9 November 2015

How an iPhone almost failed a ninth grade student…

Way back… and I mean way back… I had read a poem by Lord Byron in my ninth grade:

“Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,

 Where nothing, save the waves and I,

May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;

  There, swan-like, let me sing and die:

A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine-

Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!”

I had always had this dream that if I ever went to Greece, I would want to see what Byron saw in Sunium (now called Sounio). So, ignoring all advise I got from my friends and well wishers on what to see when I am in Greece, I told my tour cab driver Alex (tagged here) to take me to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio. I wanted to see what Byron saw and also where Aegeus jumped into the sea upon a misunderstanding of the color of his son’s sails (or was it the flag?) of the ship. Upon researching the internet, I had found that Lord Byron had scratched his name on the walls of the temple. [Note that some scholars are not sure whether it was him who put the name there]

Over the course of the day, I became great friends with Alex – but more on him later. One thing I learnt from him was that archaeologists in prior centuries had always thought of the Temple of Poseidon to be the Temple of some Queen (the name escapes me right now – it is all Greek to me 🙂 ). Once they recognized “Byron” on the writings in one of the columns, they recognized that to be the Temple of Poseidon. (the Temple of that Queen was found nearby later but nothing remains today but the base stones). Also, on his iPad he showed a picture of that inscription of “Byron”. He was not sure about the authenticity but gave me a rough idea about which pillar and where in the pillar it was.

We did reach Souniou eventually. It is a beauty that can be only beholden, not described. The southernmost point of mainland Greece, it was a sight to be seen. Pristine clean waters of the Ionian Sea, green islands in the distance and the setting sun…

But what had intrigued me was that reference of the inscription of “Byron”. I kept on searching for that inscription where Alex had told me. Which was not an easy exercise – because we were chained off at least fifty feet off the temple on every side. And when I say “temple”, I mean whatever remains of the temple – which is basically a few pillars. To make matters worse, I did not have a camera (with proper zoom lens) on me. All I had was my iPhone.

But lo and behold – I did find the word “Byron” inscribed – with my naked eye. If anybody has any doubts about what scores between God’s invention – the eye – and man’s invention – the camera – has not yet tried to take a picture of an engraving from fifty feet with an iPhone. The beauty of nature that drove Byron to write a poem took me less than an instant to find. The engraving of the same poet on the walls too me ten minutes to find. The constant adjusting of my iPhone to capture an inscription from fifty feet away with the sun behind? – that took more than thirty minutes 🙁 How I wished I had my DSLR with me.

The unfortunate part was that I was the only other tourist there. If you discount the fifty odd Japanese tourists that had come in a bus. How do I know that they were Japanese? By the number of times they said “Hai”, “Aligato”, the impressive long zoom lens DSLRs they were carrying  and their refusal to understand my English. All I wanted them to do is use any of there sophisticated cameras to take a picture of the spot I wanted and then I wanted a take a picture of their camera screen on my iPhone. All I heard for the next ten minutes was “No English”. So, I tried talking to the guide – and he said “No camera”. Go figure!!

Anyways, I did take a lot of pictures on my iPhone from different angles and different focus points and lighting and I think I might have finally captured enough to show the inscription.

What a great way to thread thru so many moments – Greek mythology of Aegeus, pillars that you see that were built in around 450BC, Byron visiting around the beginning of 1800s, a ninth grader reading a poem in 1981 and NOW!!!


9 November 2015

Looking back…

I crossed the starting line at 9:20am and just as I was getting used to people around me, the Garmin beeped to say that the first mile was up. I was like – “Already? I can do this another 25 times”. Second mile came a little later. Third mile was noticeably later. By the time I came to the one third mark, I was wary – but still full of energy.

The one-third to one-half mark seemed long. Annoyingly long. But that was nothing compared to what happened after the half point. It was a long uphill plod. Every mile was getting more and more painful. All those kids by the street extending their hands so we would handslap each other was not getting cute anymore. All those old ladies standing outside and clapping and yelling “Bravo” was being appreciated but I was not smiling back to them any more.

I was waiting to hit the wall anytime after the 16th mile (25 KM). I knew the sun was getting unbearably hot and it was going to be a thin line between keeping myself hydrated with sips and getting sick with too much water in my stomach. More importantly, I was losing salt and electrolytes quickly with the salt. So, I kept on sipping my Tailwind mixture by instinct.

At 17th mile (27km), I thought I got dizzy a little. But there was absolutely no shade – just barren mountains and small towns. Finally, around 18th mile (29km), I pulled under a bus stand in a small town and gave myself a break. I knew I needed to keep my chemicals in balance but the mouth did not want any more sweet tasting Tailwind. It just wanted to taste simple water.

Pulled back into the road, felt a little dizzy for the next couple of minutes but plodded on. At the next water station, grabbed half a banana, very slowly ate it, careful not to take in too much air or choke myself. And then grabbed a bottle of water. Throwing training to the winds, I decided to run with two bottles in two hands – Tailwind in one and water in the other. The dizziness went away slowly.

Finally reached the top at 20 miles. Then started the downhill run. The slope was welcome. The sun – by now, it was well past 1PM and for the last two weeks, Greece has been having an unseasonably warm advent of winter – was seemingly merciless on the skin. Especially on my shaved scalp – inspite of the cap. Slowly but surely, the energy was draining. No wall yet though.

By the time I pulled into the penultimate water break station on mile 22 (37 km), I could barely think. I was having difficulty converting miles to kms. (I trained in and my watch showed miles, but the markers for the race were in kms. Sometimes 13 km seemed a long ways to go. But when I thought about it as 8 miles – I was like – okay, I can do this). Everybody had slowed down. We just needed to play safe and finish up the last 3 miles (5km). My mind was a total etch-a-sketch at that point. I knew I was low on salt and sugar if I could not figure how to multiply or divide by 1.6.

I grabbed a bottle of water at the station. Told myself – it is downhill – go with the rest – one way or the other I will make it. Just don’t fall down, trip up or pull over. (at this point it was more painful to stop than to just keep going). Sitting down was a no-no. I would get dizzy the moment I attempted to get up and then no one knows what would happen.

But something did happen at that moment. And there is no way I can describe the exact onset of the moment. In fact, till that point, I can give you a continuous description of the great experiences I had had. After that, though, all I have been able to do is stitch together some distinct memory points I can recall. As I was saying, after a flurry of bad possibilities went thru my mind, it was like a beast mode came on. All I know was the last 5 kms were a blur. I remember returning the bottle of water after one long swig and ran the rest with only my electrolyte bottle. I remember that instead of keeping steady pace or even going slower…. I SPEEDED up.

I remember watching my Garmin which was steadily pacing at about 11 min/mile go to 10:45.. then 10:30… 10.15… 10.00…9.45 and then I stopped checking. If there is ever a thing called a Runner’s High, I must have been on it. I remember weaving thru many many runners – almost tripped on one of them. Astonishingly, I now realize that I skipped the final water station. Apparently, I must have blithely sailed thru. But more as a man possessed than as a man who knew what he was doing. Everything I was doing at that time is exactly what I will tell somebody not to do. But, frankly, I am not even sure I know that “I” that seemed to have taken over.

With 2 km to go, I remember gliding thru the city crowds. Five hours into the race, they were still five people deep on the sides of the street. I was still weaving thru the runners. I remember that unlike the rest of my run and all the runners around me, I was not running with my head down and bent torso. I remember my head being up and the torso being straight and the ankles hitting high like they say you are supposed to do. That posture gave me a lot of confidence in the run. However, in one moment of consciousness, I suddenly realized what I was doing and told myself to slow down. It is precisely then I saw the first glimpse of the stadium. I went back into my stupor again.

The next thing I remember was taking a left turn to get into the entrance of the stadium. An amazing spectacle of history, architecture and thousands of citizens cheering on is what met my eyes. And I also remember speeding up again. I could feel no pain. I could only see the arch that marked the end point.

Even more surprisingly, once I finished the run and my consciousness came back, I expected to droop my head, sit down on the side and catch my breath. But nothing like that happened. In fact, my first action after finishing the run was to help a runner take a picture of herself with the stadium as the background. Evidently, whatever had possessed me was taking time to leave me.

For the last twenty four hours, I have been trying to drum up some logic into what happened to me. Clearly, running a minute or so faster per mile for the last three miles wasn’t exactly going to make me look like a hero when the whole race was going to take me nearly five hours. I was not trying to beat any other friend that I was competing with either. I have no idea what the heck happened to me.

I did find the answer to one question I had woken up to that morning. Remember, that picture of myself as the competition – my mind versus his body – who would be the better man?

Looking back at that moment when I gave back the water bottle – that was precisely the moment and place where that decision was made….

The rest was just about keeping one foot in front of the other repeatedly.

8 November 2015

Marathon race – seen thru the eyes of my Indian parents

I had just finished my race, collected the aluminum foil, banana and the all important medal. After a few customary pictures from the authorities, I started walking towards a corner of the stadium to settle down. “Walking” is overstating it. The feet were hurting so much that I was more or less waddling like a penguin.

Found a sunny corner, wrapped the foil around me to keep myself warm and sat down slowly eating the banana and sipping water. Called up Sharmila, my mother and then my brother to let them know that I had finished my run. Sharmila and my brother, who are both runners, had the expected congratulatory and somewhat relieved responses. My mom, on the other hand, was a different story. Lest there be any doubt, let me clarify here and now that neither my mom nor my dad runs. And they are not particularly excited that a lot of family members run.

My mom’s first question was “how long did it take?”. Instead of complicating the answer with run time and gun time, I just told her over 5 hours. “Certificate dilo”? Pat came her followup question asking if I got a certificate. Now, you have to understand the Indian parent context here. Unless you got a certificate for doing something , in their mind, it is as good as not doing it. “Ki abar debey?”. I tried to make light of the situation by saying that “nothing much”.

“Tobu, ki dilo?”. She insisted on knowing what did I get at the end of the day. For a moment, I thought of explaining the advantages of aluminum foil and banana but I was too tired – so I just said “They gave a medal”. Silly me. I completely forgot that I was dealing with Indian parents. Medals trump certificates. Medal means you have come first, second or third. Before I could make any amends, she was talking loudly to my dad that I got a medal. I did not even get a chance to mention to her that the guys who came first, second and third could have run back to where we started from and they would have still finished earlier than me.

Consequently, I was accosted by my dad’s voice on the other side – “Bacchu, medal peyechho? Baah Baah. Ki rank holo?” He, of course, was profusely congratulating and then wanted to know what my rank was. I explained there is no rank-shank for me. I got a medal for finishing the race. “Maaney?”. He was was totally flummoxed. I told him that whoever successfully finished the race would get a medal.

He thought for a while and then said “Eta abaar ki?”. He basically trashed the whole idea. I asked him why he thought that way, rather peeved at this point. His classic answer – “Je porikkhatey bosley prize pa-o-a jaabey, se porikkhar kono mullyo hoy naaki?”. Apparently, if you get a prize for just sitting in a test, then that test has no value.

I told him I needed to talk to my brother 🙂


8 November 2015

Finished it!!

Last 5km was a blur. Entering the stadium was a goose bump raising moment. Incredibly beautiful stadium. To a person, everybody is standing and yelling “Bravo” to each and every runner!

Run time: 4:45

Gun time: estimated 5:17. (Waiting final results; this includes water breaks, Facebook time, taking picture time etc 🙂