Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Villager Road Tax

                Loki worked from sun-up to sun-down on the two acre land he had managed to wrestle from his brothers after their father’s death. He had been saving for two years to buy a new motorbike but the rain gods had proven fickle and middle-men who bought his crops stingy and thieving. He was stuck with the rusty bike his father-in-law had given him on the eve of his wedding. His reverie was interrupted by a huge black car coming to a screeching halt trying to avoid a dog on the street. A bulky guy got out of the driver’s seat, checked his car tires, found them satisfactory and drove off leaving the mutilated body of the dog in the middle of the national highway. Sometimes goats and chickens owned by the villagers were victims of the high speed roads. Loki never understood the arrogance of city folks- trampling livestock with their cars and bikes, not in the least bothered about how it affected the livelihood of poor villagers.
                Loki considered the recently built national highway a curse. It cut across the middle of the village making even crossing the road a hazard. Once the villagers had got together and paid a private contractor to build a speed bump at both the ends of the village. That helped until a few officials from highway development authority leveled the road again warning the village council against building such barriers. The council denied everything, claimed innocence and feigned outrage at the accusation.
                In the initial days after the road was built, villagers accepted any small compensation given to them by errant drivers for harming their livestock. But all this changed when Loki’s friend’s cow got mowed down by an SUV.  Yogesh demanded an exorbitant amount and the entire village had gathered to argue with the driver and his wife. The villagers finally managed to extract more than their pound of flesh.  Loki knew that the old cow had stopped producing milk a year ago. Yogesh could now buy a new jersey cow with what the driver ended up paying. The village council of course took a cut. The men had a good laugh about the entire incident that evening under the banyan tree. One of them called it the “road tax”.
                From that day, Loki stopped scolding his children when they let the chickens and goats out near the highway. He did not have to wait for too long for what he had secretly been hoping for but would not admit even to his wife. A couple in a two wheeler had crashed into a post trying to avoid his goat. Somehow the goat had managed to limp away without much injury.  Loki’s first thought was that the couple were grievously injured. He did not want to rush onto the highway to demand payment for his goat only to find the couple dying or in need of help.
                Meanwhile a few cyclists had stopped to check on the fallen couple.  Why men ride cycles this far instead of using motorbikes, he had no idea. Masochists most likely, he concluded. The cyclists had managed to help the couple with water. Loki saw that the rider, though bleeding was now standing and about to climb on his motorbike and drive away. Fat chance he thought.
                Loki managed to stop the couple from speeding away to a hospital and straight away demanded payment for his injured goat. The couple looked speechless and the cyclist decided to speak up for them “Let them first go to the hospital man, the guy is bleeding”. All Loki knew was that if he let the couple go now, he would never see them again; “No, now”, he insisted. He claimed that his livelihood had been ruined due to the loss of his goat. As if on cue, a lot of folks from the village were suddenly with him taking the same line. A few other cyclists and folks from a car had stopped as well and took the side of the couple. The villagers accused the cyclists of rowdyism while the cyclists insisted on taking the couple to a hospital. The cyclists also claimed that the goat was not injured at all. Words were bandied back and forth.
                Suddenly before Loki knew, the cyclist who had initially assisted the couple was coming at him angrily. Loki knew that there was no way the villagers would let a city-bred funnily clad  cyclist beat him in their own place. One or two of his friends helped as they beat up the angry young man. Soon the rest of the villagers and cyclists managed to break up the brawl. Seeing bloodshed had the desired effect on the injured couple, they offered to pay up, just as Loki knew that they would. In parting, the beaten up cyclist calmly spoke up “One day I hope a car runs you over and there is nobody to help”. Loki pretended to not hear the cyclist. Neither did he care. His dream of a new motorbike had just got a little bit closer...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Almost there - The Mysore Half Marathon 2011

                The clock showed 6:55 a.m., 10 minutes more than the scheduled start time of the Mysore Half Marathon 2011. All the runners were waiting patiently at the start line - The imposing Mysore palace. Okay, the “patiently” part was a lie. We had all warmed up for a 6:45 start but apparently Chief Guest Javagal Srinath does not mess with his 8 hour sleep cycle. We greeted him with a loud ‘boo’ when he finally ambled along to the start line. I was targeting a finish of 1 hr. 40 mins, which meant running faster than 5 min/km for 21 kms. My friend Bala from Bangalore was targeting 1 hr. 45 mins but he gamely agreed to run with me for the entire distance.
                The elites simply took off as soon as the start gun went off. Not sure if it was the pace the elites set or our own stupidity, Bala and I decided to give them chase. Big Mistake. We ran the first two kms in around 8 mins, way faster than what I had planned. Any distance runner worth his salt would tell you that you should not run somebody else’s race. And here I was disobeying the most basic tenet of long distance running. I settled into a nice breathing pattern, slowed down and let Bala compete with the elites!
               My plan was to finish the first half of the race in 50 mins. But realized that I would get there about a minute or two early at our current pace. The route meandered into Kukkenahalli kere, the best running place in my beautiful hometown. We ran into the elites returning from the midway point. And the three in the lead were blazing. Their coach was on the sidelines and screaming at them to pick up pace. Hah! That is one coach I hope to avoid for the rest of my natural life.
              At around the 8k mark, the effects of chasing the elites caught up with Bala and I ran alongside him for the new few kms.  My lace came untied twice and I wasted sometime getting it right. My hands were unsteady and my fist and jaw tightly clenched – a clear sign that I was trying too hard. Stopped for water at the 12k mark aid station. With little humidity and cool breeze, I decided that I could manage with only one stop for water. And that certainly helps.

The Celebration Mysore Half Marathon
                I checked out my GPS watch and found that I had to run the last 8k in 39 mins to finish within my target of 1 hr. 40 mins. My usual running pace at that point in time was 5 mins/kms meaning 40 mins for 8 km. I just had to run a couple of kms faster. Sounds easier when I put it on paper but the second half had a few up-hills and increased traffic which meant that saving that one minute was not going to be easy. My mom had promised to come to the route to cheer me, but I missed her as well due to my decision to go for glory.
  The final push never came. Somebody on the road shouted “Boss you are 28th… Run faster, so many people have gone ahead”. That brought a smile to my in spite of all the pain/pressure I had put myself in. Finished in 1 hr. 41 mins and Bala finished a couple of mins behind me. Missed my running season target by around 1 minute. Almost there but not there. Story of my running life really.
  Soni Mathew finished in 1:09 mins and took 1st place in men’s division and Kavita Raut in 1:20 took 1st in the women’s division. As for me, I have time until the Auroville 2012 to reach my season target of 1 hr. 40 mins. With all the arrogance and confidence I can muster, I declare myself good enough for a 1:40 HM in the coming months. Only time will tell!