Sunday, December 01, 2013

Snow and music in December: The Chennai music season

This article was first published in DNA Online on 29 November 2013.

I haven't seen or heard of anything quite like this anywhere else in the world. I am talking of snow in Chennai in December. The inhabitants of this southern metropolis are known to be intolerant to cold weather. So, when wintry December approaches and the "mercury dips" inconsiderately to a "bitterly cold" 28 degrees Celsius, mufflers and ear muffs -- known as kullas and monkey caps, respectively -- are whipped out of wardrobes in the average Chennai household. The moment the mercury dives to an "unbearable" 25 degrees Celsius and there's a mild hint of mist in the air, shawls (called pothis) are whisked out of suitcases carefully hidden up in the lofts. People start talking in hushed tones about an impending blizzard. 

Almost every year, on the 1st of December, The Hindu (the newspaper) announces the imminent blizzard with a picture of a few people huddled around a fire with monkey caps,kullas and pothis. The accompanying story makes frequent references to the El Niño effect and warns Chennai residents to brace themselves for yet another biting cold year. This invariably makes me turn to the weather pages to look at the day's temperature: a clement 25 degrees Celsius!

The same day, the newspaper also heralds the commencement of the annual Chennai music season, commonly known as just 'the season'. This too is something I've never seen or heard of anywhere else in the world. It is a month-long celebration of Carnatic music – the classical music of South India - and dance, mostly Bharatnatyam, one of the south's classical dance forms. Several other Indian cities have music festivals too – notably, Pune – where the best musicians are appreciated by a scholarly and erudite audience with a refined sense of appreciation of the fine arts. But there is something different about the Chennai season: not just its scale, but also its grandeur and joie de vivre. It is a commemoration of culture, custom, convention, cuisine, creativity and colour. 

You see, it is as important for a Chennai Carnatic music enthusiast to see and hear as it is to be seen and heard. What you wear to a concert is as important as who you hear. What you watch is as important as how often you are seen. You must wear the most ostentatious clothes and the loudest jewellery, arrive late to concerts and be noticed. And of course, you must sit for as much of the concert as possible, shake your head in appreciation, and wave your hands to keep beat. 

At least 30 music organisations (or sabhas) are involved in organising a season. Each sabha typically holds four or five concerts a day; two ticketed evening concerts by seasoned and renowned performers, and three or four free concerts in the afternoons featuring promising young artists who are still learning. This adds up to a staggering 2000 events (or more) in a month, quite unparalleled in terms of scale. 

Also, just organising a music and dance festival at an appropriate venue is not enough. Each sabha also needs to have a makeshift canteen adjoining the concert hall, offering a variety of snacks for patrons to enjoy in between (or even during) concerts. The best sabhasprovide a giddy combination of the best performers, a great audience and excellent food.

Truth be told, most venues are dreadfully poor in terms of performer and audience comfort. I have had many a shirt or trouser torn as a result of them getting caught in a nail that was poorly hammered into cane or wooden bucket seats. Many venues have as many mosquitoes as they have audience members. 

Despite this, every year, the stimulating combination of community and culture draws aficionados from all over the world to Chennai. I hear a mix of accents – including West Coast USA, East Coast USA, Cockney, ochre Australian, and Kiwi. It is clear that the "biting cold" (read pleasant) weather, the opportunity to listen to good -- mostly free of cost -- music, the food, and the opportunity to combine all of these with family visits makes the December season a must-attend for the Indian Diaspora.

I am off to the season this year too. This will be my 16th attendance in the last 25 years. There was a time when I used to hop -- somewhat indiscriminately, perhaps -- from venue to venue, listening to as much music as I could. There were a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I'd score a century of concerts each season, although unlike batsmen in cricket, I would gleefully rush through the nervous nineties. I remember the thrill of concert hopping, of rushing from venue to venue, ascertaining what the raga (or composition) of the season was.

In the early days, I'd stare vacantly and somewhat anxiously as people around me yelled "sabaash" in a spontaneous exclamation of appreciation. Most of them continuously waved their hands to a complex beat. I'd wonder why I was masochistically subjecting myself to such mental abuse. I didn't need to be recognised as someone who appreciated the fine arts. As a non-foodie, I didn't particularly need the food on offer either. Yet it was an annual ritual too important and too close to me to let go.

I soon realised I didn't really need to understand the music to intersperse a "sabaash" at appropriate points in the proceedings. I learned to copy the hand flaps of others. Soon, I too became recognised as an aficionado. This became an extremely easy gig. 

It used to irk me that most concerts had no entry fee. It is common to see the phrase “All are welcome” at the bottom of the pamphlet that announces a sabha's schedule. The inability to charge the audience for many concerts means that the sabhas have to depend on sponsorships from companies or patrons to make their contribution to the season. 

In the end, though, this enables a democratisation of what is essentially an elite art form. It makes Carnatic music more available to those who may otherwise not stumble into a concert hall. The distractions -- the food, the glitz, the concerts -- become the attraction. And through this, the season offers a feast for everyone, an excellent collation of music for learners, aspirant performers, music aficionados, connoisseurs, random "sabaash" utterers, and the person who just wants to soak in the atmosphere in an air conditioned hall. Oh yes! Many concert halls are air-conditioned despite the impending snow that is supposed to wipe out Chennai in one fell swoop every year. 

People will talk to you too. In canteens, as you bite into your vada, someone will walk up to you and say, "Fantabulous concert it is, no?", and a conversation will commence. Everyone has an opinion on everything: the food, the biting cold, the sarees and the music. Knowledge of either of these elements is not a pre-requisite. Indeed, it is often a hindrance.

Most conversations on music must make reference to the "glorious past" or "past masters", and of how "yengshters orr not paying heed to the glorious traditions", although everyone is looking for Carnatic music to be placed in "safe hands". The search for the next Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer or Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar or Madurai Mani Iyer or Palakkad Mani Iyer is constantly on.

No article on the Chennai season is complete without a mention of the music reviews in The Hindu. There is much mirth to be had in their blandness and similitude. One cliché-ridden review blends cogently into another. Often you wonder if you and the reviewer even attended the same concert. Words and phrases like “sublime”, “divine” and “mellifluous rendition” work their way into almost every review, and after reading one, you are left scratching your head, none the wiser for having read it. Here is an excellent sample: “The raga essay was exemplary in delineation, built step by step beautifying the phrases in the raga’s progress". And, "She evolved the raga with fine moves, with nuances here and there". These sentences say absolutely nothing and yet, are such fun to read because you are left trying to decipher what the critic is actually trying to say –which, in case you are wondering, is again nothing!

Yet, reading reviews of concerts in The Hindu is as much a part of the season as the music. If the editor banned the use of terms like “raga phrase”, “delineation”, “nuance”, “essay”, “eschew”, “blissful”, and “mellifluous”, the reviewers won't know what to write in their 500-word pieces. The supremely talented Krish Ashok has written a hilarious post on these reviews, so it would be pointless to repeat much of what he has already said, and so eloquently too. 

A notable feature of the season is that almost all concerts start and end on time. I was once at the venerated Music Academy where the curtains were drawn midway through an artiste's performance because she had overshot her time by three minutes. At first I thought that was extremely harsh. But on reflection, the artistes are informed in advance of the time constraints and that these need to be respected. The artiste in question hurriedly completed her concert and ran out of the venue, with the secretary of the sabha in tow.

So, Chennai plays host to a most unique event every December. No, not snow, but the music season. If you have not visited and attended the season, please do. Eat idlis, dosas and vadas in the many canteens. Talk to people you may never ever meet again. Or just sit at concerts and let random strangers talk to you; they will. Wear your best clothes and get them torn by a vile chair nail. Agonise over that only to realise that that was easier to tolerate than the mosquitoes. And enjoy the music. Soon, you will amaze yourself with your hand flips and your yells of "sabaash". And after that you will be back the following year, and the next and the next, because the magic of the season is indescribable.

--Mohan (@mohank)

Friday, November 29, 2013

My jogging tracks

I can't jog without my ears plugged. Indeed, when I started jogging some 15 or so years ago, I started jogging songs rather than time. I jogged one song, then two, then three and so on. When I wanted to attempt my first half marathon, I told myself that I needed to jog at least 25 songs, each of 5 minutes duration on average. I didn't run distances, just songs. Soon that wasn't enough. I had to run 50 songs because I wanted to run a marathon.

Since music is as much a part of my running as my shoes are, I started developing playlists. I need music in my ears when I run. 

The only real constraint I have is that my tracks have to be between 80-90 beats per minute (bpm). The beats assist my running cadence. I place the lower bpm tracks at the start and progressively the tempo in the playlists increase. This works just fine because my stride shortens as the run progresses.

Not all songs that I like to include in the playlist fall neatly into the 80-90bpm range. So I use software to either reduce or increase the tempo of these songs.

I have 4 playlists and depending on my mood for the day, I will pick one or the other and on some days, I may even choose to play songs from all four playlists in a random manner. 

The playlists are:
  • Bollywood (Hindi) running tracks
  • Pop/rock playlist
  • Carnatic music running playlist
  • Tamil (mainly Ilayaraja) tracks

The playlists are provided below.

Carnatic playlist
  1. karpagambikai nee allavo, behag (tempo increased 25% -- Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  2. lavanya rama (Hyderabad Brothers)
  3. matim dehi, kalyani (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  4. chalamelara, marga hindolam (Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Live in Melbourne)
  5. mahalakshmi, sankarabharanam (T. N. Seshagopalan)
  6. evvare ramaiyya, gangeyabhushani (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  7. palaya sada, nalinakanti (Sanjay Subrahmanyan) 
  8. ee vasuda, sahana (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  9. nenarunchara, simhavahini (Hyderabad Brothers)
  10. etula brotuva, chakravakam (Alathur Brothers)
  11. nijagadasa (tempo reduced 20%), sindhubhairavi (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  12. ra ra rajeeva lochana (M. L. Vasanthakumari)
  13. ninnadanela, kannada (Hyderabad Brothers)
  14. rama ninuvina, sankarabharanam (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  15. unnadiye gati, bahudari (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  16. smarane sukhamu, janaranjani (Ramnad Krishnan)
  17. amba kamakshi, bhairavi (Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer)
  18. brochevarevare, sri ranjani (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)
  19. pranatharthihara, melaragamalika (Sanjay Subrahmanyan)

This playlist lasts nearly 3 and a half hours and is the one that changes most. This is how the playlist looks at the moment though.

Pop/Rock Playlist
  1. Hymn to Her -- speed up 10% (The Pretenders)
  2. Under The Bridge (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
  3. Tears In Heaven (Eric Clapton) 
  4. I Want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner)
  5. Brothers In Arms (Dire Straits)
  6. Mad About You (Sting)
  7. You're the Voice (John Farnham)
  8. Come Together / Dear Prudence / Cry Baby (The Beatles)
  9. Take the Long Way Home (Supertramp)
  10. When We Dance (Sting: Fields of Gold)
  11. Kashmir (Led Zeppelin)
  12. A Great Day For Freedom (Pink Floyd)
  13. She's Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
  14. Last Chance (John Mellencamp)
  15. Come Away With Me (Norah Jones)
  16. In the City (The Eagles)
  17. Sunrise (Norah Jones)
  18. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt (Elton John)
  19. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (The Police)
  20. Romeo And Juliet (Dire Straits)
  21. Holding Back the Years (Simply Red)
  22. I am… I Said (Neil Diamond)
  23. All the Girls Love Alice (Elton John)
  24. I Can't Tell You Why (The Eagles)
  25. Going to California (Led Zeppelin)
  26. Love is the Seventh Wave (Sting: Fields of Gold)
  27. Give A Little Bit (Supertramp)
  28. Brass in Pocket (The Pretenders)
  29. Spirits in the Material World (The Police)
  30. Pink (Aerosmith)
  31. Black Dog (Led Zeppelin)
  32. In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel)
  33. She's Got The Look (Roxette)
  34. Nikita (Elton John)

This playlist lasts nearly 2 and a half hours.

Tamil (Ilayaraja) Playlist:
  1. nee pathi naan paathi 
  2. priyasaki
  3. pazhamuthir (tempo reduced 10pc)
  4. talaiyai kuniyum (tempo reduced 10pc)
  5. aadipattam
  6. povomaa oorholam 
  7. iru vizhiyin (tempo reduced 8pc)
  8. nee oru kaadal (tempo reduced 10pc)
  9. keladi kanmani (tempo reduced 5pc)
  10. anjali anjali
  11. irandum ondrodu (tempo reduced 10pc)
  12. silence(tempo up 5pc)
  13. siriya paravai
  14. chittaan chittaan
  15. mana maalaiyum (tempo reduced 11pc)
  16. oru pooncholai (tempo up 9pc)
  17. varadhu vandha (tempo reduced 7pc)
  18. vaa vaa anbe (tempo reduced 20pc)
  19. ninnukori (tempo reduced 15pc)
  20. kaathu udha
  21. kaadalin (tempo increased 42pc)
  22. senbagame (tempo reduced 12pc)
  23. chinna kuyil
  24. chinnamani (tempo increased 7pc)
  25. un paarvaiyil
  26. kaalai nera (tempo reduced 6pc)
  27. ilaya nila
  28. mannil entha (tempo increased 10pc)
  29. kadhal (tempo reduced 10pc)
  30. per vachalum (tempo increased 8pc)
  31. keeravni (tempo reduced 12pc)
  32. poo maalai (tempo reduced 12pc)
  33. inraikku yen (tempo reduced 8pc)
  34. thalattum
  35. maarugo maarugo
  36. oh sukumari (tempo reduced by 18%) (Harris Jayaraj)

The last song in this play list is not an Ilayaraja song of course. It was included just for fun and for no other particular reason. 

This playlist lasts nearly 2 and a half hours. 

Bollywood/Hindi Playlist
  1. ek ladki ko dekha (1942 A Love Story)
  2. hud dabangg dabangg (Dabangg)
  3. pankhon ko (Salim-Sulaiman)
  4. kyon (All The Best - Pritam)
  5. ali maula (tempo increased 22% -- Kurbaan)
  6. tumhi dekho naa (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna)
  7. iktara (Wake Up Sid)
  8. aaj kal zindagi (tempo increased 18% -- Wake Up Sid)
  9. hum tum (Hum Tum)
  10. shukran allah (Kurbaan)
  11. taare zameen par (tempo increased 14% -- Taare Zameen Par)
  12. noor-un-ala-noor (Meenaxi - A Tale of 3 Cities)
  13. maa (tempo increased 11% -- Taare Zameen Par)
  14. kal ho naa ho (Kal Ho Naa Ho)
  15. tere bina (tempo increased 15% -- Guru)
  16. khwaja mere khwaja (tempo increased 48% -- Jodhaa Akbar)
  17. kuch to log kahenge (Amar Prem)
  18. ali ali (tempo reduced 10% -- Deewaar, 2004)
  19. teri ore (Singh Is Kinng)
  20. namak (Omkara)
  21. sajdaa (tempo reduced 5% -- My Name is Khan)
  22. bin tere (tempo increased 20% -- I Hate Luv Stories)
  23. thoda thoda pyar (Love Aaj Kal
  24. rahiman ishq ka jhaga re (Well Done Abba)
  25. alvida (Life In A Metro)
  26. phir dekhiye (Rock On)
  27. chinnamma chilakkamma (tempo increased 8% -- Meenaxi - A Tale of 3 Cities)
  28. aye udi udi udi (Saathiya)
  29. saathiya (Saathiya)
  30. kahin door jab din (Anand)
  31. chingari koi bhadke (Amar Prem)
  32. bheegi si bhaagi si (Raajneeti)
  33. ibn-e-batuta (Ishqiya)
  34. yeh rishta (Meenaxi - A Tale of 3 Cities)
  35. tum jo aaye zindagi mein (Once Upon a Time in Mumbai)
  36. andhanga lena (Godavari - telugu)
  37. saamne aati ho (Dus)
  38. rahi re (Luck By Chance)
  39. khabar nahi (tempo reduced 10pc -- Dostana)

This playlist lasts nearly 2 and a half hours. 

If you have any tracks that I could add to this, please send me an email or leave a comment. 

-- Mohan (@mohank)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

You are lucky to be alive...

"You should thank us that you are here talking to me today." he said with a smile that spread across his handsome face. Then, as quickly as the smile painted his face, the warmth was replaced with a steely coldness as he added, with a sense of brutal finality, "In fact, you are lucky to be alive today."

There was a sense of army-like candour about what he said. But that was to be expected, for we were at an army camp. I sat directly across this smart young Sikh Major, camp commander of the army camp. The camp itself was set in a beautiful valley in the Himalayas, some 30 kilometres away from the India-China border. 

The army camp was beautifully organised, like most army barracks normally are. And as the handsome Sikh Major, took off his expensive-looking Rayban sun glasses, he looked like he had walked into the sets of "Saving Private Ryan", Despite the idyllic setting and the presence of the handsome Sikh, the Hollywood set analogy was spoilt by our presence. My friends and I were scraggly, dishevelled and unkempt after eight days of trekking in the Himalayas.

As I looked at Tom Hanks in a turban, I thought to myself, 'Yes. We were lucky to be alive after a particularly tough climb to Kala Khal (pass) the previous day.' But that wasn't what Tom Hanks was alluding to. The previous night. our camp site was under siege.

Our group had trekked from a place called Raj Kharak (approx height 3700m) to Kala Khal (at approx height 4500m). It was a brutally tough climb in which we needed all our energies, strength, skill and wits about us. Our calf muscles were screaming for mercy and relief as we stood at the pass with a sense of relief and achievement. Perhaps some of us felt that we were lucky to be alive! And as we stood and surveyed the impressive and imposing landscape around us, my eyes fixed on a neat arrangement of sheds in one of the meadows in the valley immediately below the pass. 

Our guide informed us that we were quite close to the India-China border and that the sheds we could see in the distance were part of an army camp. This camp itself was part of a series of army barracks that stretched from where we were to Nithi, which is on the India-China border. 

But that piece of information that our guide had just provided was quickly forgotten because we soon commenced the gruelling climb down to our camp for the night. This was to be at Bhujani, some 2 kilometres away from and at a clearing which was about 200m higher than the army camp. We focused on the climb down to camp, and for some of us this was tougher than the climb up to the pass.

By the time we got to our camp site, we were all physically wrecked. This had been the toughest day of trekking for each of us in our group. But this weary feeling was mixed with a sense of relief and achievement. For all of us in our group, this had been the toughest climb we had undertaken and we had all made it successfully. Yes, we did have many aches and bruises. But then, to a bunch of amateur trekkers/climbers, these are mere badges of honour! 

We tended to our aches, pains and bruises, had an early dinner, and repaired to out tents by 8pm that night. I talked to my tent-mate for about half an hour before dozing off. I think my friend may have been in the middle of a sentence, but I was too physically smashed to bother about nuances of politeness. I was asleep. Sound asleep. The quiet and serene environment was the perfect balm that soothed my burning calf muscles, the painful blisters on my feet and my bloodied toes.

That calm serenity would be shattered exactly 2 hours later. I was jolted out of my deep sleep by a cacophony of loud shouting and banging that ripped through the peaceful night. I heard lots of male voices scream a series of instructions in a mixture of Hindi and English; and the instructions were not polite. I was scared; very frightened. I feared the worst. I thought we were being attacked by dacoits.

Soon, someone unzipped the two layers of our tent and I heard a man bark, "bahar aajao, turant bahar niklo," (come out immediately). I was fully awake and completely scared as I sat up, clutching my sleeping bag. My fear was compounded when I stared right into the nozzle of a nasty looking rifle. I couldn't see the face at the end of the rifle because light from a torch blinded me. I withdrew my hands very very slowly from inside the warm comfort of my sleeping bag. I did not want the rifle guy to think I was pulling out a weapon of my own, for that would render my aches and pains quite meaningless! I put my hands up in the air and said "hum log mumbai se hai," (we are from mumbai) as I emerged head-first from inside the tent.

It was only then that I saw that the rifle guy was in army fatigues. These guys weren't dacoits. We weren't being ambushed. That comforted me somewhat, although I was still quite afraid. Around me I saw that my co-trekkers were also out of their tents. All of us wore expressions that spoke of a mix of bewilderment, fear and strange relief.

The army camp below had seen our night torches and camp fire, decided we were, potentially, infiltrators, spies or terrorists and had dispatched some soldiers to case us out. I didn't count but there seemed to be some 10-15 soldiers, all armed with rifles that glistened menacingly in the night light. All of them were incredibly young and it soon became quite apparent that they were as filled with nervous energy and adrenaline as we were, with fear. And when young men with fully loaded guns are in that state of excited, adrenaline-fuelled alertness they normally shoot first and talk later. 

They asked us questions about where we were from, where we travelled to and why we were camping where we were. We carefully explained our trek route and got them to realise that we weren't spies.

They asked if we had sought permission to trek. Our tour guide whipped out the permission certificate which he had procured from the Forestries Ministry in Joshimath prior to our trek. In a clear case of the right hand not bothering much about what the left hand needed to know, the Forestry Ministry did not bother informing the Army post.

After a half hour of heated argument and conversation, the army guys departed. I was too excited to sleep. I tossed and turned and nursed my aching muscles. I was also quite angry. 

Several questions raided  my head continuously: 

We had set up camp at 2.30pm that afternoon. Why did it take the army until 10.30pm to check us out?

If we were indeed terrorists or infiltrators, would we really announce ourselves through fluorescent yellow tents, torch lights and a camp fire?

What is the role of the Forest Department in all of this?

Questions. Questions. More questions.

My friends and I posed these and other similar questions as we talked about the previous night's incident. Our tour guide was extremely unhappy too. 

We posed these and other questions to Tom Hanks. He said that, as far as he was concerned, we could be just about any group. We could be friendly civilian tourists or, just as likely, be spies. He had no information of any civilian movement that night. He said he had a job to do and that was to protect the land. He said that with brutal frankness and cold professionalism, and added, "And given the context of where we are, any suspicious movements are nothing but unwanted threats that have to be eliminated immediately."

My anger was replaced with respect. The questions I had could wait for another day. We all shook hands with Tom Hanks. 

We were indeed lucky to be alive!

--Mohan (@mohank)

ps: I will try and write a separate post on the trek at a later date.

pps: For a collection of pictures I took during the trek, check out my Instagram feed (handle is @mohankaus).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mumbai Police: A note of appreciation

For more than two and a half years now, I have been 'cyber-stalked' by a person who will, for obvious reasons, be nameless in this piece. Through this period, when the e-stalking continued somewhat unremittingly, I was the recipient of some 15-20 emails a day on average. These emails contained taunts, abuse, insults and objectionable material. These were directed at me initially. I did not know this person at all and all of this attention was totally unsolicited and unprovoked. Many of these emails left me totally dismayed and completely numb. Soon, the abuse extended to include my wife and a few close friends of mine too. Soon, every tweet of mine would be analyzed over several abusive emails. Some of the emails contained needlessly explicit material too. I blocked the sender and filtered their emails out, but they would change their email id and continue to send these totally depressing emails. Despite two warnings, the torrent of offense continued unabated.

In this period, I would often think of complaining to the authorities, but then I was always overwhelmed by a sense of lassitude. I did not act.

Many of us will have, I am sure, thought of paying a visit to the police to file a harassment case against a persistent online pest. We may have, at times, lacked the courage, the strength, the time and the motivation to go through with a complaint. In addition, we tend to believe myths that circulate about the police, especially in India, and fear the arduousness of the process. Either that or we may give up because we may have formed a view that the police are generally not effective anyway.

Yes, it is hard to go through with the process of lodging the complaint with all the accompanying paper work and the filing of that report.

But, do it. Do not believe the myths. Just file that complaint.

Some four weeks ago, after issuing a final warning to this e-stalker, I snapped out of my lethargy, mainly due to the advice of friends of mine who couldn't believe that I would tolerate the extent of insults and abuse I was coping with. I sleep-walked out of my indolence and reluctantly submitted a written complaint to the Cyber CrimeInvestigation Cell of Mumbai Police. Reluctantly, because of the perception I had formed that such processes are incredibly messy and often pointless.

A written complaint is not easy to construct. Mine was 60 pages long -- a three-page cover letter and annotated print outs of a sample of the emails I had received (there were too many emails -- on average 15 emails per day over a 3 year period -- to print them all out). I provided them with as much information as I could. Emails contain headers that enable them to track the perpetrator. I did not receive SMS's, but if people who read this have received many unwanted and unsolicited SMS's or Whatsapp messages from the same person, collate these in a report and include the time and content of these too.

I compiled my report and my cover letter and lodged it with the Cyber Cell. I expected that nothing would happen.

I was so wrong.

I followed up with them a week after I lodged my complaint. The inspector said "Leave it with us, we will take care of this and get back to you," something I haven't heard from any other person in that position. The voice was reassuring and the message was undeniably kind and calming. A week later, he called to say that they had made progress and that the case was being handled by an expert in his office. He gave me the name and number of this person and asked me to feel free to contact them. A few days later, the cyber cell had identified the cyber stalker, established the veracity of my report and warned the person to cease their unprovoked activities. That warning was enough to get the stalker off my back.

I wanted to share this for two reasons.

First, if you are being cyber harassed, do not sit on your hands for as long as I did. When someone uses technology, such as email, chat or SMS, to target a victim -- either known to them or unknown -- by sending them a stream of unsolicited material with an intent to harass, threaten, humiliate or intimidate, this is cyber-stalking. And it is wrong. It is very much like “physical” stalking and it is mostly anonymous and almost always unprovoked and/or unsolicited. Cyber stalkers often believe that their anonymity and perceived lack of traceability gives them the comfort and the safety of 'technological distance' from the victim. But they, like a physical stalker, intrude on the victim's digital footprint, which is as important these days as our physical space. All of us have a right to our peace of mind and our personal space. The point is this. The stalker often has no appreciation of the impact that their taunts and abuse have on the person whose privacy they routinely assault. They just do it to feed their own obsessions or fantasies. On the other hand, the abused seldom take action because of the perceived laboriousness or ineffectiveness of the complaints process.

Lesson-1: Do not wait for as long as I did. Complain immediately.

Second, I want to applaud the cyber crime investigation cell of the Mumbai Police. If ever you need any help do not hesitate to call them or write to them. Their complaints process is not really arduous if you truly value your space, peace and sanity. These guys are warm, friendly, understanding and extremely approachable. They are also quick to help and, going by my experience, they appear to resolve matters.

Lesson-2: Your complaint often gets looked into promptly and professionally.

The cyber crime investigation cell of the Mumbai Police is, in my experience, a very thorough and professional unit. We are quick to criticize the police but must also provide appreciation of the good work they do.

For me, this was an excellent example of quick, efficient work by the Mumbai Police.

Bravo guys. 

-- Mohan (@mohank)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hope and industry: An evening in Dadar...

The young well-built lad swung his bat ferociously making an unmistakable connect with the swinging white ball, which traveled up in the air some 15 meters and crashed into a window pane of a third floor apartment. Miraculously, the glass did not shatter. Instead, the ball bounced off the window pane and floated down to the ground sluggishly where 3 able bodied fielders vied with each other to catch it. They laughed and screamed, jostled and pushed each other for a vantage position. It was as though they were making space for themselves in a crowded Mumbai local train by digging into the ribs of the person next to them. All of them had their hands cupped to receive the ball, as though they were about to receive offerings at a temple. All of them wanted to be the catcher that had dismissed the burly batsman. The ball, though, had other ideas. It popped out of their collective hands and landed on the ground making a tinnish sound; the sound a table tennis ball would make. 

The batsman received a reprieve.
This was a match that took place under lights on Tulsi Pipe Road in Dadar, Mumbai in a paved courtyard, about 15m wide and 30m in length. This floodlit cricket ‘ground’ was enclosed on one side by a tin industrial shed and on two sides by tall apartment blocks. The cricketers played with a special, light ball which ensured that windows would not get broken. The lighter ball swung much more than a normal cricket ball would. 

The batsmen played with immense skill and strength and thrilled the large, wild audience that watched and cheered as they played. The boys, all from nearby dwellings, cried, shouted, laughed and thumped each other on their backs as they sweated their way through this sticky Sunday evening. We stood there for a while, appreciated and applauded the fun as well as the skill that was on display.

To me, this was the Mumbai I had known and loved as a young boy who had spent many of his summer holidays here. A Mumbai of people from Dadar, Byculla and Matunga, the Mumbaikars who make the place what it is; the sort of people that do not venture much into the Bandra and Worli sea-face locations of Bombay that is inhabited by Bombayites. The Mumbai I knew and liked contains stories from Byculla, Matunga and Dadar and does not include fancy lights, nightclubs, fashion shows, bling and Bollywood. The Mumbai I feel, smell and appreciate is a hub of dizzy activity where people get by, survive and maybe – just maybe – get ahead.

It is this Mumbai that I wanted to feel and experience when I went to Dadar a few weeks ago with my wife and a few friends. We had no particular objective or destination in mind. We just wanted to walk, smell and feel the Mumbai we all loved. We started our exploration at 6pm on a Sunday afternoon from Tulsi Pipe Road at the cricket ‘ground’, walked up to Shivaji Park and back.

We crossed a permanent makeshift – yes take that paradox and cope with it as I do, everyday – market under a flyover on Tulsi Pipe Road. A police van stood by the side of this dimly lit market to ensure that the improvised temporary stalls were appropriately lasting. There was a surreal sense to the irony and I could only smile as I walked through this under-the-flyover market. Smile I did until something harshly corrosive in the air made me simultaneously rub my eyes and clutch my throat. The acid in the air may have been released by the constant trampling of vegetable leaves (probably radish), marigold stems and green chilies. The air was pungent, yet the vendors shouted out loudly, announced their wares and advertised their prices. The pungent air did not trouble them at all. Each hawker sold the freshest produce at least price. Around them, people walked busily and briskly towards an unknown destination.

There, an old man slept peacefully in a bed made up of two slabs of stone, his head rested on one stone and his feet on the other; his torso, suspended in between. He slept, completely oblivious to the strong, sharp air and the frenzied chaos around him. He didn’t even move as a motor bike honked its way through this crowded market, missing him by just a few feet. ‘How did this bike even get there, leave alone maneuver through it,’ I thought.

We exited from this hyperactive and busy market and spilled into the main Dadar market to see a sea of humanity in front of us. From where I stood – a slightly elevated part of the road – all I could see was a sea of heads. 'Surely the people were stationary while the ground moved underneath them,' I thought. How else could we get through this human mass? We did, occasionally receiving a nudge in the ribs. Mumbaikars are adept at moving in small spaces; they dodge and weave lithely through even the tiniest of gaps. 

Sometimes I would exchange a glance and a nod with other people, but mostly everyone was focused on their individual destinations. I could not ascertain if people were happy, content, sad, tired, busy or dejected. It appeared as though all of them had a job that had to be accomplished and what I felt was intense industry in whatever people were doing.

This sense of industriousness included Ram Chand, a vegetable vendor, who smoothened his mustache proudly as he announced his produce and shouted out the price of his merchandise. He said to one of his prospective buyers that he would not entertain any bargaining and twirled his mustache flamboyantly as he said so.

We walked up through the markets and walked around Shivaji Park and saw people – many people – walking, laughing, talking and relaxing. 

Out in the maidan itself, we saw kids play cricket and soccer in fading light. All these kids had proper cricket kits and played with cricket balls that thudded against well oiled bats. A few of the netted cricket pitches were floodlit as young bowlers charged in – in whites – to bowl to well-protected young batsmen. “Get behind the ball. It is all about technique,” a coach shouted in Hindi at the recognized nursery of Mumbai’s cricket. That was exactly what the lads were already doing at the Tulsi Pipe Road ground against a lighter ball that swung maniacally and unpredictably in the air.

It was close to 10pm when we returned to where we had parked our car after dinner at Prakash Hotel. The market was still a hive of activity. The police van still stood there. The men inside it cast a protective eye on all the temporary stalls. The acid hung around in the still air; it would perhaps stay in the air until the trampled and crushed leaves could be gathered and taken away. Vendors still shouted their prices. Ram Chand continued to twirl his ostentatious mustache  The cricket match continued in the paved courtyard on Tulsi Pipe Road.

The sleeping old man was gone though. In his place were two young girls, one each on the two stones that had propped up the old man. They were probably ten years old. In poor dim light, as their parents sold vegetables or food nearby, they read from an English text book. Their heads bobbed up and down as they tried to learn their lessons, probably for their school exams the following day. I stood there, mesmerized, as they recited their lesson. I could not make out what it was they were memorizing. Perhaps it was a poem. Perhaps it was a story, an essay. I did not want to pry, so my friends and I smiled in appreciation and turned away slowly. I do not know why, but I was filled with hope...

The cricket players on Tulsi Pipe Road shouted one last time. It wasn’t clear who won. But everyone was happy and amidst much back slapping and mirth, the flood lights were turned off. Elsewhere, in an apartment, another light came on in this city of industry: home to several million hopes.

--Mohan (@mohank)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

If only we cared...

I stood unsteady on the balcony of our 18th floor apartment and held the rails tight because of the mild vertigo I suffer from. My wife was baking an inventive dessert our guests that evening wouldn’t be able to pronounce. Having given up desserts just over four weeks ago, the thought of a violent clash of the cherries, chocolate and coffee was enough to drive me into paroxysms of desire. I desperately needed something between me and this dessert preparation.

The balcony looks out west into a vast green expanse – somewhat of a luxury in Mumbai – and down onto a man made lake created when developers emptied a quarry that existed there. All around me, I could see a glimpse of life in the other apartments. The foul, pungent stench of stagnant water, heat, acrid dust, open drains, sweat and shit -- human and animal -- was strong enough to overpower any smell, including the beautifully mutinous fragrance coming from within the house. The outside smells formed a perfect antidote to my craving, and was a ready example of the paradox that life in Mumbai represents.

Like the dust and smoke, there was nowhere for the smells to go. They hung around uninvited, creating a haze: a confused cohort awaiting instructions from an unknown someone. In less than two minutes, I was also sweating profusely and my t-shirt clung to me. The haze reminded me of the pub I used to frequent in South Kensington in London in the days when customers could still smoke in pubs; and it seemed everyone smoked. The dense pall would represent a smoke-mixture: from the open fireplace, cigarettes, cigars and pipes. It would lift to eye level, hang around my face and sting it repeatedly.

If I looked around, all the balconies like mine offered to me the stories they contained, encouraging the casual voyeur in me, fueling my understanding of life and people around me.

The smell of cigarette smoke made me turn in the direction it wafted from. I looked to see a young couple smoking on their balcony. The young man wore dark-rimmed, thick glasses that rested uncomfortably on a very large, bulbous nose. The woman puffed on her cigarette lazily and appeared to relish her experience while the man appeared to be hurried. Soon the reason became obvious as the man lit another cigarette even though the present one was still only two-thirds complete. 'Isn't there enough in the air we breathe to additionally introduce tar into our lungs especially on a sweltering day like today,' I thought. I would have asked the same question of myself if I had been the one smoking. And when the couple were done, they turned inwards and without even looking back, casually flicked the stubs outward; the cigarette ends spiraled pitifully to the road below.

Elsewhere, a woman watered plants. Pointlessly. Wastefully. She must have just had a shower, for a thin towel covered her hair. Did she have curly hair? Straight? I did not know and the towel wouldn't let me in on those secrets. ‘Did she know the plants would retain as much water as a sieve in this afternoon heat?’ I wanted to ask.

There I could see a pot-bellied man in his vest. He stretched lazily. Perhaps he had just had his lunch. He had in his hands a small packet. His gold ring glimmered as the sun’s rays bounced off it. He tore open the packet and emptied its contents into his palm, briskly slapped his palms to his face and hurled its contents into his mouth. He then flung the empty packet out his balcony and rubbed his palms, satiated. The piece of plastic sailed lifelessly and rested on the pavement below. The man returned to the comfort of his air-conditioned living room, perhaps happy that it was still neat, well-accessorized and completely devoid of plastic wrappers.

Somewhere else, a maid hung out the washing with quiet care, picking up a piece of clothing from a clothes basket, untangling it, shaking it vigorously to straighten it, and finally straining to reach the clothes line. Sweat poured from her face.  Occasionally, she would catch her back as she strained it. It was clear she had a sore back. Just as clear as the fact that these clothes were hung on a balcony that faced the road, for the world see. Yellowed, crinkled, sometimes bright white fabric stories forced into the vision of those who happened to look up. I was sure they had another option to this balcony and wondered why they didn't use it. This relentless sun would surely reach an inward-facing balcony too? The maid, though, was too focused on her immediate task to worry about and look at anything else other than the clothes basket below and the clothes line above.

As my arms got wetter with my sweat, I watch everyone disappear indoors, gradually. The heat my body gave out must have smelt of blood because a mosquito landed on my arm and I idly wonder how it got to the 18th floor. I admire its resilience and strength; instead of swatting it, as a reward, I offer the mosquito use of my hand for a full minute before blowing its drunken, swollen body away. The lack of wind may have helped its flight up 18 floors. Or perhaps the mosquito had arrived in one of the three lifts in our building, two of which may not be used by "workers and maids."

By now, I find myself begging for some air to cool the sweat off. One part of me is also playing a game, to see how long I can hold out in this quiet heat that is made oppressive with so many stories. Ahead, I see the green of the lake and think it would be lovely if it had a fountain in the middle; a fountain to circulate the water so it didn't stagnate. What I see, though, is still water that could be beautiful if only someone cared: If the maid that hung the clothes despite a sprain in her back stopped to stare. If the person who flicked that cigarette butts cared. If the person that watered plants on a hot day cared.  If the man who flung the plastic wrapper onto the road cared.

And if I cared...

-- Mohan (@mohank)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Conquering Heart Break Hill

Running hills is a necessary part of endurance training. You just have to run hills if you want to run long distances. And like a lot of things in the activity itself, running hills is much more of a mental exercise. A runner has to instruct their body to propel themselves up a hill. I had read all the material on ‘attacking hills’. There is enough literature to suggest that a hill runner must look ahead 50 metres at least, that they must try and shorten their stride, manage their centre of gravity, activate their core muscles and lean into the hill. A friend of mine who loves running hills told me to continuously say to myself ‘I love you hill’ rather than moaning or saying ‘Damn you hill, this is hard work’ as I ran. I knew the theory, but failed in putting all of this into practice. As with most of my running itself, I learned this lesson the hard way on Heart Break Hill.

Running has been my religion for a long time, and nothing could stop me from engaging in it every day. Not the heat, dust, stench, the pain or my own inabilities; I just have to run. Every morning.

I am normally up every day at 4.45am – even on Sundays – and am out pounding the pavements soon after. I hate treadmills these days. I used to run on them almost always when I lived overseas, where I began my love affair with running. Not anymore, since my move to Mumbai. Counter intuitive, if you actually thought about it. First, the air quality is significantly worse in Mumbai than almost any other city in the world I have run in. Moreover, there are few pavements in Mumbai to run on; pavements are to runners what water is to swimmers. Most Mumbai roads come with potholes and debris, which is not at all good for runners. And if all of this wasn’t enough to make life hell for a runner, there are the smoke-billowing vehicles that vie with the other two hazards on Mumbai roads. Yet, I love running the roads of Mumbai. 

After my move to Mumbai, I identified and carefully mapped out several tracks around my home. I can be quite boringly meticulous. ‘You are definitely a four-letter word contained in analytical,’ my friends often tease me. I mapped out a three-km route, a five-km route, a six-km route, a seven-km route and a 10km route. Sometimes, especially on a Sunday, I would run the same route twice or add a few of the routes together to make up a longer run. Many of these routes would take in the smoke, the dust, the stench and the exciting life of Mumbai, a city that is interesting even at 5am. Occasionally, I would run past a park with the fresh morning wind blowing in my face. And sometimes I would run past pavement dwellers too. Many of them would be fitfully asleep, completely oblivious to the sound of traffic around them. Most had a simple, thin cloth protecting them from the dust, cold, rain and vehicle smoke. Some of them would be stirring and a few would just look and smile at the walkers and joggers who walked or ran past. Those who were up would often be laughing and joking amongst themselves as they ushered in a new day. 

I often ran with either Neha or Kapil, sometimes both of them. We are a good running group. I have always believed in running at a talking pace; not that the three of us talked a lot. For us, running was a time for either introspection or meditation, for focusing on the self, and for reflection.

As I ran, I would often reflect on the unresolved arguments I had left behind me (or run away from) or the challenges ahead of me. I would often ask myself difficult questions about my behaviours and responses. Was it right to be that intense? Should I have let go? Should I have argued as passionately as I did? Was I being too selfish? Did I understand fully at all? Did I understand enough? Should I be more accepting of people? Should I be less judgemental ? The questions swirled around. I did not have an agenda or a list of questions; they just arrived in my head as I ran and I confronted them without fear and mostly, with honesty. Or so, I thought. And although I ran with Neha and Kapil, this was exclusively my time.

Each of us would have only one ear plugged for music. The other ear was open to the occasional question or comment from the other two. Every now and then, one of us would say something and the others would contribute to a quick conversation. But mostly, we focused, introspected, listened to each other’s breathing and ran in silence.

Most of our conversations, when we did talk, revolved around pain. I had accepted pain as a way of life and loved the challenge of overcoming this pain. To my fellow running mates, I understand pain. Running has taught me that. Ten years ago, I would barely run 100 metres before collapsing in a heap from pain in my shins, or my calf muscles or in my lower back; sometimes, all three. On those days, I thought I would never be able to run again. I always wanted to. Badly.

I have gazed at runners with a mix of awe and respect. I loved and simultaneously envied the way runners could effortlessly glide across running tracks and cut through hard pavements. I loved to hear the sound of running shoe scratching bitumen. I loved the grace and the gait of a runner. But mostly, I enjoyed seeing runners tell the story of their running through their repeated and, perhaps, monotonous motion. Back in the day, when I could not run, I looked for that story in every runner. The story of the runner coping with their fatigue, or pain; of focusing on the process and not the destination; of the runner spraying water all over themselves to cope with heat; of the runner plugging away despite the exhaustion, or simply enjoying their run. I wanted to embrace the trail. To me, this was an unrealized dream. So I taught myself to accept and, slowly, overcome the pain of running. And slowly, I taught myself to run. Small distances at first, and then the longer distances invited me. Even today, I am not free from pain. My pain would always start in my shins in the first kilometre of my daily run and this pain would soon travel up to my glutes by the time I had clocked three kilometres. And that pain would often remain with me right through my run. I would merely block it.

Paddy, a running mentor of mine had once told me about the mind-body-intellect framework and I used that framework to overcome and block out my everyday pain. The physical pain is transmitted by the body, the vehicle. The mind would feel the pain immediately. But I had been taught to work on my rational intellect – in this mind-body-intellect nexus – and had taught it to be independent of the mind. I had conditioned the intellect to quietly observe, moderate, regulate and counsel the mind. The intellect won... mostly.

I woke up that particular morning; getting up was always the tough part. That day, it was made tougher because the previous day was a bad one for me. I had had a few unpleasant, hurtful, testy and unhelpfully fractious arguments. I felt the need to introspect deeply. I had to learn more about myself, my reactions, insecurities, discomfort, judgemental behaviours and my own needs. I was in a dark and somewhat uncomfortably unfamiliar space. And as I stretched in preparation for the run, I knew I had to run hard that morning. I knew that this would not be like any of my other runs.

I secretly hoped that Neha and Kapil would not run that day. Although they ran ‘alone’ even when we ran together, I wanted to be totally on my own that day. As if by magic, Neha and Kapil had both informed the watchman that they would not be running; one had a dodgy knee and the other had a cold. ‘This is perfect,’ I thought to myself as I stepped out into the cool morning.

I decided I would run 10 kilometres that morning and would also set off at a faster pace. I discarded all my carefully mapped out routes and, instead, ran towards the hill. The hill formed a picturesque backdrop to our apartment complex, dwarfing the tall, majestic buildings, giving them a sense of their own fragility. A few months earlier, I had driven towards the hill and mapped out a course on this reconnaissance drive. I wanted to accept the challenges the hill posed. But the path that I mapped out during my earlier reconnaissance was discarded by my running group. But things were different this particular morning. I was on my own.

So, this particular morning, I ran towards the hill at pace. I did not know what it was called. So, I named it Heart Break Hill. The Boston Marathon has a Heart Break Hill, a rise of approximately 30 metres over a 600 metre stretch; a gradient of about 5%. I had run ‘The Tan’ (short for Botanical Gardens) in Melbourne regularly. This track includes a killer stretch along Anderson Street; an incline of 27 metres over a 75 metre stretch. My own Heart Break Hill was an incline of 120m over a one and a half kilometre stretch; a gradient of about 8%. It was reasonably hard and I hadn’t run that hill before. That day, I was presented with the perfect opportunity.

As I had different playlists for different days and different moods, I selected a playlist that included Springsteen, Sting, Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and U2. The lyrics did not matter. The rhythm did; all of the songs had to be at 80-85 beats per minute. I strapped on my heart rate monitor, pressed the start button on my Garmin and set off purposefully. I had to conquer that hill this morning.

It was three kilometres by the time I reached the bottom of Heart Break Hill. By then, my shin pain had already set in; it struck me a bit earlier on in the run that morning. I tried to block it out, but it was hard. My mind wasn’t entirely under my control that day. I reflected and tortured myself as I ran. I thought of my BMI guru: ‘the intellect always has to be independent’ was the voice that kept ringing in my ears. But the intellect was a slave to the mind that day; a mind that was focused totally on deep introspection in a dark and unfamiliar space. The intellect was no longer independent; it was hardly even present. The mind had taken over, felt the pain and the course and all of this coalesced with the confusions that emanated from an unfamiliar space. To make matters worse, just as I reached the bottom of the hill, my breathing shortened – an indication that my asthma was kicking in. Asthma is something I have been dealing with since I was five years old. I was so terribly unfocussed that morning that I had forgotten to puff on my Ventolin inhaler prior to my run. But I could not throw my hands up in the air and head back home. I focused immediately on regulating my breathing; three short exhalations and one long inhale. This was already tough work, even before I reached the hill that I was determined to conquer.

My breathing was short and raspy. My pain had intensified. Freddie Mercury sang ‘I want to break free’. Ironic. ‘Break free from what,’ I thought to myself. I continued to attack the hill mercilessly. One step at a time; one breath at a time. The stride shortened as did my breathing and I slowed down to a painful seven kmph. Half way up the hill I did encourage thoughts of giving up, although giving up was not why I ran. I did not know how to give up. I could not handle failures or disappointments through lack of trying and I had never run away from a battle. I had to know that I gave it my all; that I had tried my hardest to conquer, to understand, to comprehend. It mattered to me that I fought myself and warded off my own demons and limitations in a bid to understand myself better. The hill had to be defeated; it had to be conquered this morning.

The phrase ‘conquer’ rang in my mind constantly as I ran. I was three quarters of the way up the hill when cramps set in – in my calf-muscle. I had slowed down to 6.5 kmph and my heart rate monitor beeped alarmingly. My heart was going at a crazy 182 beats per minute, a good seven points above my suggested/theoretical max heart rate. I had never seen the dial reach 182 beats per min in all my years of running. I considered stopping and walking up the rest of the hill to the peak. But then I wasn’t about to give up. The hill just had to be conquered that morning.

Then, with 250m to go to the peak of that hill I suddenly remembered what Raju Martolia had said. Raju is this incredibly calm, very collected, supremely able and wonderfully fit Garhwali guide who had accompanied us on all of our Himalayan treks and climbing expeditions. Every day, after our trek had concluded, our trekking group would talk, mostly about other trekking and climbing experiences. One day after our day’s trek, as we relaxed around a camp fire, I asked Raju to tell us about the toughest mountain he had ever conquered. Raju’s face immediately registered a mix of shock and hurt. He was taken aback and said, “Sir, we Garhwali people do not conquer mountains. The mountain is a goddess for us. We take her permission to use her for our own benefit. I have never ever conquered any mountain.” He went on to explain this was why Garhwali guides would never place a flag at the very peak. A flag at the peak would suggest that the expedition had ‘conquered’ the mountain. “We always place the flag a few metres short of the peak. If we think we have conquered the mountain, our goddess has a way of teaching us unpleasant lessons on the way back,” he said.

I remembered those very words as I tried my own very unsuccessful hill conquer expedition.

As soon as I recollected Raju’s words, I realized I was doing it all wrong. I slowed down and sought permission from Heart Break Hill instead. I wasn’t angry anymore. I wasn’t confused anymore. My rational intellect was suddenly freed. I had nothing to prove. I wasn’t fighting myself anymore. I could give up if I wanted to. I could let go. This wasn’t a fight to a facile victory. This was me trying to understand myself more, be accepting of my own limitations, boundaries and shortcomings. I knew what I was; who I was and I was comfortable with that. Suddenly, I wasn’t attacking the hill anymore. All of this meant that I immediately felt more relaxed and observed a change in my stride. It was now easier and smoother. Even the breathing appeared more regulated. The asthma vanished too and with it, the pain. Or maybe the pain and the laboured breathing were both made irrelevant. Suddenly, there was clarity too. I cruised up the remainder of Heart Break Hill and reached the top. I hadn’t conquered the hill. Instead, I felt that Heart Break Hill had taught me an important lesson that morning.

And as I ran down the other side of the hill, I looked back at where I had run from. Heart Break Hill still stood where she always was. She wasn’t moving. She wasn't going to move either. But she appeared to bid me good bye benignly and compassionately. She hadn’t been conquered. Forget conquered; I wasn’t close to even understanding the mystery she was. That morning, she had merely provided me with permission to run and enabled me to overcome my own insecurities, anxieties, inadequacies and irrational fears...

-- Mohan (@mohank)