्रतीत होता है. दुःख तब होता है जब ये लोग हिंदी और अंग्रेज़ी, दोनों के सुख को सूख लेते हैं, क्योंकि वे दोनों में फ़र्क़ नहीं समझते. मैं ये सोचकर उनसे सहानुभूति रखती हूँ कि उनके पिता मेरे पिता जैसे नहीं रहे होंगे. तुम भी कोई बहाना ढूंढ लो.

बहरहाल, फेसबुक के संसार में तुम्हारा पुनः स्वागत है. तुम्हारी हंसी की झंकार यहां भी गूंजे, इसके कारण और गूंजे, यही प्रार्थना है.