Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Wireless LAN, Apple Powerbook G4 and other things

It is perhaps appropriate that today is republic day. yippie.
i got to use a friend's apple powerbook g4, which is a fantastic example of apple's user interfaces, legendary creative GUIs and screen transitions - i can go on and on.
but the experience of the day is wireless lan. i have used wireless lan before at a railway station somewhere on some stranger's laptop. but to do the works - setup the connection, get the machine to detect the wireless lan in the vicinity etc is a novelty .
i am loving it, much like the mcdonalds ad.
its nearly 56 years since my dear country made the leap back into being on its own. and i like it.
nice to be using all this. i used the internet for the 1st time in my life in 1994. in abt 10 years we have actually got to a stage when we need no longer use wires. our learning curve has been pretty steep and the absorption of technology has been quick.
i am a big fan of the apple culture and used to follow the apple column in Business Week much like one would pursue a filmstar's every move. this powerbook experience is like finally getting to have dinner with that "star".

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Mumbai Marathon 2005

5 hours and 4 minutes.
That's my achievement in my 1st attempt ever in life at 42.195 km. I hope that I do better next time.

Prologue: I landed in Mumbai on 14th Jan, 2 days before the marathon, which I had been planning to run ever since I finished the half marathon last year. I even went for a practice run on the Worli seaface in the evening for about 7.5 kms which I completed in about 40 mins. So far so good I thought. I decided that the Saturday should be spent in total relaxation. I even went and saw Ray's "Jalsagar" at Max Mueller Bhavan. Depressing movie.

Of course I also did have several coffees at Baristas all over Mumbai. Anything but running, I had decided. Little did I know how Sunday would unfold!

It was a trifle disappointing as I had aimed at 4 hours and even looked set to do so. I had done about 30 kms in 3 hours and was proud of myself. After 34 kms, my body just refused to go further. I just stopped. But then life is never unequal. For one, I had the company of a lovely lady (decked out in a white sleeveless running jersey and a black tracksuit ? and henceforth referred to as the Lady In White "LIW") who ran at almost my pace for most of the race and was perhaps fitter than me physically. But then I outpaced her at the end as I had sprinted to the finish and finished ahead by about 5 minutes. Then there was Mumbai rocking!

As mentioned separately in "Mumbai Rocks", I almost had a false start on the train. I got to the venue almost an hour before and saw several participants warming up. There were all sorts of people. There was this old villager who had paid up 50 bucks to someone and received nothing as an acknowledgement. He didn't have a running bib. He couldn't read English but wanted to run. He had just a pamphlet about the race and thought that it was his receipt! I didn't check up on what happened to him There was this obviously rich set of kids with their mom who were carrying High Energy bars of chocolate a la US style! I don't remember seeing them finish! Then there were the navymen who were doing push-ups on the bonnet of their jeep! There were the sportsmen from Mumbai who were stretching their well built muscles. There were no celebrities, save for the Elite athletes who were in a separate enclosure. Then there pretty women who were accompanying their family members in absolutely fancy dresses. How many times in India do you get to see people in Lycra when they are there only for cheering!? There were school kids and assorted folks from places as far as Kerala and the North East. There was this guy who I spoke to, who said that he'd done the Berlin Marathon in 3 hours and was doing practice runs in the same time. He said that he'd be disappointed if he went beyond 3.5 hours. I decided that I should revise my target to the same and use him as my pacesetter. Then there were these athletes from Europe who were busy smearing jelly over their arms and legs to prevent running bruises. I was amused by this, but should have perhaps done something similar. There were some others who had these belts to hold tiny bottles of yellow coloured high energy drinks that they had brought along. And they were themselves colourful. There was this set of people who had run other marathons as was evidenced by what they had written on their tshirts with different coloured markers. The atmosphere was vibrant to say the least!

And everyone was searching for the starting point! Since I had been here last year, I explained to some people how it was in the previous year. About 15 minutes before the run, a blue cloth at one end of the stadium was lifted and we were directed through some barriers to the starting point. And people began to get excited as the stop watch counted down. And then the LIW was also behind me at starting lineup. Glamour my dears! I was to realize later that this woman also had power to back up her pulchritude.

And then there was Anil Ambani (whose half marathon was to begin 2 hours later) who was parked by the starting line with a leg on the barrier with a bemused expression. First the organizers announced the numbers - the total no. of participants, the oldest participant, the youngest participant, the prize money, etc. And then the countdown began for the last 10 seconds. And we were off.

I tagged along with the guy I mentioned above until the Air India turn Marine Drive, when he started saying that he was getting cramps. I told him that I would maintain the pace I was at and he could catch up. So much for my pacesetter. I didn't see him later. My guess is that he dropped out. Maybe he overtrained.

I was with this band of foreign runners, which had this huge German, a somewhat plump Frenchman, a Finnish Couple and some other Indians. I was with this group for almost 7 kms when they began ramping up. I decided to drop off, to maintain my own pace. I was at Worli seaface in about an hour. I was overjoyed as the same distance had taken me a lot of time last year. I just had some water and Electral to ensure I was not dehydrated early, every 20 minutes and soon I was at the Bandra reclamation. This is where my body began to react. When I had reached the 22 km mark which is beyond the halfway point, it was 1 hour 57 minutes. This was quite an accomplishment for me as I had taken 2.5 hours for 21 kms last time in the half marathon. I thought I should begin walking for about 2 minutes to relieve the cramps I was getting in my arms. This was a unique thing. I have never had cramps in my arms! Actually I was carrying my train ticket and some change in my hands as my shorts had no pockets and neither did my tshirt! Then I decided to put them into my shoes!!! My new socks bear the ticket's impression even today! And my arms were aching. Although I knew my arms were getting chafed, there was no way around it. Only much later did I see the extent of damage when I saw blood on my tshirt from the bruise on my arm. But when you are euphoric, you don't feel all this while running. There is much endomorphine in the system to do so! While I was passing thru Prabhadevi, there was this band of people who were playing some good dholak (traditional Indian percussion instrument). I gave them an impromptu jig and carried on. Needless to say, they cheered.

And then there were the Hotel Management students who had packed onto their balcony. For the entire race, I don't think anyone got quite as much cheering as the LIW (except perhaps the Kenyans). There were entire bands of women who cheered every woman who was running. Then there were little girls with flags waving crazily at most participants. There were cute kids holding water bottles, which they wanted you to pick up. The first water bottle that I picked up was given to me by an incredibly cute boy of about 4 years who kept screaming, "Please take my bottle!" I couldn't refuse and when I did as he demanded, his face bloomed into a blissful expression of genuine thrill. Made me feel like I had already finished.

And the LIW was fantastic in her performance especially for the first 3 hours. Her system also did an unplanned shutdown like mine at around the same distance. Then I had to eat humble pie and begin walking alternate kms after the 34 kms mark. At around 29 kms I started feeling hungry and at around 30 kms, I was feeling that I was going to black out. I got scared and decided that it was more important to finish than maintain my pace. I drank more than a couple of Electral glasses enroute. Since I was almost resting and could maintain almost 6 kmph by walking itself, I decided to continue walking.

And there were some eve teasers who were letting out wolf-whistles at the LIW and calling out her bib no. She continued undeterred. This was the only unpleasant memory I had in my entire visit to Mumbai.

At around the time I began walking and met this bald gentleman from Surat who was a businessman in the transport business. I casually asked him if he had also not practiced the full distance like me (I had run a maximum of 26 kms prior to the marathon and had remarked to my friends, joking only partially that I would reach the Siddhi Vinayak temple by myself and leave the rest of the running to the Almighty!) He said he had done 38 km in 3 hours and 38 mins, but the humidity was murderous. Much later when I read about this Pakistani runner who also got beaten by the humidity, I could relate to it as I had also trained in the Delhi winter, which must be similar to winter in Pakistan. Bloody Hell, there I was running in a tshirt, while I had trained in a specialized thermal wear from Nike for exercising in cold weather and a sweatshirt over that!!! Then I told him that I was walking alternate kms and could run with him if he wanted to for about a km. He said he would try. Poor guy, he seemed pretty disappointed. When we reached Chowpatty, which is the last 4 kms, he began running and eventually finished a little ahead of me, under 5 hours. Later I met this creative guy from JWT named Amitabh, who was doing his half marathon who was also running at a slow pace. He eventually asked me to carry on, as I was going a little faster than he was.

People have false starts. How many false finishes have you heard of? I thought I was almost done, when I took a turn at the Air India building and began to sprint wildly. And there were no bright Red boards (with the distance in CAPS) after 40 kms. So I was attempting to rupture my lungs sprinting for nearly 400m (which is how far I thought the finishing area was) when I saw this calm and harmless looking green board, which said "1000 m ahead - Finish." First my heart gave way. It was almost 5 hours since I had begun. And the male ego in me was desperate to get under 5 hours. Then my legs, which had already done their swansong for 2005, also did. It took great effort to haul myself to the next green board, which said,"500 m ahead - Finish." As I was walking with some superhuman mental effort dragging myself towards the finish, there was this band of people shouting out my number," Hey 546, Don't walk, Run to the finish!" And they increased their drumbeats and there were about 30-40 people screaming out my number. As if this wasn't enough, there was this impressive view of people lining up on either side of the approach to the finish (somewhat like the fields in Gladiator which Russel Crowe keeps walking through). To be fair, they were cheering every bloody runner, who finished. And at that time, there weren't too many. What could I do? I summoned up some unknown quantity of energy and sprinted into the finish. They erupted into cheers when they saw that they driven me so.

I sat down after I crossed and took off my shoes After about a minute, someone walked up to me and asked me to keep moving ahead. I panicked and asked him if the race was over and he reassured me that it was, but I was in the way and someone might run over me!!! Then friends who had just finished the half marathon hugged me and gave me some biscuits to eat. I was on the verge of blacking out and recovered after about 15 mins of eating and drinking water. Meanwhile some friend who had finished the half marathon, stood in the queue with incredible energy, got my certificate and gave it to me. Then the LIW whom I now know only as bib no 797 came by and I congratulated her for her effort. I guess she turned out to be my pacesetter and felt compelled to wish her. That was our only conversation for the entire 5 hours that we ran almost alongside each other!

Epilogue: I called up my mom after the race and told her that I finished. Since it was around 12:45 pm, nearly 5 hours since I began, my mom asked rather innocently "The Kenyans finished almost 3 hours ago when we were having breakfast! Its almost lunch time now. What were you doing for so long?!!!"

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Mumbai Rocks

For a die-hard Bangalorean to even admit to loving another place itself is quite a change in life. Mumbai rocks and the rest of what I write here explains why

Exactness: Mumbaikars are fantastic when they give directions to you. If they don't know, they are quick to admit it. They don't like wasting their time and yours too. While I was on my way to CST from Andheri early in the morning on 16th Jan, I was apprehensive that I may be a little off. I asked this middle aged man sitting next to me on the train, how much time it would take to reach CST from whatever station he'd just got on from. He replied, "17 minutes!" And we were there at CST about 8 seconds beyond 17 minutes from that instant! Salut! Similarly when I was to reach my friend's place from Andheri station, I mentioned the apartment complex name to a paanwala just outside the station. He gave me the precise location and said that I should take about 7 minutes to walk to that place. If you think this is incredible, just get out of Andheri station on the east side and ask the 1st shop on your left after getting down the rail bridge for Amboli crossing!

Efficiency: When my pal took a walk down Marine Drive on the 15th as late as 7 pm, the workers were just putting up barriers to keep the pedestrians off the road on the 17th. On 17th, within an hour of me finishing the race, they began to dismantle the finish line setup and associated barriers! By about 4 pm you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing had happened around Azad Maidan. It takes a certain mindset to have such efficiency. Adjustment: Maybe it's the large population constrained to live within such a limited area or maybe they are just plain nice, but Mumbaikars are vastly accommodating. You step on someone's toes in the train, they will look at you with an understanding, "Yeah we know that you are barely able to stand" kind of look and that's the end of it. No abuses, no glaring even. The inherent rudeness, which is pervasive in, say, Delhi is missing and is welcome.

Food: The Mangaloreans or derivatives of communities from that part of India (coastal Karnataka), control most of the restaurant business here and I am obviously pleased at being able to order my food in Kannada. And there's no "Where are you from? ?" kind of questions or enquiries of well being from the people you deal with. There's tacit acknowledgement of the fact that they can speak your language and that's it, period. I love these people! The quality of food is consistent across establishments regardless of whether they are in Andheri or Bandra or Nariman Point. As cases in point, check out Laxmi Prasanna (Andheri East) or Balaji (Bandra) or Status (Nariman Point). The ambience changes owing to surrounding environs and quality of clientele, but the quality of food is almost interchangeable.

Drink: Absolut Vodka is available in multiple places at approx $ 5/60 ml which is cheaper than in Delhi and I didn't find a single person who was tottering on the road or making a loud affair of himself/herself being inebriated in Mumbai. It may due to the ubiquity of drink or again, the people themselves, Mumbaikars handle themselves responsibly with their liquor!
Traffic: How many times have you seen a driver explain to another why he was honking and the "honked at" driver acknowledging the reason and moving on!? My auto driver explained to the car driver in front that he was honking to ensure that the reversing car didn't touch the auto and the car driver said that, that was the reason he also reacted and stopped backing up! Amazing! Some Mumbaikars also jump signals like the rest of countrymen. But the percentage of those who abide patiently by the rules overwhelms the violating minority.

Helpfulness: People in Mumbai have a general briskness about life and are more than willing to help other people. On the morning of the marathon, I had bought tickets to Churchgate to get to Azad Maidan, but some good natured woman who correctly deduced by my attire that I was on my way to that place, promptly suggested that I take the Central line to CST rather than the Western line to Churchgate as Azad Maidan is bang in front of CST.

Sea: The seaface in Mumbai is an absolute delight to walk along. Only Pondicherry has a similar (albeit shorter) walk.

All said and done, if Mumbai didn't have the humidity, I would gladly shift to Mumbai for some part of my life. But for now, namma ooru Bangalore will do.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Mumbai Chalo

I am leaving to run in the Mumbai Marathon on 16th Jan (exactly a week from now).
Good luck to all those who plan to do the same in whatever event they're in.
I plan to write a dedicated blog about my experience whenI get back.
See you till then,