It is with the great affection that you return to places which have given you fond memories or which have brought the significant firsts in your life. Auroville is one such place for me. It is the place where I shared so many great moments with some of my best friends on a trip a few years back. That trip brought many unknown facets of the world to the fore and got me interested and hooked to travel. Last year I also ran my first full marathon in Auroville. Exactly a year after, as if in a happy coincidence to celebrate my first anniversary of that marathon, I find myself on that land of red soil and lovely trail to run the second of the 12 marathons we have endeavored on.
Auroville Marathon is, without doubt, one of the most scenic and easiest marathons to run, given you run it in daylight. But we start at 5 AM in the morning, in complete dark, and no lights on the trail, except the torch given by the organizers. That spells danger considering the uneven surface, small narrow trails and never-ending turns. Many people injure themselves on the route, sometimes very badly that you can hear them abusing the organizers, the trail and everything else they can think of. I intend not to be member of that distinguished group, so I start slowly and try to contain myself from running fast. After a couple of kilometers I hit a narrow trail inside the jungle. The torchlight is so dim that at every turn, I have to stop and see if I am on right track and not hitting a tree. It looks scary in the darkness. A dog’s howling afar comforts me! I never imagined I would say that but it’s the truth. Screeching sounds of birds feel like masterful rendition of a classic. Even the stars which are so distant you would need a computer to find out their distance from earth become your guiding lights. I hear a faint sound of a runner’s approaching footsteps and see the fading light from his torch. I somehow manage to match his speed by adjusting mine according to the sound and the light from back so that I do not need to run alone. His name is Deepak. What a fine name, I think to myself, and very apt too! A piece of synchronicity to occur at the right moment. After a few minutes I realize that it’s not necessary to do that fine-tuning because even he is interested in keeping pace with me. We both need each other. The realization dawns upon me like a burst of a supernova – we humans need each other more in the darkness than in light. In the darker moments when we are vulnerable and lost, the support and the guidance of fellow humans allay our fears and nudge us to right direction. We are partners, not participants and competitors. Ever wondered why the camaraderie is relatively stronger between the members of a mafia gang? They are creatures of night.
I see face of Deepak first time after running with him for about an hour. We stop at a water point and I look at him to capture the image of the man who accompanied me and helped me negotiate the twists and turns of the dark trail. Not surprisingly, once in light, we both revert to our normal self – competitive, self-centered and goal-oriented. He asks me about my goal for this marathon. We both share same goal, of finishing in less than 4 hours. We must pick up the speed if we were to attain that. He increases his speed. I try to stay with him. After a while, I cannot keep up with him and he runs ahead, out of sight, as if he never existed. I would have done the same if I were capable of doing that. We move on, alone, whenever we can, leaving behind those who were with us till that very moment. That’s why the members of families who constantly go thru hardships are strongly bonded. They share a common objective to fight for their wellbeing, which the others do not who have it rather easy. Happiness and comforts carry their own disadvantages.
At the half way mark, I see the 5K and 10K runners starting their run. I blend myself in the lot. Not feeling very strong, I start walking in between. The group of drummers at one corner lift my spirits but that does not last very long. But that weakness come with blessing. While walking I can enjoy the surroundings more. The turns which felt so dangerous before suddenly become openings to new vistas. The narrow trails bring me closer to the nature, literally, as I relish the scratching of the green leaves on my body. The sun rays making their way thru thick trees feel like the early morning shower. The plethora of architectural delights from all the over the world constantly pleads for the attention. In the process I lose some time, but gain much more that what the clock could provide for.
I finish my marathon in 4 hours and 22 minutes, taking out 35 minutes from my previous Auroville marathon. After collecting my finisher’s t-shirt and having breakfast under the shamiyana, I wait for my teammates. One by one they keep coming, finishing stronger than ever. We make a picnic-eque scene whenever any runner comes sprinting for that last dash to the finish line. Everyone is greeted like a superhero. In the end, only Manish remains on the trail. I set out on the trail in the opposite direction to see how is he doing and check if he needs any help. Vinit joins me. We see a group of runners from Hyderabad in identical outfit feasting on chocolates and biscuits. They are waiting for their hero, they say. No, it’s not celluloid hero like Chiranjivee or Nagarjuna they are talking about. They mean the last runner in their group. I make a point that long distance running is the only sport where being last is not seen as being unworthy of or matter of being looked down. On the contrary, you are looked upon as a hero – a hero which never gives damn to what or how others do, never leaves blazing and lonely trail and continues his march even when every micron in the body and every neuron in the brain pull him back.
We find Manish just 600 meters away from the finish line. We goad him to go faster. He says that his knees have all gone weak, but he still runs with us. The gang welcomes him to the loudest cheers. Our second marathon is completed. Prakhar analyses his run and makes some fine points. He also observes that every marathon teaches a runner a new lesson which he carries with him forever. For me, every marathon brings some lasting image. I try to think what that image is for this marathon. I cannot think of any though I try very hard. Just then I see a runner putting his final steps towards the finish line. There comes my image – at times we try so desperately to look for something that we do not see it right there in front of our own eyes. He reaches to the finish line but does not cross it. He stops there and then. The strength of his posture makes you think that even a bulldozer cannot move him from there. He looks skywards, his hands folded and mutters a prayer. I guess he is thanking God. The tears in his eyes are dried in the hot sun before they leave the eyelashes. In those eyes I can see the look of fear, dread, doubt, agony, ecstasy, accomplishment, achievement and love, all together. That might be his first marathon, or the most trying one. Satheesha runs to congratulate him. Gopal hugs him. None of them knows him. That is what a marathon can do to you – it makes you grateful, it connects you to God and the people who are embodiments of that Almighty. In that moment, the line does not signify finish, but start of a new life, a new adventure, a new beginning. One just needs to Get, Set, Go!
P.S. – Deepak finished his marathon in less than 4 hours. I am happy for him. Post marathon, we had lunch at the restaurant in the Auroville Visitors Center. We hogged food like elephants. The food is highly recommended, more so if you also happen to run a marathon prior to that and are hungry to the last bones of your body.