Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Mumbai Marathon - My own Tryst with Destiny

Oh no, did I miss the alarm? Am I going to be late? Will they not allow me to take part? Oh, the agony! Year long practise and months of careful eating gone to waste! These thoughts kept me up all night. I just could get no sleep and did nothing but toss and turn. I was supposed to be snoring at 9 that day, but ended up in bed at 11; I was updating my playlist for the big day. And these nightmares, though I generally just do not get any dreams (and that's not because I don't remember them, it's just that I get amazing deep sleep), kept me awake until 1. God how was I going to get up at 3:30, get ready and run in a couple of hours? It is often the case that when you are eagerly waiting for something to happen, nothing can divert your attention and you cannot focus on any other task until that thing does occur. This time it was the Mumbai Marathon of 2012 (just one of those horrendous moments when I have to use the word Mumbai and not Bombay!)

In the city that never slept, for a long time it seemed that the people, or at least me, did nothing but sleep. But in the recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way people view health and fitness. Everyone seems to be much more concerned about how much they eat, how often they eat and how much they exercise, or maybe it's just my recent interest in the subject that I see things that were in plain sight all along. It was 3 years ago that I first took part in the Mumbai Marathon, that year in the Half Marathon, a 21.097 kilometres run. It was more of a I-can-do-it and take-that-in-your-face attitude that pushed me to participate, for nobody thought that a fat lazy kid could have run even 5 kilometres. However, my belligerence drove me and I completed that in about 2 hours and 8 minutes, beating my friends and family by considerable margins. That pushed me and I registered for the Full Marathon. Again, that was met with surprise and shock. Now people said that, "I didn't think you would complete the Half Marathon, but it was still not unachievable, but the Full is out of your league." Well, I finished it in 4 hours and 54 minutes shutting them up and bettered my time this year by 23 minutes, finishing in 4 hours and 31 minutes. The feeling of that medal around your neck makes you want to run even faster in the next edition.

[Me at the Marathon 2012. (The guy in the red vest is Vagn and the yellow one with a cap and flag, Bruce - The 4:30 buses)]

It may have been aggression and competitiveness that pushed me, initially, but now it is just bettering my own record that makes me want to give it all. All the running has had a tremendous impact on my life, lifestyle and health. I no longer feel lackadaisical. Now inactivity makes me restless; I constantly want to be doing something. The stairs or long distances no longer daunt me. The heat and humidity doesn't bother me that much. I have been sleeping and eating much lesser. I seem to be very much aware of how many calories I've been downing. Sports, especially racquet sports, have been showered with my affection. My stamina has increased tremendously. I've lost a lot of my stubborn flab and put on some muscle. And most of all, I've earned some additional brownie points in the eyes of nearly every person. I even befriended some interesting people along before, during and after the Marathon. I am also delighted with the fact that I may have played a part in a whole bunch of people running the Marathon. The more the merrier, that's as long as they don't beat my time!

On the day of the Marathon, a number of things work push you to do your best. The early morning cool and the fresh breeze, the refreshments along the way, the great people of this great city, cheering for you and helping in whatever way they can, the fat otherwise lazy cops manning the streets and clapping for you, the hundreds of thousands of people you want to beat, but most of all, the grandness of the occasion! Nothing like it. And I wore my favourite t-shirt this time, one that said "Burn Fat Not Fuel. Go Green". This year, like the previous, the Marathon had, what they called, 'Buses', professionals who run at a constant speed to complete the Marathon within a fixed time frame. I joined the '4-hour-30-minute-bus', led by Dane Vagn Kirkelund in his 262nd Marathon and Aussie Bruce in his 177th (Wow, can they run!!). They looked old, but by no means did their bodies show signs of letting up. A million thanks to them, for they played a vital part in me, and about 30 other people, achieve their target. I ran with them up until the 34th kilometre, after which I could no longer keep pace with them, but still ended up finishing within the time limit I had set. Hope next year I can 'board' the '4-hour bus'!

I never truly understood the whole "Mind over body" and "It's all in your mind". I thought it was a whole load of crap that professionals came up with! However, it is only after running the Marathon last year that I truly understood what they meant. After about 30 kilometres, and especially the steep kilometre-long Peddar Road climb, that comes after you're done with 35 kilometres, your body starts giving up. You just want to immerse your feet in ice-cold water, your thighs can barely move, the heavy sweat-wet t-shirt is pulling your shoulders down, your music player seems irritating in your ears and your stomach's growling. The sun is dancing gaily in the clear sky and the buildings provide no shade! The last couple of kilometres are no longer just some random numbers, they now represent infinity, never seeming to get over. All you want to do is give up. It is then that your steely resolve takes control of your body. It is not only the physically fitness that leads you, your mental fitness plays a crucial part too.

Whatever be the fuel motoring your engine ahead, as long as you have a reason, no goal seems unachievable. I sure found my own motivation and hope to take part in the every upcoming edition of the Mumbai Marathon. Registrations start in July, hope to see you there next year!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

RTO Reprimands Rogue Rickshaws

Living in the suburbs, though there's not much difference between the suburbs and the island city, I tend to travel more by auto-rickshaws as compared to cabs. Not only are there available in plenty, but there're faster and cheaper, and what I like the most about them is the breeze that sweeps in, notwithstanding all that it brings in during the monsoons; the openness charms me. And the way it zigzags through the crazy Bombay traffic is truly unbelievable!

[Meter Matter!]
However, over the past couple of years, they do nothing less than annoy the living hell out of most people. They refuse to ply on certain roads, most of the time not even stopping to listen as to where one wants to go! And we aren't supposed to even ask them if they are willing to go to a certain place! Nearly every rickshaw-meter is tampered, sometimes making you pay nearly 40% more than what the fare should be! What with rising oil prices, every Rupee pinches your pocket, worse than the bite of a creepy crawly pet, which some kid has hidden in his pocket and taken to school without letting his parents know. Moreover, why should one pay more to cheats? Reminds me of the stupid cabdrivers all over the USA who demanded tips (Why does everyone ask, more like beg, for tips in that country? And they call the rest of the world beggars!) for providing what extra service, I do not know! At times, the rickshawallahs refuse to go by the meter and charge their own rates. Since when did Bombay start behaving like Delhi and Bangalore? Refusals, excess amounts, unruly caveman-like behaviour, tampered meters, urgh!! Somedays I feel like taking a gun and shooting some of them.

That's why I loved one of the campaigns a couple of months ago when for 2 days everyone was urged to boycott them, just to let them know that no one takes us for a ride (mind the pun)! But that wasn't so successful, I mean come on, who is going to stop using them, there are more than a 1,00,000 of them in Bombay and the population, nearly 200 times that! Not everyone takes only the bus or the train.

However, what it did was rouse the lazy RTO (at last I found out that it stands for Regional Transport Office(r)) who finally swung into action and amidst all the anti-corruption and Lokpal brouhaha, found angry citizens to aide them. They targeted major railway stations and roads and stopped and fined rickshaws for every offense their rule book allowed them to. One particular day, I saw a cop refusing a bribe from one of the offenders, and I couldn't believe my eyes! (Maybe the anti-corruption campaigns had some sting in them after all.) Boy, was I happy to see a change!  But anyway, the RTO seemed to be finally doing its job. Within a week, I could see that on 4 out of 5 days, the meter would now read what it should, rather than some figure that would raise your temper, fewer rickshawallas would refuse and it just seemed to be a lot easier to find empty ones.

The RTO Helpline (1-800-22-0110), the number which I had saved in my mobile ages ago, finally found use. I would call them anytime I found any rickshaw defying the rules. All you need to do is make a call, and yes the number's toll-free, choose between some options a couple of times, and within a minute you can have your complaint logged and the automated system gives you a complaint number. The only thing annoying about the helpline is, it is often not working or is 'busy', which I don't know how, and the horrible Marathi accent when the voice speaks in English too. However, I've been an active user of the helpline. On some days I've made complaints against 10 drivers! I would feel the happiest when between two complaints that I make on a day, they are a huge number of complaints and I get two complaint numbers further away from each other. Within just a month, I've made 87 complaints on the Helpline, most of them for faulty meters (if any rickshawalla is reading this, it's of importance to know that about 43% of the statistics are made up on the spot), while the Helpline registered about 600 complaints. It feels proud to have a 1/6th share in that! Every time the newspaper reported such incidents, my heart swelled with pride.

I do not know how effective the Helpline is and whether or not our complaints are even heard, but I think they are, for when I used to make persistent complaints against rickshawallas at a particular spot on any given day, the very next day there would be at least one cop there to help the common man; where they escape after a couple of days, escapes me. Also, I did notice that a couple of rickshaws against whom I had made complaints for faulty meters, had them fixed the next time and they read what they should have. Yes, I have a lot of unwanted information in my brian (like who wore what and when or said what or did not say what and all sorts of random things; sometimes I want to get rid of it, for I fear that extra unwanted information will slow down my unlimited storage limited capacity hard disk, but it seems highly impossible!) and numbers I have complained against is just one of those things. But effective or not, at least it gives me a sliver of hope and brightens my day after the argument with the highwaymen! And funny story, after one such argument with one of the drivers, he now recognises me as I walk out of my building and without a word starts his rickshaw. He does not put down his meter nor says anything when I alight, I pay him what is to be paid and we carry on with our lives.

I just want to say this to everyone reading this, don't let an offender get away easily. Do your part and leave the rest to destiny/luck/faith/whatever; and that does not make you a tattletale. Even if one of your complaints is acted upon, you have made it easier for some unknown fellow citizen and thereby you would have served humanity, the best and most needy religion.