Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why I am not aligned to any cause

It is the era of alignment. Pakistan with China, USA with Israel, Russia with Syria Snowden. You just need a cause. Or two.

In the page 3 and politically active crowd, it is fashionable to be aligned to a cause. There are expensive dinners, big parties, runs, walks, charity balls and what not. AIDS was a very glamorous cause till some time ago. Hunger, poverty, child development continue to be the pets of beauty queens. And oh! not to mention world peace, whatever that means. And then you have to put up large hoarding all over town about how your party is organizing that eye operation camp where they will also give away pen drives free.

These forums apart there are the genuine folk who donate in kind, time or cash. They sift the list of causes, pour over details of exactly how their money is being spent, audit accounts and then help in a big way. All without seeking publicity. God bless these souls.

Social media explosion has had an interesting effect on cause promotion. The list of causes promoted and therefore to choose from is endless. You could donate to Greenpeace this year, PETA the next, HELPAGE INDIA in the third. All this in between helping the girl child survive and preventing malnourishment. Whew!

I don’t have anything against them. Their involvement might actually help the cause in some way, free publicity thrown in. The beneficiaries might actually be receiving the promised help.

I chose to donate to none, nor give my time to anyone.

What happened to being a good’ol tax paying, law abiding citizen? It went out of fashion long ago apparently. But just imagine if we were all to follow this simple principle of paying all valid taxes on time, going by the rule book, and being sensitive to others’ needs. It is simple really, something that should come naturally to someone who wants his rights as  citizen. Argumentative Indians would claim that all the good these aligned folks do, offsets all their unscrupulousness – in evading taxes and breaking the law. Perhaps, but if we just did what we are supposed to as citizens we wouldn't need to do anything else. No need to compensate for being bad. The government would have enough resources to look out for those in need, support any cause it chose and do exactly what it is supposed to do.

Then they could argue that granted we did our bit as citizens, there would still be a lot left to do where the government has no direct role. Then how about we influence the government to in turn influence those who do play that role! Cure for cancer? Sure, government gives a grant for research, helps set direction through the appropriate ministry, audits results periodically, makes sure once a cure is found it filters down to everyone. Easy, no?

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. I watched and listened all the speakers at the talk via www.ftideacaravan.com. There is a common thread. They all have a cause close to their heart. The spectrum of support systems they are working on ranges from working with nomads to get them into the mainstream, empowering women, conceptualizing low cost housing, helping the deaf, the color blind, right up to taking the fear out of mathematics.

From what I felt as I heard them present, there is tremendous passion for the cause, an urgency to fill a void. A void left by the government, by social institutions, and by fellow humans beings.

What if we did what was expected of us citizens, and the void was filled by those who should? Imagine all these talented individuals free to innovate on what others before them had built. Free of expectations, of challenges that come with success in social situations, free of looking back all the time to see when the system will undermine them. Free from having to worry about when the next donation will come along. Imagine a world where all these ideas and energy is channelized for sustaining the momentum of innovation. Only. Free of the need to fill a void. Free to fail, rise and start again. They would all be still doing the same things they are doing now, but without the challenges and the burdens.

Free to be themselves. Just like the people they are working for.

It is in support of those tireless innovators that I am not aligned to any cause. They deserve a steady backing. All I am for is to be a good citizen. And that is all I will do.

Here are a couple of presentation that I liked:



Friday, May 31, 2013

I run. Therefore I am.

The last 3 months have not been easy. I went and broke my lower back again. The same pain points, exercise routine and the feeling of helplessness.

When being active becomes a part of your routine, your life, it is hard to stand back and watch. It is hard not to go out and push yourself. I was bored to death of the exercises my physio recommended, but swallowed them like a bitter pill. From week four I could feel the change though progress was excruciatingly slow. As I would have it, the most exciting outdoor events happened all during the time I was asked to stand aside and watch. For someone who hears the call of the outdoors more often than it is sane, this was a testing time indeed.

Sometimes impatience would get the better of me. I attempted a short run managing to put one foot in front of the other for about 1 km before my back gave way. Clearly, I had missed the bus when it came to recovery. Numerous such starts and stops ensued. More frustration.

So then what was the difference between the first back break episode and this one? I did not take lesser time to recover, my frustration was no less than it was in 2010, nor was I any less impatient.

What was it then that kept me at it? I have 5 HMs and numerous short runs behind me. I have friends who run, who encourage and motivate. I have gym mates who advice well. I was not roughing it alone.

It is as simple or as complicated as that.

Experience is a good teacher. Perhaps I am not a good enough learner. A lot of us depend on collective knowledge to guide us through. Not only that, it is worthwhile to have someone to turn to when there is a question, a doubt. Right there and then. Someone who shares your experience of injury & recovery, of wanting to break a plateau or of starting out new. Someone who’s been there, done that. Our tendency is to look for answers we like to hear but more so for answers that come from someone we trust.

As I am back on the road once more, after a long time…..waiting to feel my heart beat in rhythm with my pace, the wind in my hair…I remember all those words and actions that kept me going.

I run. Therefore I am.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Sound of Pounding Feet

It is 5.00 AM on slightly chilly Hyderabad dawn. There are about a few thousand of us who have gathered on Necklace Road next to the Hussain Sagar lake. The air is electric with anticipation. A cheer rises as the flag is waved and then there is just the sound of feet pounding the pavement.

At 7:00 AM of a really cold Pune morning, a motely group of chatty athletes gather on one side of the Garware Flyover on Deccan Gymkhana. The whistle sounds, the flag waves. A few hundred feet hit the ground

It is 6.00 AM on a rare good weathered Mumbai morning. A sea of humanity slotted into one lane of the Sea Link surges ahead. To an observer from high up it would look like a huge mass heading on to a small line drawn across the bay. The Sea Link is brilliantly lit up in florescent lamps all pointing to the heavens, the eyes only see the wall of people in front. The only sound is those made by feet pounding the pavement.

The folks who these feet belong to are new generation of athletes who run because of what it means to them. They have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They are certainly not aiming for the records. Running is different things to different people. For everyone one of them however, a marathon is the culmination of those hours of endless running, tiring, getting up and running again. It is the time to celebrate all that has been practiced and perfected. There are lean folks and heavy folks, tall ones and short, happy and grumpy, lazy and active..in short all kinds. But they have one thing in common, they love to pound the pavement day after day, month after month and year after year in fair weather and foul.

When Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens carrying news of the victory, little did he know he was starting a tradition for everyone who could shuffle their feet faster than a normal walking pace. Now he has more followers in the world that he could have ever imagined. He runs in the company of millions –elite as well as recreational athletes.

My earliest memory of a marathon is going to cheer the Pune Marathon runners on Tilak road in the 1980s. And the only incident that I remember from there is that of a goat trapped among those relentlessly moving legs. Poor thing also had to run along, not finding  a way out of the crowd. I don’t know if it ended up breasting the tape (or hoofing it) or not, but it gave me a story to tell all who would listen.

When I began to run, not too long ago – 16 months to be precise, I had no agenda except to enjoy the experience. I had not speed or distance records to set. It was all a small part of the preparation for my expedition to the Gobi.

Yet I enjoyed the wind ruffle my hair as it blew against my face and I discovered that I loved to run in the rain. The most important thing I think is to enjoy it as is. Then the pain, the excuses disappear automatically. If you really want to make the most of the experience and keep your motivation levels constant I would recommend a group of likeminded friends to run with. They make a world of difference when you are down and out, you want to improve and most importantly they stop you from taking a rash decision due to overconfidence.

When I cheered the runners as a kid, I had no idea I would find myself at the starting line of a marathon. Yet here I was, my hands tingling with nervousness, hoping that my legs were warm enough to avoid starting cramps and praying that I would prevail on the most steep inclines. My heart was racing even before I had taken a step.

The flag whooshed down, the drumming started. The sound of pounding feet and the beats of my heart became one.