An asthmatic’s ignominious (first) running story

I had originally posted this story in my Xaviers Bokaro alumni mailing list back in Sep 2006. If you’ve read the post Running the Course – Mumbai Marathon 2010 and are wondering about the back story to my running fetish, this story might offer some clues. I made a few minor edits to the email, anonymized the identity of my two classmates (A and C below), and tweaked the ending based on a recent recollection. Loreto house (blue) and Carmel house (yellow) are two of the four sports houses of St. Xaviers Bokaro.

Haile Gebrselassie (a contemporary marathon legend who still needs to battle asthma)

For those of you that remember me, I was rarely (if ever) seen on the athletic field. I had a bad case of asthma during my formative years. Anyway, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. During the 8th or 9th Standard, my loyalty towards Loreto house reached epic proportions and  I decided to  participate  in the only sports event that  didn’t require selection or qualification – the venerable cross-country race. Never mind that I’d never run a distance longer than 5m before. Outfitted with a freshly-dusted pair of tennis shoes (keds, if we must be accurate), blue singlet, shorts and an ardent fervor in my heart, I stepped on to the field. If I had had seen Chariots of Fire, its music would have been resonating in my head. In reality, what I sorely needed was an albuterol inhaler to combat my asthma. I crouched at the race start with two equally loyal Loreto compatriots – A and C.

The gun went off and behold my dismay when I saw the entire crowd “take off” (or so it seemed). I was thinking to myself, this is a cross-country race (for crying out loud!) – why are they running so fast already? I calmed myself down and decided to stick to my plan of “pacing” the race (having a scant little clue how long the race was). Lucky for me, my dear buddy A was giving me company as we brought up the sparsely populated rear guard.

As a token of my gratitude, I entertained A with the rhythmic music that only tortured asthmatic lungs can produce. I think C must have raced ahead because I don’t recall seeing him after the starter gun went off. Anyway, after an eternity and thousand deaths, we completed the trail segment of the race and reached the entrance to the school field – the final 400meter beckoned to us. At that crucial stage, a couple of things happened..

  • A began to  break free  (his 2nd wind probably?) leaving me in sole possession of last place.
  • I heard Voice#1 from the sidelines “Quick! you are almost there! Just 400 meters more!”.
  • Then I heard Voice#2 from the sidelines “I think they award points only to runners who finish within [X] minutes!”

Ultimately the combination of voice#2 and A’s late burst was too much for my tender nerves to bear. I was probably fine completing the “victory lap” jointly with A but I could not withstand the ignominy of being in sole possession of last place. I had no Garmin (or even a regular watch) so I had no way of knowing how close to the cutoff I was. So I did the dastardly act of throwing in the towel thus leaving A in sole possession of last place. Dear A, I’m sorry for denying you the ‘official’ last-but-one spot! But at least you got Loreto house one extra point.

Unfortunately, there’s a final sad twist to the story. That was the year Loreto house tied for 3rd place in the overall standings with Carmel house! Had I completed the race and secured an additional point, Loreto would have been in sole possession of 3rd place. I recall C being very sore on this point and guilted me on several occasions “had you got that one point, Loreto would have…”

Shame is temporary. Quitting is permanent! (Not sure who said this)

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R2I Profiles – Launching a New Category

My WordPress dashboard stats tell me that a lot of organic traffic comes from folks searching for “nris returning to india” or “indians returning to bangalore”. When I started this blog in 2008, this was the primary target group I had in mind. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that we moved to Bangalore from SF Bay Area when our kids were 5 and 2.5 and that our kids are attending school at NPS Koramangala (a CBSE board school, not an International/IB school). You may have also noticed that most of my posts in the second year are categorized under Settling Down instead of Returning to India.

Sure – I’ve written about how we picked schools for our kids, our escapades with the drivers and of becoming one with the Bangalore traffic. But that’s merely one perspective. What if you are considering Hyderabad or Delhi/NCR because you have family there? What if your older kid is 10 years and you are wondering if you’ve waited too long? When to keep a cook and driver? and when not to? When does it make sense to send your kids to a CBSE school vs. an international school? Answers to these questions can only come from the hordes (yes “hordes”) of Indians with heterogenous profiles who have returned before and after us.

Without further ado, I present to you R2I Profiles (short for Returned-To-India Profiles) – a new category that shall feature interview-style posts with other folks who have made the bold (or foolish) move back to the motherland. Stay tuned! (Hopefully not for too long)

….

And the posts have started to come in…

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Hum do humare do…bina exhaust ke

2-day old Blue Reva fresh after car-puja – in kissing distance of older sibling (SX4)

Title translation (for non-Hindi readers): Hum do humare do is an old 1970’s era government initiated family planning slogan to promote  family of four (hum do = we two, humare do = our two). Bina exhaust ke = without exhaust.

So… two months shy of our 2nd year anniversary of returning to India, we purchased our 2nd car – a blue REVAi. If you’ve not been tracking electric car trends, RECC (REVA Electric Car Company) has been selling REVAi electrics in India since 2001 and in UK since 2003. For possibly a few more years, RECC remains the only company in India selling electric cars. The wikipedia entry for RECC accurately describes REVAi as an urban electric micro-car seating two adults and two kids. Did I say accurate? I meant ‘nearly accurate’ because it should read two adults and two kids (under the age of 10).

Now that we’ve established how small the REVAi is, let’s move to other specs. For this, I shall borrow liberally from this 2006 review of the REVAi in The Hindu…

The first thing that hits you when you look at the car is its size which makes you think of yourself as Gulliver, the giant when you sit inside. The steering is a wee bit too close to your chest and the A pillars close in on you.

Ok – so I wasn’t done talking about the REVA’s size. If you don’t step in gingerly to the driver’s seat, you could easily brush the lever to make it high beam. If you turn your head around suddenly (to see what your 4-year old’s doing in the back seat), the rear-view mirror would need readjusting.

The Reva’s a full metre shorter than the Maruti Suzuki Wagon R but around 100kg heavier than Maruti Suzuki 800. The body is built of hard ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) plastic and a tubular space frame holds everything together. Eight deep discharge batteries sourced from leading American golf cart battery maker, Trojan, sits in the middle of the chassis, with the controller and energy management system parked under the rear section of the car. The motor itself, a Bulgarian 13KW DC unit from Kostov, sits beneath the chassis and powers the rear wheels. The job of the energy controller is to make sure current is drawn equally from the batteries, especially during high load requirements and there are no surges and spikes.

The golf cart lineage certainly shows with the quiet humming of the motor. Our li’l one’s take on that humming sound – “it feels like we are in an airplane on the runway”. By the way, the rest of the comments in The Hindu review are slightly dated since the new batteries are supposed to extend the driving distance to the 70-90k range depending on your use of air-conditioning).

The REVA buying decision was somewhat analogous to our returning to India decision. There are a lot of reasons why one would NOT want to buy this car and only a few reasons why one should. Turned out those few reasons were crucial.

Reason #1: (Zero emissions) This is a dead-obvious reason but needed to be stated. Until public transportation becomes a viable option in Bangalore (will it ever?), we needed a 2nd car and it just couldn’t be a traditional petrol/diesel one.

Reason #2: (Automatic transmission car) Ever since our adventures with The Janus Man came to an end, we haven’t employed a full-time driver. I’ve  become scarily comfortable driving the SX4 in various types of Bangalore traffic conditions but the kids’ dropoffs and pickups from school, ferrying them to after-school activities has required a combination of part-time drivers from EZiDrive and auto-rickshaw rides. P has been on the threshold of to-hell-with-these-drivers-but-I-cant-drive-a-stick-shift-car. Getting the REVA is expected to be a watershed moment for her. First the learner’s license, then driving in Sunday traffic, then driving in Saturday traffic, then driving solo on weekends, and…voila! one day she goes solo on weekdays as well. We are not sure if she or the kids are more excited with this prospect.

Reason#3: (Minimalism) What’s the smallest car that can get us around and keep the kids protected from the air pollution? Turns out the only answer in 2010 is REVAi. Small is indeed beautiful.

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The things you can learn from an auto driver…

Taxi drivers anywhere in the world are a chatty bunch. Well, guess what? Auto drivers in India are no different. Below is the exchange between my wife (P) and the auto driver (AD) after the younger one had been dropped off to school. The conversation took place in Hindi but I’ve transcribed Hindi & English for AD’s dialogues and English only for P.

AD: Is school ke liye kitna donation lagta hai? (What’s the donation to get a child into this school? School in question is NPS Koramangala)

P: This school doesn’t require any donation.

AD: Kya? Donation nahin lagta? (What? No donation?!)

P: No, thats one of the good things about this school – one of the reasons why it is in demand.

AD: Fees kitna hai? (How much is the fee?)

P: Annual fee for first year is Rs. 7o,000 but, for subsequent years, the fee actually reduces.

AD: Acchha. Maine Rahul Dravid ko teen bar dekha. Uska beti yahan jaata hain nan? (I see. I saw Rahul Dravid thrice recently. His daughter goes to this school, right?)

P: No. His son goes to this school. It’s Kumble’s daughter who also attends this school.

AD: Aakpo pata hai Dravid kahan rahta hai? (Do you know where Dravid lives?)

P: (vaguely recollecting) Indiranagar?

AD: Nahin. Indiranagar mein to uska maa baap rahta hai. Dravid to Forum ke pas bada building main rahta hai. (No. It’s Dravid’s parents who live in Indiranagar. Dravid lives in Koramangala, near Forum).

P: I see. At the Prestige Acropolis?

AD: Haan. (Yes.)

AD: Kumble to Basavangudi mein rahta hai. (Kumble lives in Basavangudi)

P: (exclaiming) Wow! he comes to drop his kid from that far?

AD: (continuing) Jis building mein Kumble rehta hai, woh usi ka hai. (Kumble owns the building he lives in)

P: (now impressed) Is Dravid a Kannadiga or Tamilian?

AD: Arre! Dravid to Madhya Pradesh se hai. Bas – uske maa baap yahan aake settle ho gaye! (Dravid’s not even from this area – he’s from Madhya Pradesh – his folks came and settled down in Bangalore!)

AD: Haan! Kumble yahan ke lagte hain! Kannadiga hain. (Kumble, on the other hand, is a bonafide Kannadiga)

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The darndest things you see in India

1 year 10 months and 3 non-SLR camera phones later, below is a partial collection of India-defining frames I’ve found interesting.

Yes – there ARE parking signs in Bangalore. Just need a modicum of luck & a Holmes gleam.

TVS Moped with less than regulation (i.e. 20%) load

This is a glass-half-full kinda kid – “look at all the traffic we are AHEAD of!”

Where else in the world do we have Midnight Marathons? Venue: Whitefield Road, Month: Jan

This may seem like graffiti but it’s NOT – I insist that this plot is NOT FOR SALE!

One sign, two messages! For some strange reason, reminded of that famous pre-Independence sign “Dogs and Indians not allowed!”

Sign inside Bethany High School boys

If at first you don’t spell it right, you must try and TRY again!

In case you haven’t noticed, India’s spelling bee champs have all moved to USA.

How many spelling mistakes can you spot?

Indians love to pun.. really!

A yr after being commissioned into service, this stainless steel vessel one day just gave up! 7 vertical cracks appeared simultaneously after a rasam production!

Wish we had this sign in OUR apartment complex..Then we could fret about dog owners ignoring it.

It’s not just the BMW and Mercedes you’ll see on Bangalore roads. Toyota MR2 for the discerning.

Time to visit the optometrist? Don’t bother. Any of these store signs can be used for vision check.

The next post in this 4-part series – The darndest things you see in India (Part 2).

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A blogger’s lament

One of the challenges I face at the beginning of many new posts is the realization that a prequel needs to be written first. I would argue with and convince myself “but there’s this background I need to provide..” The background becomes the first paragraph and before I know it, it becomes chunky enough to warrant its own post but … the prequel post still isn’t ‘done’ so, you see, I can’t hit the PUBLISH button. Meanwhile, the original post still sits unfinished in the Drafts folder (actually my ‘handwritten notes’ courtesy my relatively new Lamy fountain pen). Talking of the Lamy, I must mention that I acquired it in early April from William Penn after a year of hobnobbing with my pen connoisseur/friend (Aunindo Ghosh) who, by the way, has just written this amazing post about a walk in the forests of Wayanad, Kerala. Returning to the Lamy, I ought to mention that the inaugural handwritten post I wrote is entitled The keyboard of the nineteenth century — it’s two pages long and nearly complete (which means that it needs a final ink writing session before the WordPress.com upload/edit).

When I started this post (on WordPress), the title was Of ABCDs and FOBs, a post which I had nearly completed (on Lamy ink and paper). After typing the first two sentences (which weren’t present in the original ink draft), I realized that I wasn’t going to complete it tonight so one thing led to another… The Of ABCDs and FOBs post itself was going to serve as a prequel to another post that’s been in the hopper for… (Err..Let’s see) a mere 6 months – Indian Born Confused Desi (IBCD).

So I end yet another weekend where I promised myself that I’d publish one of the 3-5 half-finished posts and…broke my promise. Yet I managed to write this lament and, surprisingly, had fun with it. Moreover, next weekend is another weekend (thank you, Scarlett O’ Hara – thou queen of all optimists!)

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I am Bihar (an ode)

Bihar District Map (courtesy topnews.in)

Back in Nov 2009, we had a big reunion of St. Xaviers Bokaro alumni and their families. If you haven’t bumped into anyone from Bokaro (formally known as “Bokaro Steel City”) yet, you need to know that the mere mention of Bokaro is enough to send them into raptures and wax eloquent about this utopian steel township in a part of Bihar that’s now Jharkhand. For all the Bokaro alumni, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I daresay the non-Bokaro spouses had a decent time too. A few mini-reunions later, I heard about Bihar Foundation from one of my classmate’s husband. Ajit Chouhan’s blog post Bihar Foundation – Connecting Biharis Worldwide does a good job outlining the foundation’s charter and ambitions.

For a variety of reasons, Bihar doesn’t rank high on India’s list of states (on many indicators – be it socio-economic, literacy, or governance). When I found this ode (authored by Mayank Krishna), it felt like a gust of fresh air. I present to you – I am Bihar (a proud and optimistic ode on Bihar)!

(Reproduced with permission from the author Mayank Krishna)

I AM BIHAR

I am the history of India,
I gave the world its first Republic,
I nourished Buddha to enlightenment,
I gave world its best ancient university,
My son Chanakya was the father of Economics,
Mahavir came out of my womb to found Jainism,
My son Valmiki wrote Ramayan, the greatest Epic
Rishi Shushrut, the father of surgery, lived on my soil
My son Vatsayana wrote Kamasutra, the treatise of love ,
My son Ashoka – The Great was the greatest ruler of India ,
I gave birth to Aryabhatt, the great ancient mathematician ,
I gave Ashoka Chakra that adorns India’s national flag ,
My son Dinkar is the national poet of India ,
I gave the world its first Yoga University ,
I gave India its first president ,
I am the land of festivals ,
I am brotherhood ,
I am humility ,
I am the past ,
I am the future ,
I am opportunity ,
I am revolution ,
I am culture ,
I am heritage ,
I am intellect ,
I am farmer ,
I am power ,
I am literature ,
I am poetry ,
I am love ,
I am heart ,
I am soul ,
I am yoga ,
I am global ,
I am inspiration ,
I am freedom ,
I am force ,
I am destiny ,
I am Bihar ,
…Come with your dream
I will make it a reality

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And I thought I knew Koramangala Roads…

What are those serpentine patterns?

On closer inspection... studded belts perhaps?

For someone who’s done a lot of running (and walking) on Koramangala roads in the past 2 years, I was surprised to discover these patterns on the stretch of road right opposite Raheja Residency. The ‘what is it’ mystery was solved quickly enough — Koramangala’s tall majestic trees shed seed shells that are similar in appearance to the imli (tamarind) – see middle picture. I hope one day a botanist will stumble upon this post and educate us all on what kind of tree this is.

For some strange reason, the most inane things pique my interest. I started to wonder how so many seed shells were impregnated on this road. I recalled that sometime last year, 7th Cross Road (first two pictures are of that road) was relaid. What may have happened is that these seed shells dropped on the road between the road-laying phase and the road-rolling phase. I felt satisfied with this theory for a few days until… I realized that this seed-shell-impregnated-onto-roads phenomenon was not localized to 7th Cross Road. Almost every Koramangala Road I walked in the next few days sported the studded belt pattern — it seemed almost that they were spiting me for my lack of observation during the past few years. The original theory was still credible but I wondered if this seed-shell-impregnation process was also happening well beyond the road laying stage – especially on hot summer days when the tar starts to turn semi-solid.

And then a week later I found several seed-shells impregnated on concrete pavements off 80-Feet Road – whoa! How to explain this??? Time to call Guy Noir I say…

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Why we are in India (Bollywood Inspired Version)

Movies were never a dominant part of my entertainment. It’s not that I dislike them – it’s just that there always seem to be more interesting things to do. It’s thus a tad bit ironic that I found inspiration to explain our migration in two Bollywood movies and one Hollywood movie.

 

Pic: courtesy 1morefilmblog.com

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Rob Neary (played by Richard Dreyfus) becomes increasingly obsessive about a mountain-like structure after a UFO encounter. He eventually learns that the mountain structure that’s haunting him is nothing but Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. He heads towards the site along with others with similar experiences. The US army apprehends most of the civilians headed to the UFO site but Rob (and a handful of others) make it to the mountain. After a mothership UFO appears and ‘returns’ the people abducted over the years, the US Army determines that these are apparently ‘peaceful’ aliens. As the aliens emerge from the mothership, Roy is invited to join them in their travels.

I’m not saying that I was seeing visions of Bangalore during my years in America but there was just that subtle subliminal pull that just refused to go away.

 

Pic: courtesy glamsham.com

Lakshya: The movie centers around Karan Shergil (played by Hrithik Roshan) – a young man with no actual goal in mind or plans for his future. His inability to take anything seriously causes a strain in his relationships with his father (a successful businessman) and his girlfriend, Romi (played by Preity Zinta), a student activist and motivated reporter. He eventually joins the Indian Military Academy (IMA) mostly on an impulse. When he drops out of IMA, it’s the last straw for his girlfriend who dumps out. His parents aren’t too happy either. Stung by the dumping followed by a period of introspection, Karan rejoins IMA with a newfound dose of commitment. When the Kargil war breaks out, Karan’s unit is deployed close to enemy lines and faces heavy losses. After Karan’s unit is assigned the task of taking back a strategic high-altitude outpost (from the Pakistanis), he declares his lakshya (i.e. goal) is to succeed in his mission — at any cost.

So what’s my lakshya in life? Simple question but no simple answer. According to Buddha, “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” Problem for 99% of folks (yes – I’m in that big bucket) is that it might take an entire life to ‘discover’ their world. As I wrote earlier on this topic (see Why are we moving back to India now), it’s not that we were miserable in America, it’s just that I felt there was a higher probability of finding my lakshya in India than in America.

 

Pic: courtesy searchandhra.com

Delhi-6: Roshan (played by Abhishek Bachchan) accompanies his dying grandmother Annapurna (played by Waheeda Rahman) to their ancestral property in a crowded neighborhood of Chandni Chowk, Delhi. Roshan is initially stunned by the mad rush of neighbors and the commotion that’s Old Delhi. However, Roshan eventually warms to the place, wholeheartedly embraces the sense of community, and gradually becomes steeped in the culture of the place. He also starts falling in love with local lass Bittu (played by Sonam Kapoor). The pivotal point in the movie is when Roshan decides to stay back in Delhi and his professed reason (to his parents in New York) is “It just WORKS in India!” He goes on to describe how, in spite of the chaos he has experienced in the recent past, there’s something inherently ‘right’ about it.

I personally think the screenplay writer took the politically correct approach by saying “It just WORKS in India!”. What he really meant for Roshan to say was “It just DOESN’T WORK in India and I want to understand why it doesn’t work and be a part of a change for the better in India.” Ok – so that was rather wordy and we know why the dialogue writers picked the verbiage which they did.

Apr 15 Update: Today I stumbled upon this Gaurav Bhatnagar’s slightly dated but very relevant post Why return to India.

My favorite extracts from his post:

Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: “I cling to India like a child to its mother’s breast, because I feel she gives me the spiritual noursihment I need. She has the environment that responds to my highest aspiration. When that faith is gone I shall feel like an orphan withut hope of ever finding a guardian.”

This lack of a definite answer was a bit unnerving. I suddenly felt that perhaps my decision to go back was not well thought out. Perhaps I had made a choice based on emotions. And yet strangely I was feeling a quite confidence in my decision. Even though I could not justify it, I knew it was time to go back. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else but in India. Funnily, it seemed obvious to me that I needed to be India even though I couldn’t think of many rational reasons for that. There was almost an urge to go back, an invisible force pulling me back. So I think my decision to go back is based on faith. A faith that I can fulfil my ambitions and aspirations in India. A faith that a brighter future awaits me there. Clearly this is blind faith because I don’t have any solid reaasoning to back it. But I am not scared, not even apprehensive. I have never felt so confident of my choice.


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