Thursday, 30 January 2014

The things we obsess over...

We are having these really awesome conversations these days, child & I. I feel a bit embarrassed to document them for public consumption - 'cause I sound idiotic. Oops. Honestly, at times it's a bit frustrating and of course I am always right, you all know that, but still, overall kind of amazing, this ride.

Despite the fact that I hate driving and feel relieved big time when husband is around and I don't have to, it's those moments when we are driving together alone that are the most fun. Sometimes, I have yelled my head off before and use the opportunity of the drive to cool down a bit and have a long chat about right and wrong and whatever. But the normal times are the most fun...

We talk about anything and everything. I try to keep the advice down to a minimum ('cause she doesn't listen anyhow) and we just..discuss stuff. After we dispense with the usual complaints about the various classmates and teachers, we latch onto some random topic and talk.

Earlier this week, she came back from school with an ink spot on her cheek. I should have remembered all the 'literary females' of P G Wodehouse, but for some reason, I said "Bloodstains on the carpet" - almost to myself, I think. I was distracted, with one or the other thing and just blurted it out.

Of course it started a whole thing and now, we are listening to Michael Jackson (and also, watching him on youtube) and having a lot of laughs. So far, she has only discovered Smooth Criminal and Thriller but has many things to say. Apparently the zombies are incorrect in the video. As are the monsters, which apparently 'look fake'.

The final nail in the coffin of Generation Gap hitting me in the eye is when she comments (despite the smallness of the iPhone screen) that his dancing is crap. I mean. Wasn't he like the best dancer we ever saw in our whole lives? I practiced the Moon Walk for hours, didn't I? (to no avail). I even bought a cassette of "Bad" and we were all so excited about it..

Sherlock Holmes (Old, New, TV Series, Books); Josh (songs only); Swiss Family Robinson; and arbitrary songs sung by that fellow Vijay - these and other obsessions fill our day and conversations of late. Only a matter of time before we move on to Wodehouse and the ink-spot is drawn on purpose? 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Burn the cape

At a recent session on 'Work life balance: Life after graduation' that we had at the ol' office, some really interesting things were said by various people. The two hours were very well spent, to say the least! One of the panelists was telling the young people that it's ok - to not be a super woman. It was interesting!

She elaborated that we think we ought to be super mothers, wives, researchers, daughters, and friends, and it's just not practical. So true, isn't it? I don't know if it's worse to not realise that we not super-all-those-things but kind of strive to be some of them at least, or to delude oneself into thinking we are. I guess honesty is best, particularly to oneself!

Kara Goucher is one of my current favorite runners. She was interviewed recently, and it made for very nice reading, it's really amazing how she is keeping up with her training - relentlessly - and doing so well, and how cool it is that her son travels with her for altitude training and what not. But I liked this part the best, when asked what she learnt upon becoming a parent :
"I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was capable of more than I thought I was and stronger than I thought I was. You know, before my entire life was built around running. My husband was a professional athlete as well. He’s retired now but he was and we built our entire day around running and resting. And then after I had Colt, you know, your child becomes your priority. Running is still very important but it’s secondary. I used to watch other moms, you know, pick up their kids and I would be tired just watching them. But I have learned you are stronger than you think."
Her child is much younger than mine for sure, but  it is kinda exactly what I learnt! That I am stronger than I thought I was. In fact, I am even a stronger runner (though not a faster one) now than I ever was, all my life, through all those years of my body not having gone through pregnancy and the C-Section and all!

I don't know about being superwoman (anyway the costume sucks, couldn't pull it off :-)) but I have really enjoyed the challenge, these past several years, of being all the things I need to be during the course of the day. And I own it. It's my own doing. No one imposing their will on me. 'Cause that's the other thing we said to the girls - Just Own It. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Mumbai Marathon 2014

Yep. It's officially done with. The Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. I am losing track of the number of times I have lined up at the start line. Every single year since 2005. Yeah. This is my third time running the full marathon here, and perhaps I have learnt a trick or two?

 I still haven't figured out how best to get to the damned starting line  (or back). This time was better, for sure on the way in, but only 'cause I had company. On the way back though, I really sucked and we had to walk several kilometers to get to a hot shower. And I would have gotten hopelessly lost (7 years living in Mumbai; countless times running SCMM; notwithstanding) if not for Hari and his innate sense of direction. 

Long story cut short over there - a new personal best - am very happy with it.

Ramesh told us the plan, and I mentally made up my mind to stick to it till 30km. The plan called for restraint in the first 3 kms - very important for me as I tend to get too hyper enthu and run too fast in my hurry to get out of the crowd. 4-21 km was just coasting, picking up the pace a tad after 10km. Hari, Ramesh and I did great with our pacing - taking turns to pull each other back or forward. The first three hours of the run were really very enjoyable, weather was great, company awesome, we were in super spirits. 

As the 30km mark neared, my mind, as usual was starting to be a bit murky. I told myself to go on till 32kms on Ramesh plan and then worry about what to do in the last 10. I could feel myself fading and occasionally falling behind him. I lost track of Hari at some stage and didn't (as usual) have the energy to turn my head back (yeah I know, it's weird but it happens often).

The "slog" kms started soon. At Pedder Road, I was sure I couldn't stick to plan (run up gently, no walk). Ramesh stopped at a water point. I couldn't. My mind wanted to get the incline done with and then hit up a water point. But I lost Ramesh in the process. I walked a few steps when I realised that. I even turned back a bit and spied his white shirt. Then I couldn't any more. I was on the bridge and on my own. 

My hip started bothering me soon after. The hip pain migrated down to my knee after that. I didn't dare look at my legs - I remember once seeing a popping out muscle in my calf (or something). I fished out my little sachet of Volini and rubbed it on. And took a walk break. That helped and I chugged on forward, resolutely. 

"No thanks Sweetheart" I kept saying to the kids offering biscuits (Ugh). I smiled bravely at people clapping for me, when I could. Most of the time though I had my head down. I was within goal in terms of time and knew all I had to do was continue forward. Still, I was very relieved to see another Chennai Runner t-shirt and recognise Nandu out of the corner of my eye. 

I let him direct me for the rest of the 4 kms then. I ran when he said run, and took walk breaks when he said so. He set little targets and I just grunted my assent. I was suffering, no doubt, and he kept saying, we can do 4:30, which I didn't understand because my watch told me 4:25 was attainable. But the neurons didn't fire exactly (he was in Corral A and started earlier than I did, in Corral B) so I said yes. 

Soon we were 100m from finish and I could see the arch. The detritus of the several thousands of runners ahead of us was there - all along the second half of the route in terms of bottles and stuff of course - but also in the bored looks of the audience. "Time to sprint" said Nandu. "Go ahead" I said. The final sprint is my thing, and I did, but not as fast as him, but yes, the best I could. 

I was happy to see the race clock at 4:28 & change, which meant that I had finished in 4:24. I remembered to switch off the timer on my watch. I was glad to have Nandu to take along with me to the medical tent (as a ritual) for some electrolyte. I picked up some ice to somehow shove on to my hip which was hurting. And we went inside and looked for the medals stand. 

I was in a bit of haze for the next 5-10 mins. I told myself to calm down. That this is how getting to a PB feels like (difficult, not impossible). I was irritated at being given my finisher medal in a plastic bag. Annoyed at all the trash in Azad Maidan (an increasingly big worry for me). I plonked down and waited for the rest of the gang to show up and find me... 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Excitement, Apprehension

I am subscribed to a number of whatsapp groups. Like the mobile phone itself, I think back to a time before whatsapp and cannot imagine how I managed to get anything done without it. The child cracks jokes about my 'whatsapp obsession' as she calls it - which angers me - partly 'cause it's true - but it is handy, I cannot deny.

Tomorrow is the Mumbai Marathon. Regulars here know that it's the time of my annual pilgrimage to Mumbai, therefore. I usually use the opportunity to meet students, colleagues and friends in Mumbai when I go run the race. But this time I just plan to go, pick up the bib, run, and return back.

The whatsapp groups are 'buzzing' with excitement. We are a number of us traveling from Chennai so the energy is palpable across the waves and feels great. Unlike the others, I slept deeply and when I woke up at 5 am for my customary visit to Porcelain Goddess, I wondered what day of week it is, what do I need to do, when do I need to wake up, etc. for a second.

I usually run a couple of nice long runs - 30kms or thereabouts - before every marathon. For my first marathon I ran around 3 of them. This is my third time running the Mumbai Full Marathon, and fifth full marathon overall of my life. I remember the goal (one of the) for my first full marathon (at Mumbai), was that I wanted to keep running them.

And that has more or less fallen in place- couple times a year I have been donning the shoes (or vibrams, since last year), and lining up for a full marathon. I have a reasonable handle on training for the same, and when people ask, the thing I recommend the most is being sensible and following the program as much as possible.

This year I haven't followed my own advice, so to speak. I have run, consistently and continuously, through at least the second half of the year. I have kept up my strength training workouts, and done a lot of mixing up of pace - due to various reasons - over the course of the past several months.

But I haven't run the 30km long run. I like that one. It's difficult enough as yet that I can't throw them down at will, and the legs feel 'ready' for the 42km after it. I had one weekend - in the entire year - when it make sense to run it. And.. I fell sick. With a throat infection. I have recovered from it and done a decent number of HM distance runs after it, but that still bothers me!

So much that I almost forget that I ran a 50km run after that tryst with germs! But tomorrow, my goals are laid out. I am carrying a ball point pen to write down notes to myself (on my arms), and am hoping that the slight apprehension I feel, is just nerves and nothing real. If I read enough whatsapp messages of others, perhaps their excitement will nullify it!

Saturday, 11 January 2014


We went through a thoroughly stressful time in the building of this house - the large number of arguments between us bear testament to that. "Are you house proud?" someone asked me in an interview a few months ago. The honest answer is, I am not. I definitely could be. But somehow, I am not. I get pissed off at myself for it, periodically, try to get out of the stupor and Do Things, but given the freedom, I would just ignore the house and just..lounge.

I am not a lazy person by any means. I have no qualms about working hard - either physically or mentally. Over the past few years, the limits of my physical ability have also been tested fairly well (and often enough), thanks to my running. Sure, I am possible running in a very energy efficient and optimal manner now, but still, running a lot, all things considered.

If I could make one change in my current day-to-day life, it would be to give myself time to think and analyse things more deeply. Graduate school feels like a very painful time of life when you are going through it - even now, more than ten years out - I don't look back entirely with a sense of joy at some of the aspects of it. But one thing is for sure - the single-minded devotion to research, your research, that you can give, is awesome. I wish I could do that, now.

Anyway, back to the house. And domesticity. This is a year of changes, it's bound to be. My mind feels very 'resolute' about this - strange that word comes to mind. I am confident that I can do it. Them. Many of them. Changes across the board. One of those is towards the house. It's a challenging task. Chaos seems to be hovering just above the surface. Couple days of lack of focus and the sideboard is suddenly filled with all nature of crap - don't even know where they appeared from.

There is no shame in it, is there? I will embrace it, that slight aggression with which my mom puts away stray items that appear on various surfaces in her home. Yep. It's seems, finally, like the right thing to do. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Ultra Special

It has been what - 10 days now? Something like that. But I still want to talk about it. Race reports are generally logged in a maximum of 2 days after the event. So sue me. I ran what is called the 'Shahid Ultra' on 29 Dec. It's an 'Invitation Only' event and involves running from Chennai to Mahabalipuram.

Seriously. This is a distance that we are generally lazy to drive - all the Mumbai having washed out of our bloodstream, we think that 3 kms is the maximum limit in terms of places to go to. We also claim that our house is the center of the city so I guess we are just crazy.

The run starts under the cover of darkness at 3:30 am in Alwarpet. I woke up the earliest I have ever woken up in my entire life to make it to the place on time (I was a few minutes late, I admit). I was kinda looking to pee but that was not possible. For me. KP managed to though, so I warn residents of that area about this, albeit several days late.

I was surprised to see how awake and jolly everyone was. I thought I would be grumpy but I was also pretty awake and happy. The awesome thing was that some folks had shown up to volunteer for us - carrying water and bananas and any of our stuff we might need enroute, in their cars. They were awake and jolly so why not the runners?

We started off - 20 of us or so - at a gentle pace. KP, Hari and I planned to do a 4:1 Run Walk for as long as possible - maybe 3 hours. Surprisingly some others joined us in our routine as well. So we were a good big bunch of 6-8 runners walking every 4 minutes. Jokes and teasing of course, all along. Loud conversations as usual.

So then 3 hours rolled around. Our super hydration volunteers were driving around and we found them every time we needed a drink or a bite to eat. We all had our fuel belts strapped on but rarely used them! Then 4 hours rolled around. We were making steady progress. 36 kms I think by then.

It felt great to get to a Full Marathon distance, in such a happy state. I was loving every minute of it and felt ready for whatever may be ahead. The sun came up but it was not very fierce, thankfully. We were on ECR so some of the traffic was a bit scary, but having run this route before (past two years), I felt confident about dealing with it.

Neville and Peter joined us at some stage - they were clearly in much better state than any of us in our gang, but somehow decided to chill and hang with us. Which was fine. I was still feeling strong. Breath was superb, I was even talking happily to everyone, and only some parts of my legs were complaining, slightly.

At 46 kms or so, we encountered the child and husband. Who were driving down to Mahabalipuram to meet up with us (and bring us back home :-)). That was a great boost to my energy. We had decided to scale down to a 3:1 run walk scheme and then a 2:1 - which was not very nice actually.

We reached 50kms and realised we still have 1.5kms to go to reach the hotel. Nev suggested we give up the walking and just run. I don't know how I found the strength to agree, but I did. Of course the rest of them were casual about it so I acted cool as well. We finished together in 5:56 and felt quite enthusiastic at the end of it all!

Meanwhile the rest of the folks who had run 28kms were milling around. The ones that had finished 50km ahead of us were showering. And everyone was super happy as I gingerly negotiated stairs and went to shower. Of course after Vipareeta Karni. Where a whole bunch of Chennai Runners put their legs up on trees and allow gravity to work its magic.

This is my third time participating in this event. The first year I ran 28kms. And since last year I upgraded myself to this 'Ultra marathon' - I spend the whole year looking forward to it; with Mumbai Marathon just round the corner, I make sure to take this one gently in the run walk mode though. I was aiming to finish in under 6 hours and am real glad that worked out.

I know it sounds crazy to run to Mahabalipuram from here, and there are elements that have to be considered in terms of safety - traffic, the unrelenting sun, and the possibility that you may be alone sometimes - but I am so very ecstatic that I ran this again this year. Of course, I wasn't alone for even a millisecond thanks to the gang. Really, its the company that makes it all super fun, jokes flying fast and furious! Ultra Fun.

Friday, 3 January 2014

January 15th

It's not that I don't remember him at other times. I do, often. But every year, without fail, the beginning of the year is laced with these whole set of thoughts that come unbidden. And the tears that fall, each drop more annoying than the other.

Being two sisters, with pre-occupied and very busy parents, we soaked up affection where we found it. At least I did. My big bear of a cousin was my favourite person ever for a long time. He was a bit scary, especially given that I was used to the smooth overly shaven cheeks of my well-groomed dad and grand-dad and the rebel beard was edgy, strange, and outright weird.

He taught us many tricks. With a few deft strokes he drew these awesome line drawings. He constantly conned various other cousins into believing in what he called "Magic" - later explaining to me that he did that only because they were annoying. He worshipped the ground my mother walked on and was given to many tantrums big and small.

Sometimes when I see my daughter dismantle things - oh yes, she is a big dismantler - of pens, mostly, but also whatever else she can manage, without tools - I cannot help admire how this incomprehensible life & genes thing happens. This guy, he would take apart mixies, TVs, radios, whatever he could. And never bothered to assemble them back, losing interest, feigning anger.

It's been so many many years since I had much to do with him. I don't know - things could have been different - for sure. He was a sensitive person under all that machismo. I have so many special moments with friends, and people I love, I try to cherish these. 'Cause it's so swift - fate's hand - one minute you are making bhindi sambar and the next one - poof.

Missing, even in a gut-wrenching, given to break into tears manner, is hardly it. Losing a part of you - that believed in mischief and doing things on your own terms - maybe even being a stereotypical teenager for however long life lets you - yes that sums it up. My personality is so far removed from his that it's virtually impossible that I can understand what made him live, what made him die.

In a few days from now, on the 15th to be precise, his birthday rolls around. When he was alive, I would think, hey, its my anna's birthday today. And move on. Now that that option is off the table, I wish I could just once, make a call, write an email, send a text message, something, just to say 'Happy Birthday' ...

Thursday, 2 January 2014

'Tis The Season

Christmas songs are a big hit in our house. At least for the child. She sang them (slightly off-key) continuously. And wore a Santa Hat for much of the time. Close on the heels of all that, a New year rolled around. Like a mouse. Or rat (like the one I saw in the garden yesterday. Shudder).

Where has 2013 gone, I have mused. For the space of the two minutes it took to type out that paragraph, not more, I admit. Then I count. The things. Blessings (several). Bad things (some). Good things (a few). Trips (a nice number). Blog posts (an abysmal number). Of course, that's where the 12 months have gone. In the accumulating of those statistics.

2014 is a special year. Come April, it's going to get even more special. The child hits two digits. While I, well, I hit 40. I am looking forward to it. I feel like I deserve to be forty. I am not apprehensive. I am not sad. Just old.

We repaired our weighing machine after many long months in a fit of New Year enthusiasm. I found that I weigh as much as I did right after I gave birth to child. No kidding. I am proud, you could say. 'Cause I just ran 51.5 kms on Sunday. And felt pretty strong and generally happy doing it. I did run it slowly. So maybe that accounts for it. But I like being a few kilos heavier if it means I feel stronger.

A piece of lab equipment arrived on the scene yesterday. It is nothing important or exciting. But it completes a link and if all goes well allows us to start experimenting on things right away. But boy. It was big. "800 kgs" they said. I was flummoxed. I didn't think it was going to be that big. Good thing the ceilings are high in my lab.

We had a good season of veggie farming at home but sadly all is dead now (or consumed). An unexpected haul of crotons is all we have going on now. Meanwhile the fight about what else to plant continues. And the yellow flowers-wala creeper seems intent on overrunning not only our house, but our neighbour's house as well - on either side.

That's all I got to say now. Watch this space.