Welcome To My World

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/

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) 

Meeting Abraham

We regularly attend the Hanoi International Fellowship Sunday morning service at Intercontinental. As part of his sermon series on ‘The Great I Am’, Pastor Jacob, who is of Dutch origin, was recently preaching on John 8:48-58 where Jesus makes one of his ‘I Am’ statements (v58) when he told us about an old Dutch custom.

According to Dutch tradition and custom, when a man turns 50 he is said to have ‘seen’ Abraham. In the same manner a woman has ‘seen’ Sarah (the Patriarch’s wife) when she turns 50. A life-size doll or figure of an old man or woman (representing Abraham/Sarah) is also usually placed on the front yard to announce the fact. The custom stems from verse 57 where the Jews sarcastically tell Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!”.

I have never been big on birthdays. I don’t specifically remember my 10th, 20th, or even 30th birthdays. I do remember the days leading up to my 40th and thinking that I should put my thoughts to paper on such a momentous occasion. But I never did get round to it and I don’t even specifically remember how I spent that day. Today, as the days, weeks and months creep ever closer to the day, later this year, when I will be ‘meeting’ Abraham, I am again somewhat obsessed with putting my thoughts to paper as it were.

Even as I write these lines, I can hardly believe that I am now about to complete my half century. It seems just yesterday that, after completing my high school and what was then called ‘Pre-University’ in Churachandpur, my hometown, I left the comfort of my family for the first time to pursue further studies in Imphal. As I’ve written in an earlier blog, I only recently realized that the day I left home for higher studies in Imphal was the day I really left ‘home’. I never really came back ‘home’ after that. I realize now that, once I left for college, the ties that bound me to my parents and immediate family had started to stretch and, though they will never break, nevertheless, the process of my becoming an individual separate from my identity as the son of my mother and father which was not so pronounced as a school-going kid had begun in earnest as I tried, in my own clumsy way, to forge a future for myself.

When we were children, all married people were ‘old’. Married people with kids were even older and those with kids in colleges were definitely so old as to be over the hill and practically of not much consequence as far we were concerned. Now I have become one of them with both my kids in college. But, as I told a friend recently, I still listen to the music I grew up with; Deep Purple, CCR, Jim Reeves, etc. – some on cassettes which are older than my son – and in my mind I’m still in my late twenties, or maybe thirties, at the most. I know for a fact that I am now seen as an ‘old man’ with a thinning hairline (to put it mildly) and, perhaps, as someone over the hill or about to go over the hill. But, despite the many stumbles and falls along the way, what a climb it has been!

As I sit here reminiscing, my peaceful childhood and schooldays flash before my eyes in a blur. Those long, lazy summer days spent fishing in the small stream that ran near our village or ‘hunting’ birds in the surrounding hills have now gone forever, never to return. Those were the days when No. 4 was just a number and not the terrifying drug that would forever ruin the lives of so many of our youth and their families. Looking back, I now realize that my childhood and schooldays was a period just before our ‘patriots’ with guns took over our lives and society. It was a blessed time to be a child. It was the lull before the storm that was to soon blow over our beloved land and society.

I remember the first time I landed in Delhi in the summer of 1985 from the cool climes of my beloved hills and how it felt like stepping into a furnace as I stepped out of the plane. I remember the morning rush hours in Delhi, clinging to DTC buses trying to make it to office in time which, when I first joined, was in Chanakyapuri. I remember Chanakya Cinema Hall, next to our office, which, in those days, only showed English movies. For more than a year, I probably watched each and every movie that they screened. For a few hours at least, constant thoughts of my girl and family back home would recede to the background while I lost myself in some Hollywood fantasy.

I remember our first posting in Morocco and that lonely June night more than twenty years ago outside the delivery room of Clinique Tour Hassan in Rabat as I paced alone in the corridor awaiting the arrival of my son. I remember the small boy, all smiles and waving, walking towards his first classroom. I remember him shyly clinging to me as we went through the admission process in his first international school, the American School of Milan. I remember sitting in my car late at night waiting to pick him up from a friend’s house in Maputo, Mozambique as he emerged laughing with his classmates from the Maputo International School, all drenched and wet from a dunk in their swimming pool at their farewell party. I remember how proud I was on his Graduation Day at St. Mary’s in Tokyo, where he played the guitar and sang on stage with his good friend Nigel at the drums.

I remember the day he left us for university, knowing that the time had finally come for him to leave us and reach for his own dreams. As Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors once wrote, “When they leave for college, they never really come back”. I remember the long emails and longer telephone talks from faraway Japan during the first few months as he struggled to fit into his new life. I remember him walking towards us as he got off the plane in Narita on our last summer in Tokyo. Home for the summer holidays, dressed in an all-black outfit, dark glasses with his long hair in a ponytail, I could hardly believe that this fine looking young man was my son as I hugged him. I still remember the book he carried that day. ‘The Stone Boy and Other Stories’, a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. In the car, on our way home, he told me it was an interesting book which he’d carried to read on the flight. The first thing that struck me about the book was the author’s nationality. Those were the days when we were awaiting news of where we’d be headed after our stint in Tokyo and, at that moment, with a book about Vietnam written by a Vietnamese in my hands, the first thing that came to my mind was that surely this was a sign that our next port of call could be Hanoi. I mean, out of all the books that are out there, what were the odds that my son, whose favorite authors include Poe, would be reading a book written by a Vietnamese of all people! And, sure enough, a few weeks later, we learned that we would indeed be headed for Hanoi. But that’s another story.

Then I recall the October evening my beautiful daughter was born in Delhi. I remember how, this time surrounded by good friends and relatives, we jumped with joy outside the delivery room in Veeranwali International Hospital leaving the ward boys wondering why we were so happy at the birth of a girl. Little did they know. I recall how blessed I felt, looking at her beautiful sleeping face that October evening when they finally brought her out. I remember how determined and independent-minded she has always been. Never once did we have to remind her about homework and how she simply refused to be tutored, preferring to study and find out everything herself and still always manage to be among the top in all her classes. I have probably learned more from her than she from me.

I remember how she’d never really care how she was dressed till suddenly one day, somewhere along the line, she’d go only for that particular dress or style or that particular pair of shoes, or rather, boots. And suddenly, just like that, I had become the father of this beautiful and extremely talented young woman. Somewhere along the line, without any tutor, she learned to play the guitar and piano all by herself and, as her talents manifested themselves one by one, we learned that she had also become a singer, and a damn good one at that with quite a number of followers on her youtube channel and one of her songs even garnering more than 12,000 ‘hits’. How proud I was attending some of the events in Tokyo where she got invited to sing on stage. I was probably the proudest parent on her Graduation Day at Seisen International School whose alumni include the Empress of Japan.

With her brother gone, we’d dreamt of her being with us till at least she finished her college education but at this moment, my poor baby’s been left adrift with her college in Hanoi suddenly closing down. And I find myself staring at the prospect of her leaving us within the next few months as she also goes off to pursue further studies away from us in our present posting. I console myself that God has other plans for her and for us and that she will finally be able to be independent and free to pursue her own destiny. As I count the days she has left with us and the day of my ‘meeting’ with Abraham draws ever closer, the day also draws nearer when it will be just the two of us again. And, just like that, my mind drifts back to that hot day in June almost twenty three years ago when we made our vows. And here I am, one cycle of life about to be completed, and I find myself standing on the cusp of a new cycle as I count down to the day I will finally meet Abraham.

Intimations of Mortality

Isn’t is strange how, despite knowing that we all have an expiry date and, however much we try or delude ourselves into thinking that we will live to a reasonable age and slowly fade away without much complications or suffering when the time comes, we are caught so off-guard when finally confronted with undeniable proof that we are, after all, only human.


I rarely reach home from office before 7 in the evening. But last Thursday I was home by around 5:30 and, just as I opened the door, our landline phone started ringing.  Which was quite a surprise because we are now so ‘mobile’ that I sometimes forget we even have a landline. I quickly threw my office bag on the sofa and grabbed the phone.

 

Within the few seconds it took me to grab the phone, my mind ran through a list of who all knew my landline number. The usual suspects immediately came to mind; office work following me home with someone calling from office, or Puia (having ‘accidentally’ deleted my mobile number again) or, most likely, one of my wife’s friends calling to see if she’s back. But the voice on the line was someone I least expected to call, especially at that time of day. I had spent the whole of Diwali morning going through a full medical for the first time in my life and, though I should have been expecting it, it was quite a surprise to hear my doctor on the line. As soon as I heard his voice on the line, I recalled him mentioning, as I was leaving, that in case of a bad result he’d give me a call before the complete results came out. I immediately realized that this was not a social call.

 

My life has been a blessed, privileged and healthy one so far with only the occasional seasonal fever about once a year or so, thanks to God’s blessings, far beyond what I deserve. When I turned 40 ages ago (or so it seems), I seriously considered going in for a full medical. But, after dilly-dallying for quite some time, I finally gave in once again to my natural reluctance to see a doctor unless absolutely unavoidable, and so passed my 40th year and the other years just rolled on till I suddenly realized a few weeks ago that I am now on the wrong side of 40 with my half century just a couple of years away. So, finally, having fasted for 12 hours from the previous night, Diwali morning saw me report at the clinic for my long-delayed and first full medical. I came home after the tests after having been told that the results would be out after about two weeks.

 

He came straight to the point and told me that my blood sugar levels indicated that I am, at the very least, ‘pre-diabetic’. Despite my initial surprise at his call, I hadn’t really expected to pass my medical with flying colors. Which was, to be frank, one of the reasons I’d kept on deferring my long-overdue tests. I must admit that I had subconsciously been expecting the call from my doctor. He then asked me to come in the next day for another blood test to confirm the first one and to enable him make a definite diagnosis and start me on a course of treatment. So here I am, waiting for the final diagnosis after having given the clinic another full syringe of my blood last Saturday.

 

Despite all the evidence of the diabetic gene running through my family, I must admit that I have been in denial for so long and it was somewhat of a shock to learn that I would henceforth be known as another diabetic, saddled for the rest of my life with so many restrictions in food and drinks – so many of the small things that make life worth living. Images of my uncle pricking his fingers to test his blood sugar level and carrying a ‘pouch’ wherever he went and giving himself insulin injections came rushing in.

 

I almost immediately googled ‘diabetes’ and started reading up on a subject which I practically knew next to nothing about. I read up on the symptoms and, though I had never really noticed it before, it suddenly seemed to me that I was going to the bathroom more than normal and my throat seemed parched all the time. But then I saw the other symptoms like ‘losing weight without trying’ or ‘weakness or fatigue’ in which I seemed OK. In fact, I’ve been trying to lose weight without much success. So I comforted myself that, perhaps, the first test was somehow wrong and the second test will prove that it was just a mistake, a nightmare, the lab switching my blood sample with someone else’s.

 

My second blood test results are due today and the doctor has promised to call as soon as he gets the results and so I wait, with trepidation and some hope though I have already started reconciling myself to a new chapter in my life.

 

The Thunderbolt Kid

I was introduced to Bill Bryson by my daughter when she brought home “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” from her school library. It was/is probably the most hilarious memoir I have read. I have since bought and gone on to read quite a few of his other books, each one as good, or even better, than the last. From ‘A Walk in the Woods’, ‘Neither Here Nor There’, ‘Down Under’, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ and ‘Notes From A Big Country’ to ‘Notes From A Small Island’, which I am currently reading, Bryson’s particular brand of irreverent-but-at-the-same-time-serious writing/humour has had me in splits for many an hour.

Since I’ve not updated my blog for quite a few months, I thought I might as well share a few lines from the latest Bryson I am reading. These are lines from ‘Notes From A Small Island’ which, in 2003, in conjunction with World Book Day, was chosen by voters in UK as the book that best sums up British identity and the state of the nation. The lines I am sharing have nothing to do with the main subject of the book, which is an account of his trip around Britain and his hilarious observations of the British people, their habits and their idiosyncrasies. It made me wish there was someone like him amongst us Mizos who could write about our own sometimes self-centred, self-righteous, sanctimonious society in his typical irreverent manner.

As I said, these lines have nothing to do with the subject of the book and, in fact, came in abruptly in the midst of his description of life in rural Britain. A sort of philosophical rambling, seemingly unrelated to the subject, but somehow blending into the narration. But I digress. So here goes:

The way I see it, there are three reasons never to be unhappy.

First, you were born. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. Did you know that each time your father ejaculated (and frankly he did it a lot) he produced roughly twenty-five million spermatozoa –enough to repopulate Britain every two days or so? For you to have been born, not only did you have to be among the few batches of sperm that had even a theoretical chance of prospering – in itself quite a long shot – but you then had to win a race against 24,999,999 or so other wriggling contenders, all rushing to swim the English Channel of your mother’s vagina in order to be the first ashore at the fertile egg of Boulogne, as it were. Being born was easily the most remarkable achievement of your whole life. And think: you could just as easily have been a flatworm.

Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless eons you were not. Soon you will cease to be once more. That you are able to sit right now in this never-to-be-repeated moment, reading this book, eating bon-bons, dreaming about hot sex with that scrumptious person from accounts, speculatively sniffing your armpits, doing whatever you are doing – just existing – is really wondrous beyond belief.

Third, you have plenty to eat, you live in a time of peace and ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree’ will never be number one again.

How can you not love this guy 🙂

A Dream Realised

I can now cross off one of the few items I have on my wish-list or ‘things-I-must-do-before-I-die’ – that is, take part in a real marathon. Yes, I took part in the Tokyo Marathon 2010 last Sunday. Not the full marathon – that is too much at my age. I’ve not yet put it on my wish-list. But, who knows 😉

It was only the 10km part of the Tokyo Marathon, which I completed in just over an hour. Maybe nothing much to boast of for the pros and the sportsman-types, but for me it was a culmination of a dream – something I’ve strived for and worked hard at during the past seven years or so.

All those early morning (and some late evening) jogs finally paying off and culminating in that precise moment when I crossed the finishing line was something I will not forget. Though there were no TV cameras, or for that matter any type of camera, recording the precise, ecstatic, moment I crossed the line, I can recall and savor the exact moment even now. And I know it will remain one of the highlights of my blessed God-given life.

I knew from the moment I awoke at 6 in the morning that all the predictions of bad weather and rain had come true. I lay awake for some time just taking in the fact that the Big Day had finally come and listened to the rain lashing against our bedroom window. I felt like a small kid on Christmas morning thinking of the presents Santa would have left around the Christmas tree the night before as I finally got up to dress for my first ‘marathon’ and have a leisurely breakfast before leaving for Shinjuku where the race would start at 9:10. I peeked through the window and saw the steady drizzle and overcast sky in the early morning light and thought of the first time I started seriously jogging all those years ago.

I think it was the winter of 2002 when I first seriously thought of taking up jogging. We were then in Maputo, Mozambique where the seasons are opposite what we are normally used to because it is in the southern hemisphere and winter there falls during our summer season in the northern hemisphere. So it was sometime in March-April 2002 that I decided to try jogging. A beautiful park overlooking the Indian Ocean just below our apartment which was usually full of early morning joggers was a big factor in my decision. Plus the sight of all those fit and beautiful joggers who seemed to go on and on without ever getting tired.

Anyone who has ever known me will testify to the fact that I have never ever been the sportsman-type. As a child growing up in Sielmat, where everyone played football, I was always the last person anyone would pick for their side. Though I love football and tried my best, I could never master the dribble or any of the moves that could have made a ‘captain’ pick me for his side. On the few occasions some friend took pity and picked me, I was so pathetic at the game that I would soon be substituted. So I remained a spectator at most of the games. This has continued throughout my life – the only place you will be sure to find me during any sport or games is in front of the idiot box or in the spectator stands. The only sport I have a little skill at and which I played regularly was badminton and, to a small extent, volleyball. But, looking back, I sometimes have the feeling that the only reason I got to regularly play badminton with my friends back then was simply the fact that the rackets belonged to us.

And so, except for the occasional game of badminton and volleyball during my school and college days, I never really played any real sports. Even the occasional games came to a complete halt once I left home for my job, got married and our kids came along. Having been born with an excellent appetite and marrying the girl of my dreams who is also an excellent cook did wonders for my weight which started to slowly balloon till at one stage I tipped the scales at almost a hundred kilos just after my son was born in Morocco. But after getting back into the daily office commute and grind in Delhi, I settled back into my ‘slightly’-overweight-for-my-height/age status which I have more or less since maintained.

When I first attempted jogging, I used to get so out of breath even within the first 100m or so that I simply had to stop to catch my breath. With my irregular schedule, it took me more than a year to comfortably jog for up to a kilometer. Though I must have made a pathetic and embarrassing sight, I kept at it till the day finally came when I found myself jogging without running out of breath even as I passed the old, gnarled tree which marked the spot where I usually stopped to catch my breath. I still clearly remember the incredible feeling of well-being and excitement as I realized that even though I had already crossed my usual landmark and was still running, I was breathing normally and my legs were moving in a steady rhythm pounding the dirt tract. At some stage I even felt like I was out of my own body and watching this handsome, strong jogger out on his regular morning jog, casually passing lesser mortals with a slight sneer on his lips 🙂 It really felt like an epiphany of some sort, a kind of spiritual feeling which I had never experienced before. And I have been hooked ever since.

Though I knew it would take me less than 30 minutes to reach Shinjuku, I left home at 7:30 to ensure that I reached well in time. It was around 5 degrees, chilly, with an overcast sky and drizzling as I stepped outside and practically hit the ground running as I jogged down to our Metro station to catch the Toei Oeda line for Shinjuku. The metro was full of other runners, all decked out in their best running suits, excitedly chatting. As we filed out of Tocho-mae station, we came upon thousands of other excited runners checking for directions to their own allotted blocks. I joined the throng and, after making sure I was on the right track, decided to take off the extra sweatshirt which I had worn for warmth and keep it in my allotted ‘baggage bag’ which I had to deposit with Luggage Truck No. 4 that would take it to the finish line to be collected after the race.

As I came out of the station, I saw that it was still drizzling. I adjusted my cap and put up the hood of my wind-cheater below which I wore the official Tokyo Marathon tee-shirt. I looked at my watch which showed exactly 8:05am. I followed the sign for the Luggage Trucks to first deposit my ‘baggage’ and then find some shade from the rain near my starting block. Having deposited my ‘baggage’, I started looking for ‘K’ block which was my allotted starting block and finally found it, the last of the starting blocks, at least 200-300m from the start-line.

I only found out later, long after I submitted my application for the Marathon in July last year, that the starting blocks were allotted from ‘A’ for the elite runners and so on to ‘K’ for amateurs, first-timers and those who were not exactly expected to break records, according to the ‘estimated time expected to finish the race’ which every applicant had to fill in. Seeing that the maximum time given to complete the 10K race was 100 minutes, I filled in 90 minutes as it was my first race and I had never even run 10K at a stretch in my life. I was, accordingly, allotted the last starting block, ‘K’.

Though it continued to drizzle and I could feel the rain water starting to seep into my sneakers and I was starting to shiver in my tee-shirt and wind-cheater, the excitement was palpable as I made my way towards K block which was a small grass-less park now turning muddy with puddles all round. I looked at my watch which told me I still had about 45 minutes till starting time. I looked around for some shade, a tree maybe, or some structure, and found none. So I made my way towards the front of the excited pack and stood in the rain and mud like the rest. It was probably the coldest 45 minutes I have spent in Japan with the steady drizzle and more rain water seeping into my shoes every passing minute. But the excitement of being in my first marathon (ok, 10K race) and being in the midst of 35,000 excited participants more than compensated for the cold and soon enough the announcement came that the race had started and a couple of crackers exploded overhead. It seemed like ages as we slowly shuffled along with the crowd towards the starting line. Being in the last block, I made it to the start-line at exactly 9:31 and I was finally off.

With the ever-present knowledge that I was attempting to run a distance I had never done before, I started tentatively but running amidst thousands of excited runners and crowds lined up on both sides despite the steady drizzle seemed to pump in extra adrenalin into my body and I found myself picking up pace as we crossed the first kilometer. Concentrating on my run, I was surprised when I saw looming just ahead the 5km mark, which was the maximum distance I had ever run. Before the race, one of the recurring thoughts that came back again and again was of me trying to keep my pace while runners continuously passed me by. But I surprisingly found that I was able to keep my steady pace and, in fact, was passing more runners than the other way round. As I passed the 5km mark, my watch showed 10:02 and the big electronic clock showed exactly 00:52:49 which meant just over 52 minutes had passed from the official start of the race at 9:10am. A quick mental calculation told me I had done 5km in 31 minutes! At last (like a true sportsman), I now have a ‘personal best’ time of sort, I thought.

And so, just as I had passed that old, gnarled tree which served as my landmark when I first started jogging all those years ago in Maputo, I passed the 5km mark without stopping and continued on. Except for a slight pause to get some drinks at the drinks table which came up just after the 5km mark, I pushed on almost as fresh as when I started. The tiredness in my legs started to creep in as we passed Iidabashi and approached the 8km mark on a slight climb, approaching the Imperial Palace. By the time I was running past the Imperial Palace with the Finish Line in Hibya Park just round another bend in the road, I started to feel the full effect of what I was doing as I felt my leg muscles starting to protest. I realized I had reached the stage where I simply had to put one foot after another and tell my poor, faithful, tiring legs that it was just a matter of a few more minutes to the finish line.

For the last few hundred metres I hardly noticed the waving crowd as I concentrated on reaching the finish line – and making a last sprint as I crossed the finish line. Which I did, and was rewarded by some clapping from the crowd. My watch showed 10:37 and the big electronic clock showed the time from the race start as exactly 01:28:11 when I crossed the finish line. Which meant I had finished the race in 67 minutes, or more precisely, 67 minutes 11 seconds or 1 hour 7 minutes 11 seconds, counting from the moment I crossed the start line at 9:31.

Another recurring thought I had before the race was of me collapsing during the race or even as I crossed the finish line. But, happily, nothing of the sort happened and, except for my tired legs, I felt as fresh as ever as I walked towards the race officials waiting to guide me to the ‘reception’ area. As I walked to one of the race volunteers to have my computer chip (which had my details and recorded my exact race time) taken off, my happiness was quite obvious in my smile. As she gave me my chip and pointed me towards where I could exchange it for my medal, she gave me the sweetest smile and congratulated me. I gave her my best Japanese-style bow and simply said, ‘Arigato’ but she was already congratulating the next finisher, little realizing that had she looked my way she would have seen the happiest person in Tokyo at that moment.

Though there was no formal medal ceremony or opportunity for me to climb the medal podium, I did have a real proper medal hung around my neck by a bonafide race official when I went to the next table to cash in my chip. As I went to retrieve my ‘baggage’, my medal proudly hung around my neck, I passed by happy, fellow runners and more smiling race officials who handed me a towel emblazoned ‘Finisher Tokyo Marathon 2010’ along with a bag containing a chocolate bar, some fruits and a bottle of water.

It was still drizzling with specks of snow starting to mingle with the raindrops as I walked towards the exit of Hibya Park to go home. I started to tuck in my medal into my wind-cheater but then thought, ‘Why not?’ and with it dangling on my neck and the brightly colored ‘Finisher’ towel draped over my shoulder, I walked towards Sakuradamon station for home. I proudly wore the medal all the way home on the metro. After all, I had done it. I had realized a dream.

Year-end Reflections

The last time I blogged was on 4 May. Yes, its been a long time. Almost eight months. Of course there was that nagging, guilty feeling that, having once started the blog, I should be updating it. But, for one reason or the other, I just couldn’t.

December came and, as the days shortened and the cool winds turned chilly and we started rummaging for our Christmas decorations, I thought that, even if my mind has been blank for the past seven months, surely the spirit of Christmas should give birth to a blog or two. Despite the usual sentimental thoughts of Christmases past, of family and friends, nothing. Nada.

Then my wife left on 18 Dec to spend Christmas with Andrew and friends in Delhi, leaving Esther and me to spend Christmas on our own. On the drive back from Narita, I thought, this being the first time our family would be spending Christmas apart, it would get so terribly lonesome and sentimental fool that I am sometimes, surely a blog or two would burst out naturally. But Christmas came and went and, still, nothing. It seems you can’t even miss your loved ones like you used to anymore, at least not enough to produce a blog or two, because of modern technology which means everyone is now just a phone call away. Suffice it to say, my phone bill should be quite hefty this time. But still no blog.

Then, with the year coming to an end and a long weekend ahead, I thought I simply have to put in at least one blog before the year ends. Besides updating my blog, I think I owe it to 2009 which has turned out to be such an eventful and landmark year for me and mine.

2009 was when my son left us, for university, to carve out his own future, to try and be all he can be. As we planned and agonized over his future plans I came across a quotation in one of Bill Bryson’s books; ‘Once they leave for college, they never really come back’. It made me look back on my own life and made me realize that the moment I left home and my parents was when I joined college in Imphal. Imphal being just two hours away by bus from home, I would come home every weekend and it was like I never left home. Till my son left us in July, I used to think that the year I left to join my job was the moment I finally left my home and family. But I now realize that I had left my home and parents much before that. Because, except for the weekends and a few months during the holidays, I never really went back once I joined college.

I also realized that I had never really once thought of what my parents would have felt. I was young and the future was before me. I left home for far away Delhi, got married and then went even further away, beyond the seas, to other continents, and got caught up in the struggle of starting and maintaining my own family. My son’s leaving us this year made me realize that a cycle had been completed, in a way.

Life goes on and my son has now left, to go his own way. But it is so difficult and almost impossible to let go, to accept that our boy has become an adult, old enough to live separately, old enough to fend for himself. Old enough to make his own mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them. Because all we can do now is watch from a distance and pray and hope that in the short time he was with us, we managed to imbibe in him some qualities that will help him carve out a future for himself.

And so, another year draws to a close and the circle of life goes on. Relentlessly. A new year will soon dawn and, even as half our thoughts are with our son, we are already looking ahead with trepidation to parting with our other baby as she gets ready to complete her last year in school next year.

Such is life.

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