A couple of decades ago, on a lethargic and sombre Bangalore morning, I remember literally sprinting behind a bus which had just departed from the bus stand. If I had to be on time to attend the class on ‘Double Entry System of Book Keeping’ , I had to plant myself inside that conveyance which was slowly but surely gathering momentum. Needless to say, my efforts were futile and and the consequence of this vainglorious chase was a commendable improvement in my skills of forgery as I submitted an absence letter to my Principal, signing off my mother’s name with an undisguised feeling of guilt and an unblemished show of flourish!
The aforementioned incident was probably the only time that I contemplated any degree of serious running in my three and a half decades of existence – until the 11th of November, 2012 that is, when I ran for a full 3 MINUTES! Yes, with a heart beating wildly and a head pounding madly, I ran for all of 180 seconds, a passage of time which seemed to encompass more hours and even years instead of just a meager collection of seconds. The ticking of the second’s hand on the clock to which I had hardly paid any sustained attention before was during the course of those 3 minutes, the most significant tangible element dictating my time on earth!
The Terry Fox Foundation is an independent Trust in Canada that is responsible for supporting close to $20 million in discovery based research each year in Canada. Named after the legendary Terry Fox, who succumbed to cancer, but not before becoming a beacon of light for a world battling this killer disease, the Foundation organises annual ‘runs’ wherein participants are required to contribute a nominal sum (mostly towards buying a T-shirt) and just run for a cause. The run is divided into 2 categories – a 3.5 km run for families and a 5 km run for the rest. The word running is a misnomer here as the spirit underlying the event takes precedence and the participants are invariably engaged in a combination of running-jogging-trotting and primarily – walking. The 19th such run was organised in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, the 11th of November, 2012. I also enrolled for the ‘run’ courtesy the unrelenting perseverance of two very kindred souls and good friends.
The normally scorching sun that withers the spirits of the mortals subjected to its rays, was unusually benevolent on this occasion. It was as if Mother Nature realising the magnitude of the cause at hand, decided to give her complete consent. As I gathered at the venue, with 3 friends in tow, there was a teeming assemblage of people belonging to various hues and colours. Serious joggers with timing devices attached to their arms rubbed shoulders with elderly men and women intent on contributing their mite to the cause. Parents with toddlers merged with effervescent teenagers; there was a spirited agglomeration of youth and experience. But the most inspirational sight was that of the cancer survivors, the most enthusiastic and eager participants in the run. The smiles escaping the lips and adorning the faces of these warriors was a sight to behold and to say the very least the feeling that it bought on to the rest of the crowd was to say the least, humbling! Every one of the participants was clad in a standard white ‘TShirt’ which had some inspirational words in the front and the logo of the Terry Fox Foundation at the back. It was as though a white sea of humanity was all set to create some waves!
At 9.00 A.M, the Hooter buzzed and off we went on our endeavour. The ebullient surge of the egregious mass made running almost impossible in the initial stages. The tightly packed crowd was forced into a slow march on account of the narrowness of the path. The route which we had to take was a picturesque one, initially sloping over a small hillock, before curving and winding over to the city streets. Traffic was cordoned off to facilitate an expeditious and smooth passage of the event. Once we were on level plain, a few runners took charge. Taking a surreptitious look at their clocks, they set off at a brisk jog with eyes looking straight and a mind fully focused. I tried to walk a bit faster so as to build some momentum for my intended ‘run’ later on. I passed a mother wheeling a pram in which was cozily sitting, a cute girl with blonde hair. While the mother gave me a beatific smile and an understanding nod, the child waved at me a tiny hand which had at its end 5 chubby fingers. An elderly couple were slowly but steadily walking on oblivious to any distraction. Volunteers were manning strategic points spanning the course route, thereby serving the dual purpose of assisting the tired as well as boosting the morale of the tiring! When one volunteer held up his palm for me to tap and also added in an innocuous manner that I was doing really good (even though I was just walking), a fervour took me firmly in its vice-like grip. Like a man possessed, I decided that the time was now!!! Off I went into a sprint that lasted all of 180 seconds! With a solid purpose and an even more solid intent, I set out threading and weaving past the fellow participants. For a full 3 minutes I was a transmogrified version of Mo Farah and Haile Gebreselasie rolled into one; I was a circular shaped human bulk which had gained a fierce and unstoppable momentum akin to a road roller plummeting down a slope with failed brakes. A semblance of a cool breeze flying uphill gently lapped my face which by now must have been set grimly with eye brows deeply knotted. As I passed a pretty girl with her hair tied back severely and ending in a perky ponytail, she gave me an all knowing smile. People to my right and to my left were being passed by in a blur! With immense resoluteness and absolute determination I refused to accept a bottle of water that was almost thrust into my hands by a kind volunteer (discretion alas, has never ever been my forte). By this time I was drenched in sweat and my T-shirt was plastered to my back. Fatigue was beginning to set in now and exhaustion took over from exuberance. Even though the heart was stilling willing to go on, the knees & legs were collectively unyielding in their obstinate refusal towards an exerting forward motion. Finally as, a cavalier attitude gave way to common sense, I almost came to a standstill and was barely placing one feet in front of the other.
Finally after an hour as I trudged past the finish line being a part of a group of stragglers, a sense of euphoria over came, overpowered and overwhelmed me. I had walked-trudged-dragged myself for 57 minutes and most importantly ‘RAN’ for a sensational 3 minutes in a show of hands against a world menace called cancer. The message which all we participants held up to the world was precise and lucid – “SCREW CANCER; EMBRACE LIFE”. A bunch of dedicated individuals had come together to assure a multitude of their fellow human beings who were in the throes of distress that they were there to help and would always remain so, come hell or high water. The smiles, the picture sessions after the race, the back slapping and the high fives all signified a camaraderie to be proud of and a bond to cherish.
Maybe when the annual run takes place next year, I would better my meagre mark of 3 minutes; or maybe I would even be slower than what I was this time around. But one thing is certain. I would never require a second invitation or somebody hollering into my ear the words “RUN VENKY RUN”!!! Meanwhile the fight against the “Emperor of all Maladies” continues unabated!