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Another Dream (unrealized)

I know, I know. Another post on running. For those who don’t get it, this must be extremely boring and narcissistic. But those who get it and, like me, have been bitten by the bug, will understand that this is a post that just had to be written. Because it’s like the mountaineer who replied when asked why he climbed mountains: “Because, it’s there”. When you see an announcement for a 10K run in your own locality, there’s no way you are going to pass that up. Especially when it’s for free and you’d have been more than happy to pay to run. That’s what happened when Red River Runners announced their annual ‘Turn Up And Run’ a few weeks back……. 😉

When I woke up on Saturday (22 Feb), I already knew how I’d start my next post: ‘Finally! 10K in less than an hour!’ I was going to run my seventh 10K later in the afternoon and my dream was to do it in less than an hour.

I ran my first 10K in 2010 at the Tokyo Marathon (https://ruolngulworld.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/a-dream-realised/) in an hour and seven minutes. It was the first time I had ever run more than 5km at a stretch in my life. A good friend even told me, ‘John, at our age, running would do more harm than good – a good, brisk walk is all that we should be aiming for’ – or words to that effect.

But I’d been dreaming since I first started jogging (or trying to) back in Mozambique and, despite my better half’s sincere advice to the contrary (for fear that I was attempting something I probably would never be able to achieve – words to the effect that I might drop dead from exhaustion might have been said – the word ‘might’ here is important 😉 ), I applied and was accepted for my first Tokyo Marathon. And so, a dream was realized, and I was hooked. I ran the next Tokyo Marathon (10K) in 2011 clocking an hour and four minutes which made me dream of an under one hour 10K. We then shifted to Hanoi and the first thing I did was sign up for the Song Hong Half Marathon which also had a 10K component where I thought I’d finally realize my dream. I managed an hour and eight minutes that year but the dream remained. I managed an hour and six minutes in 2012 which was two minutes off my personal best but my dream remained. Then, last year, I barely managed an hour and ten minutes – my worst timing yet, which made me realize that, perhaps, having met Abraham (https://ruolngulworld.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/meeting-abraham-2/), a sub-hour 10k was now beyond me.

But I continued to dream because, after all, ‘dreams die hard’. Which is how I found myself at the starting line of my seventh 10K on a cold, drizzly afternoon last Saturday – lining up with 70 or so fellow enthusiasts, thinking to myself that here was another chance to realize my dream.

The race began with a lot of adrenalin, as usual, and I managed the first 1K somewhere in the middle of the pack before others began to slowly overtake me. I managed to make it to the halfway mark in a little less than half an hour which kept my dream alive. Though I knew I had to do considerably better if I wanted to really realize my dream, because the second leg of the race is always the most difficult part where it really becomes ‘mind over matter’ as your body tells you to just stop, walk for a while, take it easy (‘you’re just an old guy – nobody really cares whether you finish the race or not’…), I glanced back and, realizing that there were other runners also struggling behind me, pushed on. I suppressed the urge to stop and walk a bit, telling myself that my wife would be somewhere at the 6-7km mark waiting to take photographs. I told myself that, if I had to stop and walk, it would only be after I had majestically run into her frame and continued to do so till I was reasonable sure that I had passed beyond her sights. And so, I ran on, and even passed a fellow runner as I sighted my wife lining up her shots, even managing to give her a few thumbs-ups and ‘V’ signs.

I pushed on, carried by the momentum and the realization that I was still not the last and there were quite a few runners still behind me. The moment I crossed the 8km mark and glanced at my watch was when I realized that my dream was again slipping away from me. Which realization triggered my brain (yes, blame my brain!) to decelerate my muscles and make me slow down to a walk as I neared UNIS with barely a km left. My only comfort at that stage was the knowledge that there were still a few stragglers behind me and I would, at least, not be the last. I somehow summoned up the strength to run the last km and, cheered on by fellow runners who had obviously finished long back and were walking back from the finish line to Jafa Restaurant for some well-deserved beers and cheers, crossed the finish line in an hour and nine minutes.

Though my dream of a sub-hour 10K remained unrealized, the exhilaration of finishing another race hit me as I crossed the finish line. I waited for the remaining five (five!) runners behind me to finish before walking towards my car to go home for some well-deserved rest. I took off my sweat-drenched t-shirt, letting the cool chilly breeze cool me.

Along the way, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot to my car, my t-shirt draped across my shoulder, sipping a bottle of cold Gatorade bought from the corner shop, feeling, if only for a moment, as cool and athletic as any Olympic athlete 🙂 

And the dream remains…..


Keep On Running

I have been running, whenever I can, depending on the time and place, for a little over 10 years now. It is perhaps the only good habit I’ve developed over the years.  I love running, or more precisely, jogging. A blog I recently read (here) pretty much describes the feeling, though I would have put it a little differently 😉

It has become so much a part of my normal routine that I feel lost and incomplete on days when, because of work or some other reason, I am unable to go for my daily jog. When I first started, I would get up early and jog in the morning before going to office.  But now, I find it easier and more relaxing to jog in the evening, after office. I also recently realized that this a more efficient use of time because, once I reach home from office in the evening, there is always a gap of an hour or so before dinner during which, if I don’t go jog, I would just be lazing around watching TV or wasting even more time on the internet, plus, I get a few more hours of sleep in the morning. I now jog only occasionally in the morning on weekends, when the mind is more relaxed, knowing that the whole day is yours.

Another thing I love about running is being able to actually participate in actual races. I am extremely proud to say that I have participated in six (six!!) real, organized, races. Proud, because I have never ever been the sporty type, and to be able to actually race with younger and fitter guys than me at this age is a huge thing for me. I started with the Tokyo Marathon in 2010 (a dream realised) and 2011. Then we moved to Vietnam and I have since participated in the Song Hong Half Marathon 2011 and 2012 as well as the Hanoi Moi Run 2011 and 2012. No, I did not win any of those races. But I managed to finish in all, and not in last either 😉

My daily route takes me from P2 Tower, our apartment building in Ciputra, to the roundabout near the Post Office/E4/E5 Towers, and back, a distance of about 4 km. To put this into perspective for friends back home, let me just say that the distance from Sielmat ‘field’ to Muolvaiphei ‘field’ is just over 2.2 km and Sielmat to Saidan just over 3.3 km and, in Delhi, Priya Cinema to Sector 3, RK Puram (Pu Vunga’s residence) almost exactly 3 km. 😉

The first 2-3 minutes are to die for, as you feel the wind against your face and your feet start to get into their rhythm, and you feel energized and the day’s troubles and worries fade away as you start to concentrate on the run ahead. The next 4-5 minutes are always the hardest when the physical exertion hits you and you start getting a little out of breath. Then, before you know it, you are into your rhythm and almost before you know it you are past the halfway mark and heading back home.

After ‘meeting Abraham’ (meeting abraham-2) and just before the Song Hong Half Marathon last December, I had more or less decided to ‘retire’ from running. The recurrent thought that passed through my mind at that stage was that I had, through God’s grace, been able to actually fulfill my dream of participating in several actual races and, having now crossed 50 years, I should now concentrate more on walking or cycling, at the most. It was actually in that frame of mind that I took part in the race. I even became a little nostalgic, thinking that this would be my last actual race/competition.

But the next day saw me more than eager to continue my ‘run’ and now, after more than a month since the race, except for about 2 weeks in the New Year when I simply didn’t have the time because of work; I am happily back into my daily (or at least 5 days a week) runs. And thinking of this year’s Hanoi Moi Run and Song Hong Half Marathon. 

Thank God for Cassettes!! (and Music)

I still get my daily dose of music from cassette tapes. Seriously. In this age of iPods and whatnot, I think I’m stuck to my cassette tapes. Now that I think of it, I think it’s in my destiny, karma, fate, whatever. That I continue to lug around my collection of 100+ cassettes from way back wherever I go is just incidental.

I think they don’t even sell them anymore and I am pretty sure many of the kids out there have probably not even heard of them. I know that even my collection of 100+ audio CDs have become redundant in this age of youtube, iTunes, etal and the internet where you can download any song you like. But I’m stuck with my old faithful cassettes. Not totally out of choice, I must admit.

Let me explain. In Tokyo, I drove a Toyota Corona which, for some reason, only had a cassette player (and radio) and I happily continued using my cassettes (https://ruolngulworld.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/rockin-in-tokyo/). Then when we transferred to Hanoi, I bought a Daewoo Magnus Classic and the first thing I noticed when I went to check it out was the lovely CD player. I looked forward to finally being able able to play my CDs in the car and even made a mental list of what CDs I’d take with me when I finally took possession of the car from the lovely Ms Eun of the Korean Embassy.

Finally the day arrived and I, armed with a handful of my favourite CDs, took possession of the car. As I drove away and slotted in my favourite Deep Purple CD and turned up the volume, instead of Ian Gillan’s ‘Highway Star’, the only sound that came out was the gentle hissing sound the CD made as it vomitted out of the player which showed ‘error CD’ on its display panel. I, of course, immediately and impatiently pushed it in again but, despite several tries, the player simply refused accept the CD. That’s when I knew I’d have to unpack my cassette collection again.

And so, here I am, again, probably the only one in Hanoi (and, possibly, the world) still listening to music on cassettes on a daily basis. Not that I really mind, mind you. Because I have a whole bunch of really great music cassettes in my car, all personally selected from my CD collection as well as selections downloaded from the Net and burned on CDs which I have recorded on several ‘collections’.

The mode of delivery may be ancient but the contents are quite up-to-date. I even have the very latest Adele, Katy Perry, Pink, Gotye…. all courtesy of my daughter who shared all her latest music with me before she left us for college. I put them on whenever my thoughts turn to the time she was with us (which is most days) and I am transported to the wonderful times I had with her when we’d put on her music full blast on the car stereo and sing along full blast as I drove.

Though I can’t sing to save my life, music remains and will remain a central part of my life. I simply can’t think of my life without music. My car stereo is never ever turned off. I tell my family and friends that when you sit in my car, you listen to what I am listening. There is no option. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would immediately turn on the stereo as soon as I reached home and only to switch it off before I drifted off to sleep. But now that I’ve ‘met’ Abraham, I suppose I’ve mellowed down and I rarely turn on the stereo at home now. Though I still catch ‘The Voice’ or any music show on TV if they happen to be on when I’m watching. I even watch Chinese songs on Channel V (which, for some reason, is what is shown on our cable in Hanoi). Though I don’t understand a word they are singing, they are not too bad, by the way, reminding me of the latest Mizo hit songs in a way.

All these thoughts came as I was checking through my old files and found something I wrote seven years ago. 26 Oct 2005, to be exact. Back when we had just returned from Africa where we lived without cable TV for almost four years and among the pleasures of being back in India was cheap cable TV and, in particular, VH1 channel, when both MTV and V had all turned desi.

Reading it after all these years made me realise that, musically, I am stuck somewhere in the 90s or the ‘pre-rap’ era. Whatever post-90 or later music I now listen to are basically a continuation of the same old type or genre – new releases from the same singers/groups along with new ones I picked up along the way, but still of the same genre. So, at the risk of this post being too long, I present below something I wrote back in the days…….


They no longer play my songs. Songs that could make you soar and fly ‘high, high, like a bird in the sky….like an eagle that rides on the breeze’. Or songs that bring back many ‘precious memories…..(how they linger)’. Now all they do is ‘rage against the machine’ or rap it up ‘doggy’ style. They no longer have those mellow tunes that could ‘bring the tears to my eyes’ or ‘sunshine on my shoulders’ to make me cry. Its not just ‘the end of the world’ but the end of the world, ‘as we know it’.

My car stereo may be the only place where the ‘strictly rhythm’ Guitar George still plays his stuff with the ‘Sultans of Swing’ though ‘ol Mark is still around doing his thing. The ‘Revival’ has been forgotten, ever since Fogerty left, ‘chooglin’ off ‘around the corner’. Its been a long time since I’ve ‘seen the rain coming down on a sunny day’.  ‘Maybe, someday,….we’ll never know’.

I may not miss ‘Billy Jean’ but what would I not give to ‘beat it’ back to those times when the highlight of the year was the Grammy on DD. Love has nothing to do with it, and I certainly do not miss the long, crammed DTC rides where I would dream of one day owning and driving a scooter which would have been nothing short of getting on the ‘stairway to heaven’.

Life was simple then and all that mattered was somehow finding the right excuse (and a few bucks) to see the new movie playing in Chanakya, and the occasional letter from home, from her. ‘Asiad 72’ was all there was, the ‘bagpiper’ still played his tune even as some of the more ‘spirit-ual’ ones poured out their hearts to the ‘old monk’, while the ‘desi’ from Uttam Nagar would make an occasional appearance towards the end of the month. ‘Kingfisher’ meant a bird in those days while ‘Castle’ meant a big house where princes and princesses lived out their ‘happily ever after’ lives.

Maneka Gandhi had just become a bahu and probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if all the ‘stags’ in India, ‘royal’ or not, were hunted to extinction. The only soda we knew was something that made your ‘changalhme/baih’ foam and give it its fantastic taste. Tonic was something you gave the kids to make them grow faster. ‘Beafeater’ was anyone from the northeast whom you would find making his way to Uttam Nagar every weekend, getting his quota of so-called beef for the coming week. Only the few who were lucky enough to have the right kind of foreign-returned friends had made their acquaintances with Mr. ‘Smirnoff’ and the only ‘label’ we knew were stuck on the back of our collars.

I no longer ‘want my MTV’ which, except for the logo, turned desi many moons ago. Even ‘V’, which hung on for a while, followed MTV, leaving many broken hearts. Then VH1 parked itself in its rightful place in my TV, on Channel 12, and became THE channel we all watched day in and day out. After four years living in the ‘dark continent’, being able to once again watch my old favorites was pure bliss, and finally ‘happy days’ were back.

Except for the occasional, brilliant pieces that can really make you forget your blues and transport you into the ‘zone’, I can no longer appreciate or understand some of the latest, so-called ‘hits’, however much I try. Except for the occasional ‘jewel’, which tells me, ‘…don’t move, this mood is a painting….’, I eagerly and patiently wait for old friends who now appear only in the ‘classics’. They transport me back to those simple, good old days, when ‘heavy metal’ meant workers struggling to push a ‘thela gari’ laden with iron rods from ‘Thangzam Hardware Store’ meant for someone’s pucca building somewhere in town.

It was a time when there was still hope in the air, and people were building for the future. It was a time when metal was still metal, when the only guns you saw were either airguns, which the fortunate few who owned one used to shoot birds with, or policemen with their ancient WWII vintage ‘303’ rifles, or the occasional double or single barrel ‘ulbun’ guns meant for big games, ceremoniously taken out on occasions to be cleaned while the owner would boast of the many animals he had shot, but mostly hung on walls to impress guests. Our village road had just become a pucca road for the first time and even the fact that potholes appeared almost immediately did not take away from the pleasure of walking on a pucca road, because we walked with hope in our steps. Hope that the future held wonderful things for us – that it would bring wonderful things for us and our society, for our children.

Those were the days, my friend…… We thought that the times, they were ‘a-changing’, for the better. Little did we know. Yes, the times, they did change, but the change has been for the worse and our only option now is to cling to our own hopes, if not for a future, at least for a return to old times when life was much more simpler and hope was in the air, the future before us. Our only option now is the hope that ‘someday, somewhere, together’ we will ultimately make it. We can only hope that the time will come when we will carry on from where we left off and finally start rebuilding our shattered lives and society. It would be ‘just like starting over’.  (Delhi, 26 Oct 2005)

Meeting Abraham – 2

And so, finally, today, I joined the elite club of people who have met Abraham.

I am now fifty years old and, according to the Dutch, wise enough to have met Abraham. But, sadly, I just find myself sitting here in front of the computer trying to type in some deep words of wisdom. And my mind is a huge blank. Maybe it’s true only for Dutchmen.

But 50 years, half a century, is such a momentous occasion that I am overcome with the need to write something. I could reminisce about old times but then that’s what I always do in most of my blogs and I tell myself I can’t continue living in the past. I’ve reached a stage in my life when I should, as a legitimate ‘old man’, start giving out pearls of wisdom. But no such pearls come to me.

And then I enter my Facebook page and find good friends from all over wishing me a ‘Happy Birthday’. I thank God for having reached this day and am once again overcome with the realization that I am blessed. I have the best family in the world, a wonderful wife, two wonderful kids, a job I love and enjoy. I have had the privilege of travelling and experiencing life in three continents. I have had the privilege of meeting and sharing thoughts with some great men and wonderful people. I have met and made great friends along the way with whom we remain in touch. My only regret is that my mother is no more here to share this special day. But I am comforted by the knowledge that she’s continues to look out for me from up above.

I may not have gained any wisdom along the way and probably never will. But when God has given me such a wonderful life, I can’t find any reason to complain.

Words may have failed me tonight, but who needs them when I have such a wonderful daughter who’s written a blog entry especially for me. She just came online and said she had a new blog entry which she wrote specially for me. Words fail me and all I can think of is that song from ‘The Sound of Music’ that goes “…. Somewhere in my youth or childhood / I must have done something good….” So, without further ado (or words of wisdom), I end this wonderful day with a link to my daughter’s blog: http://musictomyhormones.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/happy-birthday-pops/

……and then there were two

After more than 50 days in hot Delhi/Noida, returning to the cooler climes of Hanoi should have been something to look forward to anytime. But not this time. Not this time.


We reached IGI Airport well in time for our 1:40pm flight to Bangkok. Though I am one of the laziest persons I know, I hate arriving late for appointments, functions and, especially, flights. As far as my memory goes, I have never ever been late for a flight. There have been more than one occasion when I am at the airport even before the airline counter opens and I am usually one of those who line up to get in first into the aircraft. We arrived well in time and duly passed the security checks, booked our baggage and made for the lounge where we had a leisurely lunch of faux Japanese dishes which included a soup, obviously meant to be miso soup but tasting unlike any miso soup I’ve had before.


As I still had a few hundred rupees left with me, I went to buy some books to read on the flight. With about 2 hours left for the flight, I settled down to read while my wife kept herself busy calling and texting friends on her mobile. She went to the ladies after a while as I continued trying to concentrate on my book and keep my mind from thinking of all that we were leaving behind in Delhi. The next thing I knew was hearing two airport staff checking with the lounge receptionist whether there were any passengers for Bangkok still left. I looked at my watch and suddenly realized we had only 15 minutes left for our flight, and my wife was nowhere in sight. I immediately rose, called my wife on her mobile telling her to hurry, grabbed our bags, and told the airport staff we were on the Bangkok flight. She immediately picked up her walkie-talkie and I heard her telling whoever was on the other line that they had finally found the ‘missing’ passengers and that we were on our way. From the corner of my eyes I saw my wife leisurely making her way towards us when the lady told me it was about 10 minutes’ walk to Gate 24 and we should hurry. With our best apologetic faces in front of the Air India staff at the gate, we passed through another security check before boarding the aircraft with about 5 minutes to spare. We were the last passengers on board and the aircraft doors closed almost immediately after we entered and started taxiing for takeoff even as we settled down for the four and half hour flight to Bangkok.


So began a new chapter in our life.


In more ‘normal’ circumstances, we probably would have panicked with recriminations all around, running to the gate and apologizing profusely to the ground staff. But we were super-cool and, without breaking a sweat, walked up to the gate, ignoring the irritated looks of the Air India staff, and almost leisurely made our way to the aircraft as if we were used to being the last ones to board. It seemed almost like we were deliberately trying or hoping to miss the flight. And perhaps we were. Perhaps we were.


We hardly spoke the whole way, each lost in our own unspoken thoughts. After more than two decades of always travelling with kids in tow, we were finally on the move again as a couple. My mind wandered back to the last time we travelled as a couple from Delhi to Paris, on our way to Morocco. We were young then, and the future was still before us. In between then and now, we have been blessed with two wonderful kids, now grown up into a fine young man and a wonderful daughter. I thought of all the wonderful and blessed times we’ve spent together and realize that they are all just memories now.


There were times during the last two decades when my thoughts strayed to the time when we would finally be alone again. But, even then, when such thoughts intruded, I always tried my best to think of other, more pleasant, thoughts. In fact, I always tried to suppress the thought. Frankly, it was, and is, sometimes too much to think of a life without the kids. Except for the few occasions when you wanted to snuggle in bed for just a few more minutes but had to get up to get them ready for school, I can hardly recall a time when my kids caused any trouble or hardship that would have made me really look forward to a time when I would be ‘free’ of them. But here we are, finally all alone, while they are thousands of miles away in India, doing their best to adjust and make their own future.


Even during the last few weeks we spent together, poring through numerous college brochures, filling up numerous applications and standing in line for what seemed like eternity in the hot Delhi sun, and it was just a matter of a few weeks, days even, when we would part, the thought of us parting was something I refused to entertain though it was like a dark cloud that hovered above us at all times. We never spoke of it, but parting was the one constant that always tempered our happiness and joy even when Esther secured a place in St. Stephen’s, or when we managed to get a suitable place for her to stay. Even when God answered our prayers and provided even beyond what we expected, the thought that our answered prayers were only bringing us closer to this next chapter in our life always managed to somehow dampen the spirits. We are, after all, only too human.


Now we are back to the proverbial Square One but I find that it is no longer the same Square. Yes, we are back to only the two of us, more than two decades later, a little the worst for wear and tear, but all systems still functioning. The first time round, we had a whole future to make and dream about and there was much to be excited about. Looking back, even the air then seemed much fresher (and, perhaps, it was), and there was a whole future to plan for. Now that we’ve seen that future and we find ourselves having to plan for another, different kind of a future, I find myself thinking and dwelling more in the past, clinging to memories.  


It is now all quiet at home. Too quiet. For the moment, and perhaps for quite some time yet, our minds and hearts will be thousands of miles away. But life goes on and we will, soon I hope, have to regroup and restart our life. A few more days and I will ‘meet Abraham’ and another future beckons.


(Hanoi, 5 Aug 2012) 

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