Tuesday, January 09, 2018

My Favourite Authors

My first ever friend (guess we were so small, we may not even remember when we first set eyes upon each other) Kavita put me up to this. Seeing our mutual love for books and reading, it is no wonder that I am feeling excited even before I start writing this. Ahem…let us forget that fact that it has been over 2 years that K tagged me. Given the early start I got into the world of reading, it is no easy task to pick and choose a list of favourite authors out of the entire host I have read. Having gone through K’s list, I can safely say I am going to be repeating many of those and I am glad there is no number limit on this. 

While I don’t remember the very first books I must have read, I do remember that my earliest fond memories include books. Like all kids of my generation, I went through a regular diet of Enid Blyton and while her name has lately been tainted by people finding racial overtones in her books, she will always be responsible for introducing me to reading and making me love it – be it the Famous FiveSecret Seven, The Ragamuffin series or the slightly more grown up Five Find-outers and Dog series. And even now I am leaving out many others of the magical worlds she created for want of space!

Another series that comes to mind of another “author” is The Three Investigators. Always with an introduction from the famed Alfred Hitchcock, the concept of these teenage boys running their amateur detective agency was legend. Throw in the brains of Jupiter Jones, the brawns of Pete Crenshaw, the organization of Bob Andrews, a few fast chases, narrow escapes from the bad guys and last minute brainwaves and many afternoons went by very happily in their presence.

Now I come to the books that literally ruled my early and childhood years and changed the way I looked at mystery and adventure books forever – The Hardy Boys! The first Hardy Boys gifted to me by a older cousin sister made me seek them out as soon as I was done with that one and I felt as one with the Hardy brothers, Chet, Biff, Phil, Jerry and of course Callie and Iola when they went on their super excited adventures. The small fact that the brothers did not get a year older (till they aged by a whole year when the Case Files started) didn’t bother me in the least. I remember my neighbour in my Khar apartment building who owned the entire original hardbound Hardy Boys series and how he very kindly indulged this 8-year old who would devour one book in about 2-3 days and be back for the next! When the Case Files came out in my early teens, it made the atmosphere in the books much more grimmer with people actually getting killed and not just kidnapped but the tight storyline always had me glued.

The first “adult” book I read at the tender age of 13 was Kane & Abel by Jeffrey Archer. Took me a while but Lord Archer became one of my favourite authors over time and I can profess to have read all of his books over the years though some of his recent efforts seemed to lack the punch his earlier books had. In the similar genre, covering a lot of ground in terms of world history and seamlessly merging it into fiction was Ken Follett, another writer who I count amongst my faves. Sidney Sheldon while considered low grade by many also ruled the roost for me for some time.

Talking about merging history with fiction, I discovered James Michener a few years back on the recommendation of a blogger who has become a friend (you know who you are). Michener is unique in his storytelling in that while his books are really long and detailed, they are literally unputdownable and you are swept away in life and times of the rich world he creates in each of his masterpieces with intricate detail and research. Some of my favourites by him areThe Source (history of Israel), Poland andCentennial. If you like books with a lot of information, details and history then these are the books for you.

Two authors that give me my fix of high adrenalin action with fast paced action with all the bells and whistles of modern firepower and military gadgets are Mathew Reilly and Lee Child. Reilly’s Shane Schofield and Jack West Jr. and Child’s Jack Reacher are men you look up to at multiple levels and aspire for some of their qualities in the face of insurmountable odds. The best books for a short flight or a day you want to spend with a quick read.

Now I come to a genre that while I took my own time to warm up to it, has turned into my most liked genre ever – fantasy fiction! Obviously, this list has to start with JK Rowling and her Harry Potter series and how badly I wished that I had got a shot at living in that parallel world for a while. It was heartbreaking when the 7th book finally got over and I had to return to a world sans Harry Potter. While it is much older book and had been in existence since the early 1900s, it shot to the limelight when the first movie of the trilogy released and many fantasy fans from my generation were treated to the magic of The Lord of the Rings. I remember buying a copy of the 3 books merged into a single volume immediately and proceeding to devour it from cover to cover. Since then, I have re-read this book about 4 times (yes, call me crazy) and also gone out on a limb and bought all other books by this king amongst authors includingThe Hobbit, Unfinished Tales, The Silmarillion, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun and not once have I regretted the purchases. A more recent but just as strong pull has been towards George R R Martin and his famed Game of Thrones series. Needless to say, these 3 authors were enough to start a lifelong love affair with the genre and all the fare it afforded me.

While I am no medical person, but just like K, Robin Cook has had me hooked to his writing and hanging on to every word! Medical thrillers like his brings to mind another fabulous author Patricia Cornwellwith her trademark forensic investigations mixed with crime – can’t but not love them!

A few authors / books have been more recent discoveries – Murakami (abstract but blindingly beautiful), The Millenium Series (3 by Steig Larsson, 2 as yet by David Lagercrantz – Lisbeth Salander always leaves you wanting more and then even more), Keigo Hagashino (one of the best crime / mystery writers I have read, even translated from Japanese). Keigo’s The Devotion of Suspect X was spine tingling not only with its intricate plot but the revelation at the end! Many would have already read and loved The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak but I read it very recently.

This post would not be complete without mentioning some of my most favourite classics, the likes of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen), Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of arguably my most favourite literary character of all time –  can go on and on about him but maybe in a fresh post), the grand dame of mystery and crime, Agatha Christieand... ahem...let us stay with these for now.

Eric Segal with his Love Story and DoctorsClive Cussler with Dirk PittKhaled Hosseini who changed Afghanistan and made it more humane and warm for me forever!

How can I forget our very own Indian authors in this already lengthy list? Vikram Seth won me over with his mammoth masterpiece A Suitable Boy; can’t wait to read it again! Arundhati Roy with her haunting and beautiful The God of Small ThingsAmitava Ghosh with The Hungry Tide; this book made me marvel how words could be used so beautifully to describe life in the Sunderbans and the tragic end made me gasp at the futility of it all. One of the few Indian authors who went and wrote a series and rocked at it, Ashok Banker (his Ramayana and Mahabharata series both changed how I felt about these epics). Amish, who picked up the mythology trail and gave it his own twist with the Vayuputra trilogy and now is 2 books into his own version of the Ramayana.

Given the number of books I now own and have not read as yet (yes yes, I know!) and the number of authors I’ve had the privilege to read and love, this post could go on and on and on if you know what I mean. So I’d rather end here, wallow in this warm happy feeling I’m in the throes of when thinking of and writing about so many prized authors and books and let this post (which my dear friend, K tagged me to do at least 2 years ago) see the light of day! Happy reading. 

Monday, January 08, 2018


I stopped in my tracks! Was this really G sir? Since I was still some distance from the grocery shop, I still wasn’t sure.

Those were days when parents believed that schools were just too crowded to really understand what was being taught and teachers were too caught up managing the class to do justice to teaching. So Sir as we called G sir was the ideal solution in these so-called crucial years of our education.

Sir was a veteran teacher and had a piercing gaze behind thick glasses that could literally burn into an errant student. He never raised his voice; its timbre was enough to command our attention, fear and grudgingly our respect too. His teaching methodology was more logic-oriented than our school’s “by rote” teaching. Sir would make sure the concepts behind the subject matter were made clear and help figure out the rest for ourselves. His notes, tests and assignments were exhaustive and written in his own hand before being photocopied and passed on to us. The tension in the air during each of his tests was palpable. He would sit at the head of the table and look around while we literally and figuratively sweated with our answer sheets.

I remember the comfortable trackpants and t-shirts he used to wear always. I remember him scanning school report cards after exams and the shiver down my spine then. I remember his agitation at what he termed incorrect concepts taught us by school teachers and threatening to castigate the said teacher. I also remember the kindly twinkle in those gray-brown eyes, the thick moustache and large slurpy noise made while sipping on his customary mug of tea. I remember him taking us out for a picnic to a nearby beach during 10th grade, the last time we met as a batch.

Whenever I run into any old batchmates or even other students lucky enough to be tutored by Sir, we realize we actually revered and loved him for what he had been to us - a great teacher! Funnily, none of us had really kept in regular touch with him after school.

I’d reached the shop; it WAS sir. The glasses were still thick, the moustache white but still thick. I smiled and he smiled back, “How are you, Sachin?”. I looked fondly at the frail but still great man and said “I’m well, Sir! And you?”

A Road Less Travelled

Biking lore has it that there is no greater joy than bombing down a long road with a strong wind whistling in your ears, trees and open countryside flashing by and the strong steady beat of your machine keeping time to your heartbeat. I had read about it, heard about it and also watched versions of it in films and on TV. But it is rightly said that till you do it yourself, you can’t understand what the big deal is all about.

I’ve owned a RE Thunderbird 350 for just over 3 years now and have ridden it in and around town quite a bit. This also included 3 “short” rides of about 70-80 km (2 with my bhai - S’s brother to Manor and Vashind respectively and a few rides with the Enfielder’s riding group and friends). These rides gave me a taste of what it was to really get out there and ride hard. This post was written about one such ride with the Enfielder’s in Dec 2016. Yes, it is a late post but people who know me also know how I can be with finishing posts that I start.

At that point, I jumped at the chance of a much longer ride (as compared to other rides I had been on till then), again with the Enfielder’s, to Jawhar / Mokhada; this one would roughly be about 120-130 kms each way so in effect more than double the distance as compared to any of my previous rides.

The ride was to happen on Dec 24th 2016, the day before Christmas and hence a lesser turnout was expected. I reached the meeting point at 5.15 am and over the next hour and a half, more and more riders joined in taking the count of bikes to 19. Since this was to be an “open” ride, there were a few non-RE bikes including a Harley, a KTM, a Honda and another Honda Unicorn. While waiting for everyone, most of us were giving each other’s bikes the usual once over, checking out the modifications made as well as aesthetic changes that made each RE so unique in character and if I may use the word, personality. A riding group is great example of homogeneity in diversity and the Enfielder’s are no exception; caste, creed, gender, age, profession and background all take the backseat and all riders come together with a single-minded love for riding. The camaraderie is simply amazing to experience and I feel privileged to be part of this band of brothers and sisters.

The ride began post a briefing by the group lead where he laid down the ground rules while riding. On longer rides with a large group of bikers, it is essential that everyone is in sync. This is not only to ensure the safety of each and every rider but also to maintain the high standards and the spirit of teamwork embodied by the group. At 7 am, we set out along NH – 8 towards Virar in single file with the leader leading the pack. The speed picked up once we crossed the China Creek bridge as the rising sun made its presence felt from our right. It was a cold morning and none of the protective gear we had on including riding jackets, gloves, balaclavas and helmets could keep the chill from creeping into our arms and legs. Not that this dampened our enthusiasm in any way!

The sight of all the bikes in a perfect single file thundering their way along a good road is poetry in motion and only experiencing it can make one understand the thrill that a biker feels when on one such ride. Along the way, we passed many small towns on both sides of the highway and without fail, heads turned in unison to see us ride past, wistful smiles on the faces of the teenaged boys and the younger men. Before long we were approaching the Toll naka after Virar and there was a massive traffic snarl on the opposite side with huge trucks and buses blocking the entire entry towards Mumbai. This had led to traffic also spilling over to the wrong side (our side) and the right most lane was a long line of trucks and left most a long line of cars coming from the wrong side. The overall effect was a choke up so bad that it was difficult to even manoeuvre our bikes through. After a while, using the small gaps in between the larger vehicles, the bikes managed their way out of the mess onto a relatively clear area. In the process, I had my right side rear-view mirror cracked when a truck brushed past it.

After a short break on clearing the obstacle, we resumed our ride and very soon we were crossing the Manor flyover and taking a right off the highway. The road we were on now was good and undulating with lot of sharp curves and ascending continuously. Both sides we could only see well tended fields stretching away and bordered by mountains on one side. Riding here was extremely enjoyable but at the same time we had to keep both eyes on the road given the sudden twists and turns and the quick moving occasional traffic from the opposite side.

Biking, like many other pursuits that involve concentration, grows on you gradually until it finally becomes muscle memory. Your bike becomes an extension of your body and responds immediately to the smallest of actions on your part, reflexively or otherwise. This is when your mind is clear and there no idle thoughts to distract you from your primary objective of riding. Your responses are instant and come without any conscious effort from your side. It is this state that every rider worth his ilk craves for and when in it, lives a truly transcendental moment.

After a lovely ride of about 60 km on this road, we reached a small eatery on the outskirts on Jawhar village. We downed breakfast ravenously (nothing like a long ride to whet appeties). Hunger pangs satisfied, we rode through Jawhar village and then onto a narrow winding road leading downhill. This road was pretty much broken down and the loose gravel and stones made the going even tougher. Having said that, the view in places was spectacular though we had to keep our eyes on the road for the most part. A ride of about 20-25 minutes brought us to our destination, a tiny hamlet.

After spending some time there, we set out for the journey back home, again in single file just as we came. We stopped at Jawhar while a few of us went to replenish their fuel tanks and then rode back the way we had come. Luckily, by then the traffic had cleared up and the ride back was smooth all the way upto China Creek with us being able to ride at a consistent speed of 80-90 km all the way. I reached home for a late lunch with my heart full of what I had seen and experienced during the ride. Given my experience of the rides that followed this one, I can safely say that riding is here to stay!! Maybe someday I will ride in the Himalayas after all.... mid life crisis or not.... 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fond Remembrances

As time passes, you realize that each year gives you something to remember it by, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, memorable or forgettable. Even though it isn’t yet over, 2016 has been no different. Three people were taken away. These, while not related to each other, all influenced my life. 

The first was my very own uncle. A patriarch to my family in the truest sense of the word, I don’t remember any major event of my life in which he did not participate. In fact, his presence validated the moment for me and made it more, well for lack of a better word, real. My father’s beloved oldest brother (the “in law” part really didn’t matter), a much loved and respected uncle to all my paternal cousins and me, this dignified and well read person was a pillar to my family throughout his life. Not always openly expressive, his love for his family and especially his nieces and nephews shone through in action. I remember certain late nights when we used to live at Khar when my uncle, who used to be based in Muscat for quite a few years for work, used to come directly from the airport to our house to meet my brother and me rather than go to his own house. The photos taken of one such visit stay with us as a fond memory of that moment all those years back. I remember how my brother and me used to phone him and my aunt to tell them about any of our so-called achievements, be it good results in some exams, or our admission to a good college or even landing our first jobs and getting that first pay-check. My visits to their house always used to include that one conversation with my uncle that covered a whole lot of topics such as cricket, the best routes to get from one place to the other, new food joints in and around, my current job and in the recent future, my kids. He was a true connoisseur of cricket and he could spend hours discussing the nuances with a like-minded companion. These and many other qualities of his always come to mind when I think of him. I was fortunate enough to be one of his loved ones and I will always miss his physical presence in my aunt’s house.

The second person to leave us this year was S’s brother-in-law. While related to him only through marriage, I still got the chance of getting to know him over the years of my marriage to S. He really embodied the “gentle” part of gentleman and his easygoing persona was evident to everyone who was lucky enough to have him touch their lives. His being husband to a sweet lady and father to a worthy daughter only goes to show that good things happen to nice people. In all the time that I knew him, I have never ever heard him say anything negative about anyone. He was a hardworking person himself and he ensured that his family led a comfortable and happy life. His detailed knowledge of rituals made him the de facto go to man for helping to carry out any such occasions which warranted expert advice. In fact, he helped perform the rituals during S and my engagement as well. When I think of him, I can only picture a genial man, with a great broad smile and an enthusiastic approach towards life. His sudden and untimely demise cast a pall over all of us but I am sure that wherever he is, he will ensure that his good wishes will be with us always. 

The third person I refer too has passed on very recently and thoughts of her are still fresh in my mind as I write this. She was the beloved baby sister of my close friends and her age makes it even more difficult to accept reality and move on. Some people influence your life over the course of a lifetime, some for slightly lesser and then there are some who can do it in a very short span of time. Shared interests or people can be factors to this and that was the case with her and me as well. A much loved, vivacious and multi-talented girl, she was full of life and all that it had to offer. Through the eyes of my friends, I saw her as a favourite aunt to her nieces and a loving sister to her own sister, cousin brothers and sisters-in-law. She was also a voracious reader and a big-time foodie. The brief time I had the pleasure of conversing with her was full of discussions on books read or to be read and suggestions of eateries. True to form, she stayed strong and positive and gave a tough battle to the disease till the very end. In my eyes, that is what makes her a super-woman and that is who I will always remember her as. 

It is said that when a person leaves us, they remain with us always in the form of memories they created with us and for us. It is up to us to decide if these memories are to give us pain and sorrow or just are an excuse to celebrate the happy and warm moments we shared with those who left us. While it is always going to be tough to accept that they won’t be with us anymore, we need to believe that they would have never wanted to be a reason for our continued pain. I take this opportunity to express how privileged I feel to have been part of the lives of these 3 people. Maybe this is my way of coping – so be it. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stepping Into a New World

We all have, at some point in our lives, had to give up or get out of our comfort zones and venture into something completely new to us. Do you remember how you felt then? That feeling of anxiety as to what all could go wrong? That feeling of stepping out unprotected and vulnerable to unknown dangers? In spite of being reassured by well wishers and trusted elders, the butterflies and trepidation didn't make an exit easily. It took us some time to get over that sinking feeling and gain a firm foothold and go back to our usual confident selves. Remember?

On Jun 15th, 2015, our tiny tot S2 did the same. After more than 2 years of being only around his closest family, where he was always treated like royalty and every nuance of his was understood and then catered to, he stepped out into the real world. It was his first day at Playschool. After a lot of research, S and I chose to enrol him at Euro Kids, not just because this particular center was just across the road for us.

In the days leading upto Jun 15th, we tried all we could to make him understand that in a few days, he would go to playschool where there would be many others of his age, a very nice teacher who would play with them, sing with them and generally help them have a great time. S2 gave varied responses to the efforts on our part ranging from a straight no to a bout of crying to happily agreeing and also at times looking right through us and pretending we hadn't asked him anything. Truth be told, S and I were both terrified. While we had already been through this phase with little S, it never really prepares you for doing it all over again. Our baby, who we hadn't let out of our sights as far as possible, was now going to go into a closed room with many other unknown kids, with unknown teachers and we wouldn't even be there for him. We couldn't even predict how he would react to the situation and from what we knew of him, this little guy wouldn't like it much.

It would be an incorrect statement if I said that our anxiety was only relegated to how S2 would react. We were equally worried for the other children who would be in there with him and the teachers too!

The reason for this will need a flashback: Circa September 2010. Little S's first day at her playschool. Given her soft, pliant, docile nature, we were very sure that she would have a tough time adjusting to playschool. As expected, our angelic baby cried up a storm when it time for her to let go of my dad's hand and enter the playschool premises. What wasn't expected was that at the end of the 1 hour, in her tantrum little S had scratched (read clawed) another little girl, a boy and one of the teachers as well. Ultimately this resulted in her getting scratched back and a free for all crying by all three kids. The surprising and somewhat worrying part was that our little S, who was a very sweet baby, always smiling and tantrum-free, had actually been the provoker of this incident. Leaving this at that for now, little S even today is a very sweet child, extremely well behaved, obedient for the most part and one of the teachers pets in all the classes she's been in.

On the other hand, S2 who is a full 4 years and 1 month younger than her is diametrically opposite in nature. He is loud, brash, naughty and is given to throwing tantrums when he wants something badly enough. He is also prone to actually hitting his "akka" as he calls little S without provocation when he wants something she has, which is most of the times. We have actually had to coach little S to not let him hit her at such times and defend herself against his sudden swipes or fists. Given this sweet characteristic of his, was it a wonder that we were worried for the other kids and teachers in his playschool?!

The one week before D-day, S2 had taken to saying he would "have fun in school, not cry and also ask his "friends" to not cry when they did". The night before we all slept early as little S, who was going to start 1st grade on the same day was going to have to reach school by 7.45 am and so it was an early start for all of us. As expected, little S was up on time and ready to go without any fuss. We dropped her to school and before we realized it, we were back home in time to get S2 ready. He woke up in his usual good mood, all smiling and ready to have his morning glass of Bournvita. His clothes had been selected and kept ready from the night before and it didn't take too much to get him ready.

He was once again told he was going to go to playschool today where he would have a whole lot of fun and he seemed excited about it. He even posed for a couple of pics with his bag slung on his shoulder with a big smile on his face. It was now time to do it. S and me left our home with him in tow and walked the short distance to Euro Kids. One of the most difficult moments for me was the day I walked into the room for my first ever group discussion as part of the MBA selection process. My heart was hammering in fright, my palms were clammy and my legs felt weak. This short walk to Euro Kids with my son in my arm was at least as bad as that moment if not more. Next to me, S was also in her own world of anxiety as our little boy made his entry into a new arena.

All this while, unsuspecting S2 prattled on in his usual way. In minutes, we were at the gate of the center and all we could see were tiny tots exhibiting their powerful lung capacities to the world at large when they were being separated from their parents. The teacher was waiting to take our son inside and I asked her if I could take a pic of him before that. I set him down at the doorway and took a quick pic. That was the very first moment when he realized that school meant that his mumma and dai were not going to come in with him and the expression on his face in that says it all. The teacher quickly picked him up and took him inside and as she opened the door, we could hear a cacophony of wails, howls and sobbing. Now the die was cast.

That one hour, which S and I spent waiting outside the playschool itself was veritably one of the longest ever. Halfway through the teacher came out to tell us that S2 was crying softly but he was not creating a fuss. Our hearts melted when we heard that and thought of how confused he must be with what was happening around him. Finally that hour got over and the teachers started leading out the children. As a rule, they were all crying, some even more than when they went in though they had all been given a large smiley to be held on a stick. And through the throng of parents, we saw him walk out; he was crying too, right till S picked him up and hugged him. The "ordeal" was over, at least for that day.

To celebrate his first day, we got him to choose a toy from the store and he picked out a bright yellow truck and armed with that, he came back home. Later we realized that with all the crying, he hadn't had the time to eat from the snack box that was in his bag. Another interesting point was that he had cried on that first day because he wanted to go play on the slide that was outside the center and he hadn't been allowed to do that. :)

It's now been about 15 days since then. The playschool timings are now for 2 hours and S2 is now settled with the idea of going there, doing his stuff (which includes singing rhymes, playing with blocks, scribbling with crayons and last but not the least cleaning out his snack box) and coming home saying "maza kiya". Love to see him get all dressed up and potter his way to playschool and back as if he's been doing that all along.

Yes, it is a heartwrenching experience to see your beloved little ones get out of the comfort zone you have made for them bit by bit with a lot of love and care and go face the real world. Yes, it is even tougher to see them cry while they do it. And it is the toughest of all when they sometimes get pushed back or get hurt in the bargain. But having said that, they will always end up gaining something from the experience. They will always become stronger, better equipped and ready to take on whatever life throws at them. After all, we've been there and done that too. The world is their oyster now!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2015 - My Story

Just 2 days back, I registered myself for the Satara Hill Marathon 2015 that is supposed to happen on Sep 6th. This particular event is touted to be one of the toughest half marathons in India and with good reason. Last year was my first attempt at this one and to say that it was an experience would be an understatement. 10.5 kms of a winding ghat road constantly climbing upwards on its way towards the Kas plateau might be good for a leisurely drive in the comfort of your vehicle but running along it as part of the SHM is something else altogether. Having said that, I did manage to see it through and after a very tough up run, made good time going down ending SHM with 2 hours 41 mins on the clock. Suffice it to say, I was happy to have finished it without injury.

Running has now become more than just a health habit with me, it is something that has become a matter of routine and something without which I feel incomplete. I can’t go so far as to call myself an amateur runner but hopefully someday soon, I will get there. That brings back thoughts of the 2 big races I ran in this year – the most prestigious one of its kind, Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2015 in Jan and the Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon (HTHM) 2015 in Feb.

While I have always been passionate about the idea of running since I ran my first half marathon in 2011 (SCMM), 2014 was the year when I decided to take S’s words seriously. She always used to tell me, “It’s all very well to talk so much about marathons and how to run and how not to run but till the time you actually walk what you talk, you are never going to get better at it.” Right after SCMM 2014, after a very short break I started running again. A few short week day runs and a definite long run on Sundays became a norm and I began to feel guilty if I skipped a scheduled run. Helping me along were 2-3 of my childhood friends who also made it a point to compulsorily run on Sundays. This did not let up even during the monsoons which is usually the time, my enthusiasm would drop and I would let these 2-3 months wash away all opportunities to run. We also had the SHM 2014 to look forward to in Sep and the thought of attempting the Satara hills was enough to keep me on my toes.

In the meantime, on the office front as well, I was successful in getting a significant number of my colleagues, including a few seniors, interesting in running and we started training as a group each Sunday at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli. We all now had our sights set on the SCMM 2015 in Jan. As part of this drive, my organization was good enough to rope in Physiorehab, S’s place of work as our official training consultant and things moved to an all time high with them taking each one of us through our paces, be it strengthening our core muscle, engaging us in functional training and advising us on our diet and training plan to boot. These physio sessions were happening at least twice a week and were being followed up with regular long runs on Sundays with the distance on these runs gradually going up from 10 km to 12.5 km to finally 17-18 km in mid-December.

For once, I was feeling good and in form to do well in the upcoming SCMM. This self confidence was bolstered by the fact that even S and her colleagues who had helped me strengthen and train felt that I was in shape this year and on track to a good SCMM. My running group, Brisk Pace Marathon Group comprises of some really good runners, who challenge themselves on each run and had raised the bar for the rest of us in the group. Here too, a lot of expectations were getting built up at an informal level and everyone was pepping the other on to give it their best. To my mind, a personal best (PB) and maybe even reducing my previous PB of 2.28 to less than 2.20 was definitely on the cards. There was this buzz in me that rose to a crescendo when D-day came about. It was one charged up Sachin who stood on the start line of SCMM 2015 amidst thousands of other equally enthusiastic runners in the holding area bathed with yellow light from the many halogens strung up.

The race began and I surged ahead with the music beats pushing me ahead. The adrenalin was pumping and all the training was in my mind as I gave in to my game plan and started pacing myself accordingly. The sharp vibration of my GPS watch alerted me every kilometre and gave me my pace for that km and my overall pace for the distance covered. The first 6 kms, most of which are on the iconic Bandra Worli Sea Link, went by like a breeze, the large number of runners carrying me along and at the end of the sea link I was well within my targeted pace. It was heartening to see the crowd of people waiting to cheer us on and to know the first milestone had been crossed. It seemed like the strengthening over the last few months had worked well and I was feeling strong, fresh and there were no niggling aches or pains anywhere. I was just taking short walking breaks to give my muscles some rest and also to consume small quantities of water. The 10th km marker flashed by with my watch telling me I was still on target. Almost half done and I was on track. All I had to do was maintain the pace and not do anything silly. Should have been a simple thing by any standard, right?

The second half of the run is something I have still not been able to reconcile myself with till date. While I was still running more and walking less, still feeling strong and still had my eyes set on my target, my pace slowly started to lag each kilometre from there on. I was willing myself to run quicker but my legs refused to do so. I could sense that time was slipping by but was somehow not able to come to terms with it and act on it. Eventually, on Marine Drive, with the last 4 kms to go, it finally caught up to me and running became a form of ancient Chinese torture where each stride became unbearable. When I reached the point where S and her colleagues were waiting to cheer us on (close to the 18th km mark), S realized I was in danger of missing even the 2.30 hours timing and asked me to stick with the 2.30-hour pacer who was just passing us by and finish in 2.30 at least. And that is what I did; I kept close to that pacer uptil the turn towards Churchgate when even keeping up became an ordeal and that bus passed me by. With less than 1.5 km to go, most runners start quickening their pace wanting to make up for time lost along the way or because they are close to their targeted timing and want to beat it if possible but all I wanted to do was finish the race at 2.30 hours.

The cheering became louder as more and more people thronged the pavements now; hordes of relatives, friends and well wishers screamed themselves hoarse egging their runners on and once they passed, pushing unknown runners to pick up their pace. It was this support, the voices of the unknown but beloved supporters from Mumbai and elsewhere that spurred me through those mind-numbing last 1.5 kms. My eyes were focused on just the road in front of me, the sweat drops making them smart. Every other runner became a blur and now all I looked for was the distance markers announcing “500 meters to go”, “400 meters to go” and so on. In that haze, I did not realize that I somehow passed the 2.30 pacer and her bus with 200 meters to go and there it was – the Finish Line. Maybe it was just the heat or the haze in front of my eyes but its edges seemed to shine when I looked upon it. I knew I could fall any minute but I decided that I was going to sprint across the finish line. I pushed my legs, which by then felt like dead pieces of wood, harder and started to run faster. I started sprinting as hard as I could and as I approached, spread my arms wide and ran through the line. Just as I did that, my eyes scanned the big digital clock at the top which read 2 hours 29 minutes 23 seconds and I knew I had done it. I had finished within 2.30 hours! While there would be a lot of time later to berate myself for messing this one up, I had at least once again broken the 2.30-hour barrier.

As soon as I finished, I was swept up in a wave of finishers all on their way to collect their refreshments and the most coveted finishers medal. After a few light headed moments where I stumbled along trying to hold myself up, I weaved my way to the end of the lane where the throng was lesser, collected my medal and finally, at long last, let me legs buckle under me and eased my aching body to the pavement. All around me, I could see many other runners in the same posture, some applying ice packs liberally to their cramped up muscles or trying to stretch themselves out. It was now time to locate and meet my other friends, colleagues and of course S and then head home together after a well deserved breakfast but for now SCMM 2015 was dried and dusted. It is another matter altogether that it turned out to be a real dampener for me. No amount of talk or analysis could change the truth; I had well and truly disappointed myself as well as several of my well wishers with a performance much below expectations. I can throw about multiple reasons – burnout, over expectations, humid weather, incorrect pacing, inadequate nutrition / hydration during run; but none of these would let me be at peace with myself. It was time to swallow the bitter pill and take it in my stride. For the record, my official SCMM 2015 net time was 2 hours and 29 minutes, a minute more than my previous best of 2.28

The Hiranandani Thane Half Marathon 2015 was less than a month away and it was going to be one tough run, one much tougher than this one and my negative frame of mind was definitely not going to help me there. But more about that run in a following post. For now, it was time to wallow in my despair of SCMM 2015!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Problems anyone?

We live in a world of plenty. We are spoilt for choices and one can find at least one alternative which fits their need perfectly. And even then, stress is rampant, stress about whether the choice you made was right, stress about lifestyle, our relationships, good schools for our children, bigger cars, larger houses, getting good house-help, about taking that annual vacation to an international destination, about that elusive club membership, about so and so who was in school / college with you earning more than you and going places and you not and the list just goes on. 

Most of us always move about with a cloud above our heads, worry lines etched large on our faces encouraging people to ask us if everything is ok and if they can do anything to help. Our answer to this is “It’s life. Will manage somehow.” And in this manner, we move through life, the years adding up as also the value of our so called sense of self worth and the amassment of possessions leading to even more stress and thus the cycle continues. Will we ever get out of this? Will we ever be able to be happy with such important decisions weighing on our minds? Nothing can ever reduce the criticality of these things in life. Or can it?

Cut to my daily commute to work in a Mumbai local train in the general 1st class coach. It had been crowded as usual and finally there was a mass exodus at both Bandra and Dadar stations leaving the coach relatively empty. At Bandra, this very old lady entered. She was very frail with wrinkled skin covered with the traditional tattoos usually seen on people in rural Maharashtra and dressed in a dark green saree and a checked pallu that had seen better days. She was hobbling along using a short length of bamboo and carrying a small jute bag in her other hand. She was peering out of rheumy eyes and begging from the gents in the compartment. Some of them were giving her coins and she was dropping them in the jute bag with a word of gratitude.

I have always had this soft corner for aged people and it always breaks my heart to see them tottering on a busy roadside, trying to get about alone with no one to help them along. I will never forget this one incident when I was returning back from Johannesburg to Mumbai after a office convention and we had a long stopover at Dubai airport before our flight back to Mumbai. We were whiling our time at one of the many food courts there and happened to notice this elderly Indian couple sitting a table not too far off. The old gentleman was slowly making his way to the counter at one of the food stalls. It was pretty evident that they were travelling alone and were also on a stopover just like us. While all of us felt a little sad at seeing them travelling alone, there was with us this soft-hearted friend of mine (who I had barely known then but is now one of my closest friends) who could just not bear it and actually walked over to them and started chatting with them. They turned out to be a gentle couple who were on their way to their son who was settled in the US or Canada. Their son would be waiting to receive them as soon as they disembarked after the long flight over the Atlantic. We all were very much relieved at what now promised to be a happy ending. 

Coming back to the Mumbai local train and this other old lady, she made her way through the compartment collecting a small number of coins before she reached my side of the coach. By now, we were approaching Lower Parel where I would be getting off. To say my heart was at this moment breaking into a million pieces would still be an understatement. I could not stop myself giving some money to the lady but I did not feel any satisfaction from the act, I just felt broken. So she managed to collect a small sum of money here, mine included. But what help would that be even in the short term? The city we live is not kind to homeless, poor people and even less to those who have the added “stigma” of being elderly. What kind of a life must this old lady living on a day to day basis? Even the basic necessities that we all take for granted so easily are nowhere in sight for people like her. Getting through each day without mishap must be such a struggle. Thinking about the sheer misery that these people face makes our so called problems of plenty pale in significance and seem extremely trivial, materialistic and a sham.

It was with such dismal thoughts crowding my mind and a heart heavy with the sense of helplessness that I got off the train at Lower Parel that day. What can I do to make a difference with not just the sole intent of bringing peace to my own guilty heart of being able to lead a charmed life when there were so many human beings who can’t even live like humans? What can anybody do? Even now, I can still see that old, withered face, murmuring her gratitude and blessings, the eyes mirroring their acceptance and resignation to her state and even then a sense of calm reflecting on it. What can I do? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I had a dream..

I have a dream.

A line made immortal by the great American activist, Martin Luther King. This one line inspired millions of Americans to strive towards abolishing the rampant racism that pervaded in the USA in those days. We all have dreams and aspirations. Some of these are as idealistic and inspirational as the one above and many others that are a lot more personal, a lot more mundane and a lot more down to earth.

I had a dream, too! And this was one amongst many others as a young professional starting my career way back in 2000, fresh out of MBA school and hurled straight into the chaos a budding dot com company brought with it. Working long hours, burning the proverbial midnight oil, single, unattached (for the most part), all of it seemed exciting and fun at the time. Travelling in crowded Mumbai locals along with like-minded colleagues, trading anecdotes, talking shop and discussing our youthful fantasies was the order of the day. It was in one of these discussions on a train commute on the way back home that I once again heard the magic word “Bullet”. No, this has no reference to bullets of the violent kind which form ammunition for guns and the like. This Bullet was The Bullet or Bull as some called it fondly, the workhorse from the Royal Enfield stable at that time.

To say that it was a name that inspired awe, longing, respect and a lot more feelings in guys (irrespective of their age) would be an understatement. From an early age, I had seen one of those beauties thundering past making all heads turn. I had even seen traffic cops and policemen look at them with admiration in their eyes. In fact, it is an urban legend (yet to be proven) that traffic cops do not stop Royal Enfield riders. The charisma that comes with owning one of them is so high that in the agri-rich belts in Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana etc, it is a status symbol to own one; a true sign that this particular farmer or landlord has truly arrived.

Coming back to the train discussion, my colleague was postulating his dream of owning one someday and that was the moment when I made it mine as well. Having said that, I knew that for someone like me who could just about ride a bicycle and barely manage to ride a automatic scooter, a Royal Enfield was way out of my league. But then, dreams are just that; you can have a dream and not bother about the logic or the lack of logic thereof. From that day on, you could see me turn my head to look whenever one of these machines went past me, some sedately with a deep throated though mellow baritone and others at a much faster clip with their “silencers” spewing out an ear-splitting but musical roar. Their sleek lines, the bold central headlamp, the hand tooled machinery, the widely splayed handlebars and the big, solid and stable looking tires all made their presence felt to me and called out to my heart in the most tantalizing manner.

Over the years, the dream only grew stronger but alas at the same time, the price of the various Royal Enfield models only went up as they started looking better and growing more and more popular. I read a lot about them, spoke to enthusiasts, discovered that there were actual clubs where Royal Enfield owners got together for various events involving their bikes, went on long rides together and helped each other become better riders. I also learnt that a Royal Enfield owner was a much more responsible rider for the most part and that “power” and not “speed” was the buzz word here. All in all, a lot new facets got added to my love for a Royal Enfield including the fact that each bike that came out of the Royal Enfield factory was an individual in its own right and tended to behave differently as such and over years of usage, its rider would get so used to and so attached to it, that riding a so-called identical model would still seem like a different model altogether.

A few years after I got married to S, I shared my dream with her. I expected her to laugh at me or something of that sort but to my pleasant surprise all she said was “We’ll get it someday soon.” With other priorities always coming up in life, a new house, a much needed car, two kids and lot many other associated things, this dream of mine got relegated to a rarely used corner of my brain. Only relegated, mind you and not discarded, still smouldering and alive.

Come April 2014, S said to me “What the heck, let’s go buy your RE on your birthday and I’ll sponsor half of it for you.” In the meantime, I also found out that with my dad being a retired IAF personnel, he was eligible to buying a bike under the CSD quota at reduced rates. So on May 30th, with my heart doing cartwheels, S and I went to RE Brand Store in Bandra and did it! We booked the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350 in the newly launched Lightning colour. The nice people at the brand store told us that there was at least a 3-month waiting period for this model and I happily acquiesced as I anyway didn't want my beauty to brave the onslaught of the Mumbai monsoons in its very first year.

The monsoons went by and so did October and November. By now, my patience was starting to wear thin and the frequency of my calls to the brand store was going up always to hear the reassuring voice tell me "Next week, sir!" And finally, on December 11th 2014, they called me and asked me to come and take the delivery of my bike the next day. The delivery was to happen from Royal Enfield's workshop in Santacruz as the brand store itself was undergoing some renovation work. My dad and me reached the workshop and there it was! It was yet to be washed but could even then see the large trademark fuel tank, the contoured but strong body and the much loved and dreamt of Royal Enfield logos. I saw the mechanic give it a thorough shower and then buff it dry honing the sheen to perfection. The love for the machine was evident even in the hands of that mechanic who must do this for hundreds of bikes getting delivered each day and even then my bike was still special for him. Told me a lot about the relationship I was just about to begin. Instructions over, I finally wheeled the bike out of the workshop and tentatively tried the kick-start. The engine sputtered and then died down. A second try and this time, the engine held and the motor roared to life. I revved the accelerator a little just for kicks and then with my dad on pillion sailed out onto the main road. That first ride from Santacruz to home was something else. It was like trying to gain mastery over a unruly but powerful and beautiful horse while galloping in a jungle filled with all the animals possible.

Could feel beads of sweat start on top of my head and slowly trickle down my face and my neck inside the helmet as I strained to keep the heavy bike upright in loads of traffic and at the same time maneuver it through rush hour highway traffic without it touching any other vehicle. Am sure my dad was a relieved man when we reached home at long last. At the end of the ride, I realized that it was the Thunderbird that owned me too and not just the other way around.

Since that first time, have ridden my Thunderbird quite a few times and we have both gotten used to each other. I can now say that I at least have an idea of riding it without any major problems or discomfort. It is always a pleasure to feel the powerful 350cc engine vibrate under me, the shivers travelling through my arms and into my body, a sign that all is well. 550 kms done and the first service under the belt, we are now ready and looking forward to explore close by places with a whole new perspective. At least now, I feel worthy enough to think about getting myself some decent riding gear good enough to use while riding this beauty. Have also had the privilege to give pillion rides to S, my kids and few very close people and they have all come back with a sense of wanting more.

I suppose I can keep going on and on but given that there are a lot more roads still to ride on and a lot more places to get to, I shall leave those for a future post. Should have posted a pic here but shall leave that in my mind's eye for now. Once again I say:

I had a dream.