Monday, 11 October 2010

BNP: Bach Nahin Paya

Independence Day 2012 could have been my tryst with destiny. But for the unsympathetic volunteers at the BNP run, it just could have been my day. To many of you, brilliant runners, it may seem that I am seeking just a cheap thrill. But for me it would have been the aha moment. But alas, that was not to be. Cruel, heartless volunteers.

The moment is etched in my memory for all time to come, not to mention my garmin. It said 1:29. The finish was just 100 metres away. A gust of wind from behind (where else would it come from, you silly) and I saw Don surged past me. For a moment, for just a moment, I was ahead by a belly. But the sight of a photographer clicking us both, caused to me to tuck my belly in and at that very moment the advantage was lost. At that moment, I let him go, though I could have easily finished ahead of him. Because, I can run 100 m at Don’s pace. Really. I really can. On my fresh legs, I can run 100 m at the same pace as Don can when he has already covered 50 k. But I let him go.

As I did so, a thought crossed my mind. I looked up at the finish line. There were some 20 volunteers lined up, I did not know most of them. That should help, I thought to myself. But what if they knew me, I wondered? Did they know that I am the slowest runner on planet earth? Perhaps, then again perhaps not. Could I fool them into thinking that I too was finishing? I remembered that Giles had announced that every finisher need to have three rubber bands on his or her hand. I quickly managed to convert the rubber band I had into a three layered one. Who’s gonna count, they will just wanna see whether i had more than one rubber band, right, I told myself. I was still 50 m away. At my pace, even as time moves at its own pre ordained pace, distance moves very slowly, you see.

But the thought of being labelled a cheat was worrying me. As I was reflecting on the consequences of cheating, a second runner ran past me, and very soon, the third. I turned back to find that no other runner was in sight. All that I had to do was to cross the finish line and claim the position. If they had asked to see my hand, they would have seen what looked like 3 bands, though of the same colour.

As most of you know by now, I take a long time to cover 100 m, to cover any distance really, especially a long distance. By now I was 30 metres away from the finish line. My mind was made up. If even one volunteer had shouted so much as a word of acknowledgement, if even one volunteer had applauded me as i approached the finish, I would have claimed the fourth spot. But none of them did, and my heart broke.
Cruel, heartless, these volunteers are. Very cruel, Very heartless.
Bad, Non encouraging People @ BNP.
Bach Nahin Paya

Meet Siddharth Sikdar, the City Farmer

When I called Siddharth last night, it was dinner time. So, what are you having, I asked. Palak soup, a green salad, rice, alu gobi subzi, small onion sambar, coriander chutney, pudina paratha with carrot juice to flush it all down. “Did everything come from your garden,” I asked him. ” Everything except the rice which I don’t grow anymore. You name it, I grow it,” says Siddharth.

Before you start thinking that perhaps Siddharth has a big farm somewhere in which he grows his vegetables, think again. Everything he eats, he grows on a 200 sq ft area on his terrace of his flat in Pune where he lives. “I am what they call a city farmer,” he says.

In a city where people live in homes the size of a matchbox, is this really feasible, I ask him. Absolutely yes. What you can grow and how much you can grow depends on how much space you have and how much sunshine you give your crops, he explains. “You can start by growing dhaniya leaves in a  coffee cup, if you want to grow palak you need a larger bowl. If you have a balcony wall, you can grow all kinds of gourds. And if you have a plastic box, it is great to grow potatoes or arbi or sweet potato,” he expounds.

“If you have a balcony, use it. If you have a terrace, you can do a lot more. You can even grow crops indoors, so long as you can give the vegetables 4 hours of sun on your terrace,”he explains.

It is not just vegetables that Siddharth grows at home, he grows fruits too. He has a papaya tree which gives him absolutely yummy papayas. He has grown chickoo. “ I have even grown wine grapes,” he says with satisfaction.

How did he get started, I ask him. “I got stressed with corporate life, so I started looking at how to improve the quality of my life,” he says assuring me that the least stressful part of his corporate life was the time he spent with IRIS. (Actually he did not say that, I made it up) But it true that Siddharth used to work for my firm IRIS in 1999-2000 and the only reason I don’t think that his life at IRIS could have been stressful is because he has agreed to return. “I was looking to find a way to discover good health and I realized that we had a big problem with food. The secret to a happy life is good food,“ he says sounding almost philosophical.

So, he started looking at the food supply chain, he started trying to figure out where his food was coming from. What he saw simply shocked him. “The food that we take for granted is simply not ok, there are serious issues with how it is grown and how it is made ready for human consumption. Even a common fruit like a banana is ripened in a dark room with chemicals. It is so harmful, you don’t realize, until you have seen it, as I have,” he says.

That’s when he discovered the work of R T Doshi one of the leaders of India’s green revolution. “What I saw, what I read, changed my life,” says Siddhartha. (http://devkumarsblogs.blogspot.in/2006/12/visiting-dr-r-t-doshis-terrace-farm-in.html). “I learnt that good farming is not about growing good crops as much as about growing good soil.” Then there was Shripad Dabholkar, a maverick inventor who was a mathematician who was heavily into city farming. Doshi learned from Dabholkar and today the legacy continues through a group called Urban Leaves. Every city has an active community of city farmers, Siddharth tells me. It transpires that a National alliance of City farmers had a convention in Mumbai last year.

Why does he do this, I ask Siddharth. Good health is the obvious and immediate answer. “my kids don’t waste any food anymore, because they are helping grow this, that makes a huge difference,” he adds.

How do I get started, I ask him. “Start small and when you see the first success, you will be driven to more,” he assures me.

Will it take up too much time? After al, I am not a full time farmer, nor do I want to be one.

Siddharth points to his own CV, he is no full time farmer either. He is actually one of India’s leading social media experts. According to him, the initial set up will take some time, may be upto 1-2 hours a day for the first 3 weeks or so. “After which you will spend a maximum of 2 hours over a weekend. Also during week days you could spend about 10 minutes watering them,” he tells me.

Looks doable, wouldn’t you say?

References amp; links

  1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sikdar/sets/72157627645106942/  these are pictures from siddharth’s garden

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqWgGjSjbbo  Interview with Dr Doshi

  3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8213617.stm  BBC Story on how city farming transformed Cuba

Priya’s Kala of giving, subah ho ya Shyam

I remember that day vividly, a tsunami had just struck the southern coast of India. Phone lines to Chennai were jammed by callers touching base with their near and dear ones. Millions were those that must have been watching the pictures of destruction being replayed on tv. “I have to go there and help those people,” said Priya as she got off her couch to figure out where to go and plan how to get there.

She did not want to go because she was from any of the places affected, or because someone close to her had been affected. All that she knew is that she could not sit around doing nothing. She had to go. Simply. And that was that.

Welcome to Priya’s Kala of giving. Unconditional. Sans expectation. Unreservedly so. Ant time of the day or night. Whenever calamity strikes. Subah ho ya Shyam. Wherever it strikes. Whoever it strikes.  Gender no bar. Religion no bar,  unlike the Christian misisonaries who showed up with relief material meant for people who agreed to convert. Not so with Priya. Age no bar. Caste no bar. Only giving, bar bar.

What got her going was that there was some money lying in the bank account of the Jana Rakshita Trust which her family had set up to help cancer patients who could not afford treatement. In a moment of inspiration, the family had told the guests who attended Priya’s sister’s marriage, that the only gifts that would be welcome would be donations to the Trust.  Priya eckoned that the amount so raised was enough to make a difference to atleast a few people in the tsunami affected areas. ”Every paisa matters if spent properly,” she says.

In a world where most of us are takers, in a world whe most of us are selfish where most of us are grabbers, a world where we dont know how to give, Priya and her family are a rare exception. So it was that once Priya announced her intention, her mother decided to go along with her. “When I was a kid, my mom would take me when she went out to help cancer patients. She would simply ask me to come, so that is where I imbibed the culture of giving, I guess,” Priya says. Her dad, who held a job in the middle east, soon followed suit. Not for them the excuses that most of us are wont to dish out to explain a refusal to act.  “My dad has always been giving quietly, I did not know about this until a friend told me about it,” she says about her father, Shyam Sundar.

Priya maintains a notebook of all the excuses she has heard. I do not give alms to the beggar as he is a bloody drug addict. Surely you have seen Slumdog Millionaire and seen how they blind these children, it is a racket I dont wish to be part of. Oh if I give to one, I will be besieged by a horde of beggars, surely I cannot be giving all of them. I wanted to give money for the tsunami affected, but you know all these charities are bogus. when it comes to not giving excuses flow fast and furious.

“Each one of us can make a difference to the people around, it is a wasted life if we don’t,” she tells me. “It should be easy for people to give small amounts, but they don’t,” she adds.  In recession time, people dont give because it is recession. In good times, people dont give because they are saving up to a buy a dream home. “One person told me that they are going through a tough time financially and I discover later that that is because they were saving up for a vacation they could not afford, and for which they had borrowed to bridge the deficit” she says.

What sort of people give, I ask her. Usually, it is people who have been through similar suffering. Someone’s son had cancer, so he donates to the trust. Yet another person lost his wife to cancer and has seen the suffering, so they give. But even then most people give once, thinking that that is enough. “Why should people be driven by selfish reasons when giving? Giving should be about being selfless,” she says.

Why you should know about Dyaneswar Tidke

the lord on his mountThis is the story of Dnyaneshwar Tidke, a friend I made in the course of running. It is very appropriate to talk about him today with the Olympics just over, especially the marathon.

We call him Don. He is 37 years old. He holds a day time job in a local factory here in Navi Mumbai, a job that keeps him on his feet through the day. Don is a Chemical Engineer by training. He is married and has two kids.
Don is not a full time athlete. He is a full time employee of a chemical company, he is also a full time father and a full time son. he cooks for his ailing parents who he takes care of. he is extremely fond of his kids. And he is passionate about running, he is actually a driven man when it comes to running.

Don does not come from a very affluent background. he has to be careful how each rupee is spent. The luxury of not wearing a pair of shoes more than once a week is something he can ill afford, the luxury of a cold whey protein shake after a run, even less so. he does not have a sponsor to support him, he has to take care of everything himself.

Now that you have the background, allow me to connect a few dots for you so that you get the perspective.  The Indian runner, Ram Singh Yadav,  ran the marathon at London 2012 in 2:30, whereas the last finisher 21 year old Tshepo Ramonene of Lesotho, who was 85th in the field of 100, covered the distance in 2:55. media reports tell me that the maximum temperature was 22 degrees celsius on the day of the marathon, the minimum was 18. The marathon was run on the roads of London with the route being kept free of any traffic during the race.

Now, consider this. My friend Dhyaneswar Tidke, ran the Pune Marathon last year in 2:53, that is 2 minutes better than the last finisher at London Olympics. Wow I say. That day in Pune was much much hotter, the start was late, the roads were open to traffic when it mattered the most. He had to run through traffic and pollution was horrible. I know because I was in Pune that day, trying to get back to Mumbai.

When you contrast Don’s performance with the marathoners who took part in london, does it leave you speechless like it left me? Don’ coach, Savio, who I salute, tells me that Don is good for a 2: 40 finish in Mumbai conditions, so you can imagine what he could have done in London. That’s not all. Don is north of 37 years. I dont know how many of the marathoners in London were as old as Don or have to find time to run after their daily chores and with no sponsors to support them.

So, when we look at the 6 medals that India got this year, and crib about how a country of a billion people can do so poorly, as yourself what you are doing for your own fitness. Ask yourself, as my friend Ram V says, whether you spent any time at all watching any part of the Olympics. If each one of us invests in some form of activity to promote our own physical fitness, we will see a gradual raising of the standards in the country in every sphere. If Don can do this at 37, imagine what he could have done with better training when he was 27.

I went to a school where very little attention was paid to sports. Today, we live in flats in apartment blocks where there is no open space, the builders have eaten it all up. Many of us grew up playing outside on the roads, in parks and gardens. Do your kids do so? Or are they spending too much time watching tv? If we do not value physical activity, if we do not value fitness, the country can do no better. Start by setting an example. Like Amitabh Sankranti whose son, Sasha accompanies his dad to run 1 km yesterday but ended up running 3 km and feeling mighty pleased about it. Sasha told me that nobody in his school could have run even 100 m, what does that say about the fitness level of the next generation?

My colleague Balu’s daughter who has trained herself to become a swimmer with great promise for her age, has eased up on swimming because of the pressure on her in school. In the new school that she has moved to, there is no sports culture, my colleague tells me. My sisters daughter in Delhi is in a similar situation. Her coach sees a lot of hope but the huge pressure of school is taking its toll on her, so if the parents have to make a choice, is it not obvious what choice they will make? The only chap I know who is investing in his kid’s athletic capabilities is Ranjan Kamath.

It is up to the parents to fix this problem, by engaging with the schools right away (before the Olymics hangover lifts) so that kids have the space to do what it takes. Let them not turn 37 when you see them outshing everyone and leaving you wondering, what if…..

That is what i would call a crying shame. Which would leave us crying at Rio.

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