Early, on Friday morning, I was staring at the ceiling of the hospital room. It struck me then that people always say:
The mountain does not come to Muhammed. Muhammed has to go to the mountain.
For those who do not know the context, the story goes like this: Prophet Muhammed was called upon by God and guided by Angel Gabriel to go to Mount Kufa every single day, for a total of 30 days, where God would himself reveal verses from the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) so that he would learn the word of God and spread it to the rest of the world. It was an incredibly arduous task to go to Kufa each day, considering also that Prophet Muhammed was not a young man at the time when Prophethood was bestowed upon him. The above saying has emerged from this story and it indicates that if you have to gain something or if you have to achieve a goal, you have to go through the rigors and the toil to get it/there – the target/destination will not come to you. As I was staring at the ceiling that morning, it occurred to me that actually, this time, the mountain had come to me so that I would know that other climbs in life are probably (and most certainly) not as arduous as the climb I had made (with the help of several others) just some hours ago.
Come afternoon of Wednesday, 1st Dec, I was on the train to Pune, completely ready to begin my journey to my first half marathon mission, in no uncertain terms. On the previous evening, Santhosh very warmly told me how he was certain, in no uncertain terms, that I would indeed finish my first half marathon, and that inspired me even more! I kept thinking of the awesome threesome “ladies” 😉 – Pooja, Kalpana and Latha – and all the times when we had cruised together ever since we started running this year in Feb. But, sometimes, journeys reveal how plans are never certain, in no uncertain terms. The trick is to keep breathing even in the face of upset apple carts.
On my first visit to South Africa in Dec 1999, my sight hit upon this poster pasted on the wall of the UCT campus dorm common bathrooms – “travel makes your bowels lighter and your mind broader.” Earlier in 1999 when I was stranded at Singapore airport owing to some accidental booking cancellation before leaving for Seoul, I chanced upon reading a quote by a famed Korean actress who said, “When you are down, you have no other place to go except the top.” I have always remembered both these quotations because whether I have liked it or not, my life has put me in spots and situations where these words have bailed me out along with many other things.
Wednesday evening, the train is chugging, gradually, towards the destination I needed to reach. We placed the order for our evening meals and when they arrived, I knew the first instant I bit into the chappati and the curry that I was eating highly stale food and that I ran the risk of food poisoning at the worst or a tummy upset in the least. I have no idea, even in retrospect, why I ate up everything that was there of the chappati and the curry. I really don’t know! Would things have been different if I hadn’t? Who knows? Perhaps, in retrospect, I like the way things turned out, because it confirmed to me that all the effort that I make to get myself out of the bed in the mornings, lift my legs, do my foot drills, stretches and strength training is really because running is the destination and not because I am running to speed in a race. So thanks to grace for this and that.
At about 9 PM, I experienced a shot of severe pain in my abdomen and stomach. I held my way through it because I was busy writing a piece from my thesis material. It passed. And I presumed that in the least, I would have a tummy upset.
At about midnight, I woke up with a shooting pain on the right side of my abdomen. I don’t know why, but logically I deduced that this was the same kind of pain that my mother had borne for nearly two years between 1999 and 2000 owing to a cyst on her ovary which later turned into an abscess. I realized then how tenacious my mother had been to bear this pain which makes you want to yearn for death more than life because the pain is so irritatingly agonizing. Each moment of the pain and every breath you take with it is so agonizingly tiresome and painful that you wonder whether there is any hope for life at all in such agony.
Agony: one of the toughest rituals in the tradition of Islam that I was introduced to by my parents and my dad’s brother is called the Shabh Namaaz which is the prayer to be recited just before dawn. The logic of this prayer is that when the world is fast asleep, with no cares, the one with utmost faith and devotion does not care for his/her sleep but rises to prayer, very faithfully and enters into communion with his/her creator. The logic of this prayer has fascinated me because it involves a devotion to work through the temptation of sleep and to rise faithfully each day before daybreak. I believe that such devotion in itself instills a tremendous strength in the person and it can enable the person to face different circumstances in life.
During the training period for the Kaveri Trail Marathon in July, Aug, Sept this year, I faced the hardest situations of my life with all fortresses toppling one after the other. I was most irregular with running during this period. Towards the completely fag end of the training programme, I turned up for all the weekend runs. Each run felt like me answering the call to prayer by the muezzin. Every run in this period was an agony because as it de-stressed my body, it made me tired at the end of it. Each run made me realize the strength I was capable of eking out despite my frailty. And, perhaps, sincere prayer is also just this …
The run between one life and another: From 12 AM on 2nd Dec until about 11 AM, I completely ran a marathon between my one life and another, and very honestly, I almost gave up at one time. For Kiran and me, our only hope was to make it to Pune, one way or another, and then, help would arrive in the form of friends, relatives, parents. At about 2 AM, I tried to throw up hoping that if I was indeed struck with food poisoning, some of the venom would come off me. Vomiting made my pain worser. Kiran began looking up the internet for my diagnosis and suggested that I could be up with an inflamed appendicitis. He said that the cause of death in such circumstances is the shock and agony of the pain and not really the condition itself. This meant that I had to really hold on to my nerves. I don’t know how, but somehow I remembered Murthy’s advice to me for the Pune HM which was “remember, one step at a time”. I kept repeating this to myself as if I was chanting some prayer because I knew that in the most pragmatic terms, I really I had to make it to Pune one step and one breath at a time. I have no idea how I dozed off to sleep for an hour as I repeated this to myself. When I woke up, the pain had shifted positions and I was in another kind of agony, this time seemingly worse because I was beginning to feel drained of energy. Now I had to fight with my will! Santhosh keeps repeating Steve Prefontaine’s saying about a race being a work of art. My journey with my agonizing pain this one time, this one race, would really reveal to me what kind of artist I am. I just struggled, kept trying to keep pace with my breath and not lose it, and hoped that these moments would pass. As Pune drew nearer, I was readying to give up. Kiran kept trying to give me comfort and warmth, however he could, despite the anxiety that he must have been going through. Finally, Pune arrived and as Sankarshan said, I stepped out of the train looking completely stoned! I walked straight to the ambulance!
I switched two hospitals in Pune to determine what went wrong with me and what was the appropriate treatment. Finally, the second hospital my aunt suggested I go to, admitted me for some kind of mass around one part of the pelvis region which appeared inflamed. They decided to bring down the size of the mass with anti-biotics. I agreed to this because I needed the pain to subside to be able to think and act straight.
I woke up Friday morning, the next day, thinking to myself that the mountain did, indeed, come to me, the seeker, in this case. The mountain was the agony, the condition, the sheer circumstance, which really required me to run a marathon between my one life and the next. I felt even more determined to make it to the Pune marathon because now, the run seemed more like a celebration of the fact that I was alive and I knew that no hurdle could be greater than what I already saw and came off.
Post-mortem: I never ran the Pune HM eventually because by Friday evening, my body was beginning to give in to the war between the anti-biotics, the health bios and the apparent mass in the pelvis. My veins were swelling up with the IV injections and fluid and I was ending up with bruises, wondering whether people would look at my hands and think that I am into some serious …. By Saturday morning, all I wanted was to get out of the hospital and let my body rest. I knew by then that I could wish to run but if I even made it to the course and tried, I would be committing violence on my body. It did not then seem so much worth. However, the pressure was in my head that I must at least run 5k if not less and at least show up on the course after all the hype that got built up with my run. I felt like ouch! damp squib! But I am glad that Santhosh reinforced sense in my head and helped me to stick to my saner decision of not running on Sunday.
In retrospect, I don’t at all feel bad about not doing the run on Sunday. I made it, I was almost there, but I ran a totally different course and I now know for sure that the joy is not in the race, it lies in the act of running itself! And I wouldn’t have known this joy without its corresponding agony. I feel more alive than I have felt before though I remain in a physically weak state. I know I can run and I can run really good from hereon and, from hereon, I know that I am really a willful artist!
I felt no sense of happiness or spiritedness floating in Pune on that day of 5th Dec as I moved around the city. I thought I would sense the joy of the run that had just happened in the air. After all, when so many people run and pool in such energy, it sure must make a difference to the atmosphere?!?!?! Maybe I was too far away from the areas where the run actually took place. I don’t know. But if I felt no joy or the spiritedness in the air circulating that morning when I went out into the city. Maybe I really did not miss the run after all … who knows?
My thanks (and please don’t even bother to read into the order that I have stated here, I am just recounting as I write):
Gulaa-maasi for rescuing me from one hospital and helping me to get into another more sensible one, though I still hate anti-biotics and gawd, can they please find some computer program for IV instead of injections?!?!? Thanks Gulaa-maasi for being a complete life saver and Nadir uncle for reassurance and cackles!
Aditya Kulkarni who first lured me to run this Pune HM! Man, we better make it together next time!
Prasad Pandit – for your reassuring attitude, for the flowers and for everything that makes you the nicest guy – girls, if you don’t run after this one bachelor, you surely know what you have missed!
Kushal Das – for being the most perfect coordinator and just for being there. I cannot thank you enough for all of this and more!
Sankasrshan and Runa – cackles, fish, begoon bhaaja, khichuri, rides, of course that dark chocolate which I am still relishing, and so much more! I am ready to camp in Pune!
Akash Mahajan – thank god Lord that you were there! If not, I would have beaten you for not coming down!
Vaishali and Dhawal who I have never met in person but who were there at the most needed hour!
My mom for being by my side and for knowing just when I needed a sounding board and just when she needed to cheer me with thoughts of shopping and food!
My sister – Simmin – for being my mother and my sister at the same time. It is terrible to have such a two-in-one package, but if not for her, I would be such an incomplete person!
My nephew Agastya who perhaps did not even know that he was in the hospital and not on a playground but who ran across the hallway and screamt through both the halves of my hospital room as if the world was created for him and for him alone! What joy you are big boy!
My dad for making himself the most perfect father, always, and for coming up with the most perfect analyses and doses of life each time I am cranky, wonky, upturned, in my head!
To the doctors of both the hospitals for making me understand the criticality of a good diagnosis and for reinforcing to me that good doctors and good researchers perfect their intuition along with their skills. I know I am definitely a pretty good researcher and I can be a good doctor too!
Anja Kovacs for always checking up on me and reinforcing it to me always that the 6 foot pillar that you are, you mean so much to me!
Alltough, Francesca, Megha, Sanchia, Irynn, Padma, folks from RH and several others who kept inquiring about my health in one way or another.
Pacemen Ajay and Ram for constantly checking on my decision about running and for keeping me in my spirits – guys, I am getting Santhosh to make me that custom schedule to chase after both of you at Auroville!
Kavitha Kanarparthi for that sudden phone call, for advice and for the lure of those home made sweets. Did you call me this afternoon to say that your stock has dried? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!
Preeti Ashok – thank you, thank you, thank you!
Santhosh Padmanabhan – Kalpana Komal has already said it but let me also – you know your business bloody well! Thank you for being the most perfect coach and the most purrfect friend!
Pooja Kumar – lady, we are rocking the Auroville trails in our own style of podium finish.
My in-laws and uncles-in-laws for their support and assurance.
Pradeep and Shweta for nursing us!
And most of all, and this one is deliberately the last, Kiran Jonnalagadda. On the day of the departure, I was asked by another friend debating the subject of marriage that what is the toughest and best aspect of marriage? I said it is living with another person and tying decisions of life together with that person. The risk is that it may work out and the risk is that it may not work out. If it works out, too bad for all the other men and too bad for me who can ogle at chocolate faces. If it does not work out, well, umm, aah, ouch! For now, all I know is that I have grown in your company, I have known the worse sides of me more, and I have also become better than perfect in other ways! So you better hang around me! 🙂
And thanks to everyone else I may have forgotten to remember …