At 2 AM in the morning, sleep eludes. It is not a discomforting state. It is simply a state.
Words are itching to come out of my fingers. As for my head, I am not thinking straight – I am trying to make connections … I feel compelled, happily so, to tell.
A little over a week ago, I entered her hostel room. When I had first heard her voice over the phone, she seemed easy and meek-ish. I was not sure what I was expecting to see. When we started talking, face to face, grit flowed through her and all that pretty much in the face of adversity, uncertainty, unknowingness. She explained her mind of her own, pretty much of her own, because that is what made her such a cherished being. In her little room which is a universe in itself, in those universes that she resides in, in those few days that we were together, I learned that courage is walking straight even when there is fear. I learned that you don’t become courageous unless you experience fear and uncertainty. Fear is really about unknowns. The familiar is known, so there isn’t much to fear, though there is lots to resent at times. Courage is the act of walking into the unknowns. And courage co-exists with fear – one is not without the other.
Late yesterday evening, I met another one who is made of guts. When we briefly discussed fear, she said fear is what makes you uncertain and causes you to make mistakes. So walk straight.
I am unsure what is causing my musings with fear and courage so much these days. Experiences happen and each element reveals itself, sometimes in the absence, and sometimes in the presence of the other. I don’t care to dwell anxiously as to why I have to think of fear and courage at this juncture, at this hour, in this moment. I am convinced that this is a phase, and phases happen for reasons. What the reason is only becomes clear in retrospect. So I patiently now pass through this one and hope that the retrospective will be a happy one.
On Sunday, I went off to the Bangalore Ultra race venue. I was not running a race. I was maintaining training schedule. The week before the Sunday arrived was a hectic one. I was passing through the experiences of fear and courage in dear Delhi. I was running through all kinds of courses – old relationships, nostalgia, pain, new relationships, odd experiences, unknown people, chartered territories, and a farewell. I traveled the longest train journeys I have done in recent times. I ended up with less water and less food. And I was happily, thoroughly exhausted. When I got back, I knew I had to recuperate. My friend, the haemmorhoid, struck back again, this time somewhat more painful. But this time, there was no fear. I just needed to keep moving on, knowing that when times would come, I would make the decisions that I would need to make.
Sunday was something I hadn’t planned for. I almost did not want to get up and go on running on Sunday morning. I had slept ultra late. I had half baked some cakes, tiring out in the middle of the preparation the previous night and almost sleeping through the batter after midnight, not knowing what alchemies the concoctions were going to produce. Sunday seemed like it just wasn’t a day meant for running. How I managed to slip into the pooled car while fretting about the terrible bakes and in the middle of sleepy eyes, I don’t know. I think the huzzband comes to my rescue in these subtle moments. Which is why to love another is also an act of faith and courage 🙂
We reached the ONV course an hour before the pooled folks were to start running. I thought I should start right away instead of waiting on the folks. But I felt lazy and uncertain. We went over to the coach’s camp. Coach was doing his 24-hour run. He was half way through already. The tent looked lovely and was stacked with supplies. People gathered around it and dispersed. Familiar faces started pouring in. I was still not sure what I was going to do. I was scheduled to do a 16k and hit the peak that day before starting to reduce distances until the final race day on 5th Dec.
More people came around the tent and each discussed timing, run, those who were already running and what not. At about quarter to 7, folks began moving towards the starting point. I went back to the pooled car and brought out the cakes to leave them at the tent. As I was returning back from the car, walking towards the tent, I heard the call for the start of the 25k race go off. Damn, I needed to get back quick or else I would run into the hordes that were running the 25k and be run down, damned and cursed for coming in the way. The path was narrow. I did my first quick sprint. I handed the cake at the tent and ran back towards the course. The guy manning the tent shouted “hope you have a good run”. I said yes and bobbed off with the fag end runners.
I ran the first 15 minutes. And my belly began to hurt hard with the haemmorhoid pain. I realized that the aerobic activity was hurting me more than helping me. I just started walking. As I walked and walked through that heavenly landscape of Hessarghatta, I laughed and wondered if I would DNF. Then I said, what the heck, to walk and finish a 16k or 17k is no big deal. I have walked long, long, long distances in my days as a romantic ethnographer. So what is one more walk. And walk I did. I walked, walked and walked, and breathed the landscape into me. I don’t have words to describe what I was going through. It was an abundant feeling of being in sync and with the flow. I sprinted whenever I liked. I was not running a race. I was oblivious of what the others were doing. I know that every now and then, a familiar face would run across or past and would shout, ‘hey there’! I was just happy, happy to be there and happy to be alive. I couldn’t care to look at my wrist watch. It was just another artefact on me. The watch was keeping its time while I was losing mine into a feeling of nothingness and everythingness.
As I walked back from the 8k mark, I saw the 12.5k runners coming along. There were quite a few familiar faces. Each one ran by and remarked, “Are you running a 25k?” I would laugh and say, “I am just running”. I guess I was amused and simultaneously pleased with my decision to not run a race on that day. If I were running a race, I would be a bundle of nerves subconsciously. I am still reconciling with the paradox of “if a race is a work of art, why do I need a plan to run a race?!?!” Perhaps I am still discovering my own running. And I have quite a few questions to which answers will come gradually, over time. I guess peace and patience remain keys.
I think the best memories I have of what happened on Sunday were those long sprints that I did each time I got back to the start point. The first one I sprinted very happily with all my might! And the second one where I sprinted happily again, this time with Ajay, the fellow who paced me till just before the finish at KTM. If some day I can run with Ajay, I think it will be a wonder to run with someone to who speed and smoothness of pace are but second nature! Until then, I run after this dream.
At the mock run on the same course a few weeks ago, I was thoroughly displeased because I was chasing after time. At this practice run a second time on the same course, I enjoyed myself totally because time was not a concern. I was simply breathing in the awesomeness of everything around me and that made the run-walk absolutely stunning. Now I really want to lose my watch without losing pace! That is something I will have to figure, probably with some sophisticated devices.
So why speak of this run and of courage? I feel like this run was one more date with courage. I ran with sparse sleep. I ran with fatigue. I ran with the aches in my tummy. I ran despite the uncertainties. Only this time, the uncertainties did not bog me down. They disappeared as my legs started moving and my mind kept making peace. I am convinced that I have no technique in my running. I just run with my guts, literally so (and now with the regular ab crunches and the ab strengthening, some amount of those guts too!). The 17k on that Ultra course was my date with one more face of courage. And I crossed more hurdles than I imagined I would – now I know that 21k is do-able as long as I feel that I am setting out on another date with my life, another date with all the complementary and paradoxical elements that make up my life and the lives around me. 21k is do-able as long as I know that I just need to stick it out for only those many hours and it shall all pass. 21k is do-able as long it is a tryst with life, not a tryst with a race. And if it is a tryst with life, I will surely find my place.
I don’t know if the recent spate of my encounters and musings with courage and fear have been to egg me towards the 21k of Dec 5. I don’t know if these insights about courage and fear are for something larger than life. As I said, I will only know in retrospect and I hope that that retrospective will be a happy one.
For now, thank you Nisha for showing me what courage is. If I cherish Delhi, it is also because you inhabit some of those universes that make Delhi a city to come back to each time I need rejuvenation through relationships.
For now, thank you Francesca for being who you are. You are ever a creature brimming with guts and a smooth calm and introspectiveness. And I am glad we have encountered!
For now, thank you dis-ease for I know with you what ease and health can be, what determination and life can be.
For now, thank you coach for making so bare and real to me that vulnerability and determination go hand in hand, or, in your case, feet in feet!