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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It must be me

This is not about work. I try to keep work and life outside work, including blogging, separate. For my own sanity.

This is about what happened to me after work today.

For the last couple of months, I have joined a small group of my office colleagues for evening "running classes". Nothing fancy - we have a trainer with whom we do some exercises and running. It is just once a week - every Wednesday, for about 1 to 1.5 hrs. Like I said, nothing fancy.

A few other observations. Completely irrelevant to the story. But then, relevance has never been my strongest suit. When I expound, I like extravagance. It costs nothing except the patience of the reader. Considering my story today has its share of grief for me, you will understand if I am slightly unsympathetic towards others' suffering today. So, for today, partners in sufferance, I would say. Or, becoming Shakespeare's Shylock for a moment, I would say "bear it with a patient shrug - for sufferance is the badge of all our tribe."

My first observation has to do with my acute awareness of being the oldest person in the group, with some of the others being half my age and having twice my biceps, triceps and all other muscles in the human body.

And I am talking about the female members of the group here. Years of being fed on Gouda, Alkmaar and various other Dutch cheese, not to mention swimming in the womb of their mothers and riding a bicycle the minute they got out of that womb have definitely resulted in giving the Dutch member of the female human species a reasonably muscular, if not necessarily particularly attractive, frame. (To all Dutch readers of this piece, I want to emphasise that I say this in a most endearing sense and mean absolutely no slight on a most wonderful people).

My other observation, more like a realisation, is that a lifetime of poor housekeeping cannot be undone by a one-hour-a-week attempt at redemption in what, in sporting terms, must be considered a reasonable twilight in one's life. OK, I am not eighty yet, but boy, when I do some of those stretches, I feel like each one of my muscles is getting back at me, with a vengeance, for years of abuse. As realisations come, there are not very many morale-shattering ones challenging this one. Coupled with the experience of finding that in a running group, after ninety seconds, when you look behind you there is no one - not one pathetic mammal - looking back at you, you can be excused for adding to your miseries the additional realisation that it must have been a momentary seizure of madness that made you embark on this physically stretched and mentally wretched experience.

It happens to me every time I go out there - and yet, for somebody who has a remarkable record of not making an effort in anything and just hoping that everything comes to him by itself - I have hung in there so far. I am not sure how much longer I will be able to carry on with this but so far, so good.

The group is talking enthusiastically about taking part in a 4-mile or 6-mile run soon. Just the talk makes me sick in the stomach - as if I did not have enough misery to cope with already. Guys, can we just take it one meter at a time, please ? When I drive, the kilometers on the counter tick along nicely and quickly. When I run, why is it that every meter seems to take ages, much like a tortured Rahul Dravid innings, not moving at all. (Sorry Rahul, just kidding !)

For all this, I keep hearing things like "no pain, no gain". So I feel the pain, will somebody please tell me when I am going to feel the gain ? There better be some gain otherwise this would be the biggest lie since the US claimed that the Apollo mission successfully landed man on the moon in 1969 (kidding again, of course !). Actually, I can think of more recent lies but I want to avoid politics in this piece.

Ok, that's enough of self-pity. Even I am beginning to forget what the purpose of this whole piece - apart from self-pity of course - is.

Coming finally to the point. Or at least closer to it.

The way the Wednesday process works is as follow. The class starts at 6.00 p.m. Which means till 5.45 p.m I am undecided, searching for some reason to skip it this one time (I will certainly catch up next time ! Yeah, right - like THAT is going to happen). I think of reasons, feel guilty - and then at 5.55, after seeing some of my co-runners getting out of the office, my guilt wins and I decide that another evening of torture was probably ordained in my stars.

I then rush to this sports center very near my office where we assemble as a group. We use this sports center to change into our running gear, leave our stuff in our cars and then head out onto the running tracks.

Today, I did nothing different. 5.45 happened, 5.55 happened. And the rest too. Yes, all of the rest. Including the turning back and not finding another pathetic soul.

So I get back home at about 8.15 and just as I turn the key in the front door I realise something. Yes, this piece is all about realisations but this one is more mundane.

I realise that, during my gear-change process at the sports center, I have actually left behind my work shoes. I had, as usual, hurried through the changing process in order not to delay the rest of the group. And, as a result, had left my black pair of shoes behind at the center. My favourite pair actually.

Now, the sports center is a fair distance from my home. And I could actually have picked it up the next day on the way to work. If I really wanted to be sure the pair was still there and kept in safe custody I could probably even have called up the sports center and told them to keep my shoes safely.

I weighed all this and decided I was kidding myself. How would I communicate to a busy sports center that they had to look for a particular black pair of shoes amongst all the stuff they have in their changing room (it is always busy) and keep it aside for me ? Why would they do this at all, anyway ? I don't even actually use their sports facilities - I use only their changing room.

The idea of picking it up the next day on the way to work is great in theory but I know myself. Considering I barely make it to work within one hour of office opening hours (avoiding eye-contact as much as possible with colleagues, I might add), my first priority would be to get to work. Then, going to this sports center would become a project. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculously silly but that is how some things become for some people.

So I decided that I had to sort this out rightaway. I step into my car and drive back all the way. I feel proud of myself when I walk out of the center, shoes in tow.

I am still proud of myself as I am driving on the long road leading to the highway. It is pretty deserted at this time of evening and I am actually in a good mood. I am listening to the radio - and, for a couple of minutes, in a different world.

The camera flashes - and I just realise (yes, another realisation) that I was well over the speed limit !

Come on. The only reason there is a camera there is that there is a school nearby. Totally understandably, the idea is to deter drivers from exceeding the speed limit of 50 km during school hours.

But this was past 8.30 p.m. Surely there is no reason to expect children to be at school at this time of day ? (Some teachers would argue that you are lucky if you find certain children in school at any time of day but I will not go there - I have had enough digression for one evening. No, there is more to come in this piece - at a more literal level).

So the camera flashes, I sigh, curse and drive on. I get on the highway - and for five minutes it is like highway driving at 8.45 p.m. Easy, no traffic.

And then, it changes dramatically, much like my mood after the camera incident.

It becomes like highway driving when an accident has just happened. That is what has just happened. I spare a thought for the victims, hoping it is only vehicle damage. As for myself, I can do nothing but just add to the sea of cars inching along. Where is that camera now, I wonder ? I am allowed to drive 120 but I am not able to drive more than 5. So do I get any money back ?

The radio is playing Abba's "Voulez Vous". I can only think "No, this is not what I want". I try to be smart. I get off the highway one exit before my usual one. Ok, it would be another ten-minute drive but better that than the inching along.

I should have known. When it is not your day, it is really not your day. I find diversion signs from my usual route. There is some road construction activity happening. The diversions are well sign-posted (I will give the Dutch that), but it means I will have to digress quite a bit from my usual route, encountering a fair number of traffic lights along the way. Some of them would not be operational at this time of night but some of them make you see red, literally and figuratively.

Anyway, I do the circuitous bit - very mindful this time of my speed since I realise (yes, another realisation) that there are a couple of cameras on this route. I am not going to allow myself to be ripped off twice in one evening !

So I get home with no further damage - a bit tired from it all. I have had my usual post-run shower and I must admit I am feeling much better now.

But I cannot help wondering - why does an evening have to be so complicated ?

Is it normal or is it just me ?

And now the final realisation - and possibly the most damning of them all. I realise it is just me.