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.