1.4 - What I Write About, When I Write About Running (with Due Respect to Mr. Murakami)

Bhavin Jankharia

Background: This was the piece that convinced Meenal to give me my own column. After Writer’s Bloc died a natural death, essentially due to lack of interest and contributors, I didn’t have an outlet for my writing. People who knew me would keep coming up to me all through 2008 asking me why I had stopped. Finally, I put this together and Meenal gave me my own Saturday morning column, with the freedom to write whatever I wanted within reason.

I once wrote about the shortage of running spaces in Mumbai and Matunga. This piece is about the “running” itself.  I am not an expert runner, and have never participated in or won a race (unless you count primary school 100m races), but I do run regularly. And in a rare moment of star-like alignment, a bunch of things have come together.

I first started seriously running in the winter of 2002. Since then, I’ve been running irregularly regularly for the last six years, though I’ve never been able to bring myself to run a race. This year, after having successfully managed an “athai”, I decided to try the other extreme and registered for the half-marathon to be held on 18th January.

Yet, till the last week of November, I still wasn’t sure whether I would actually run the race. I normally run around 3 to 3.2 km in 30 minutes and anything more than this causes real pain. And so, I kept procrastinating; avoiding even thinking about the training for the 21 km race.

Then two things happened. I read Haruki Murakami’s “What I talk about, when I talk about running”. Three days later, the terror attacks happened.

Mr. Murakami is a Japanese fiction writer, whose work has been extensively translated into English and who I count as one of the top 10 authors of all time. His “running” book is autobiographical; Mr. Murakami started running when he started writing, in an attempt to exercise and has over the last 22 years run quite a bit, marathons included. I have millions of typed words to go before coming anywhere close to Mr. Murakami in writing prowess, but still; the writer-runner combination made me seriously think of starting the training for the half-marathon.

And now over the last month, I have been able to run longer and faster than ever before. Mr. Murakami got me started. The angst and anger are now the fuel.

Outwardly, we may also seem to have bounced back, but inside we are all still seething. People have been channelizing this angst in different ways; one friend is becoming an activist, another has gone into a Laphroaig haze and I've upped my running. Ms. Gina Kolata of the New York Times some time back wrote an apocryphal article on how Buddhist monks can run 300 kms by just chanting and meditating. I've started focusing on the anger; on the terrorists, on the events, on the enemy. This helps pump up the adrenaline and endorphins and over the last month, I've gone from running 3.2 kms in half an hour to 7.7 kms in one hour. I rest every other day to let the muscles recover, but then I am back on the ground again, pounding the mud relentlessly, arms swinging, focusing my thoughts into one singularity. It hurts badly at night; but as the old cliché goes, "no pain, no gain".

All this may be coincidence, but it has helped. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete the half-marathon in under 3 hours. Hopefully; I run on mud, whereas the half-marathon is on concrete; I run at dusk, whereas the sun will be up by the time we are halfway through our race. And even if it takes more than 3 hours, one thing is sure; I am definitely going to complete the race.

And maybe, like me, the whole city should run. Run to show solidarity; to show the rest of the country and the world that we are capable of rising above all this together; that we are able to resist and overcome as we have done in the last two decades, all attempts to tear apart the fabric of our city. And those who can’t run, should come and cheer on the sidelines. Whichever way; on 18th January, the whole city should be out on the streets. That will be our statement to the world!

Addendum: Since this piece, I participated in multiple races and then about 10 years ago (circa 2013), just stopped. I found that racing was pointless and I brought this out in one of my atmasvasth pieces..."Runnn...Not Race!". Running is an amazing activity, but you don't have to run races to run.

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