Rain, Sine and the Luau

So much for calorie loaded feasts , occasionally followed by whimsically loud parades filled with knights, clowns and jugglers, desis never abide by such Thanksgiving traditions. The 4 day weekend was a welcome break from the endless days of work-sleep-back-to-work cycle. The bleak,cold November weather of the San Fransisco Bay area coerced Shashwathi and me to plan an impromptu trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.

When we landed, I braced myself to face the wind and the rain but much to my surprise, the showers were so warm and the wind so soothing that I knew it was going to be a eventful weekend! After an hour of vegetarian food hunting (as much of an oxymoron as it sounds), we finally settled on Subway sandwiches and headed straight for the pill box hike. The roads loop around the several hills that are a marked feature of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of the most picturesque hikes of Oahu. The highways and crossroads named in the native Hawaiian tongue which cut across the island seemed a tad more exotic as we drove in the rain amidst the deep green mountains and cliffs that rose above us from all sides. Whenever we found a clearing in the trees, we would crane our necks to catch a glimpse of what Hawaii is best known for – the pristine clear turquoise water.

The hike rises above the beautiful Lanikai Beach. When we first caught a glimpse of the beach from the shore, we were so excited to see it from the top of the hill that we decided to head up the slushy path, rain or shine. Having skipped packing any hiking shoes, I climbed up the slippery, unmarked route , in my sandals all the while grasping at straws, literally. Even with poor visibility, we could see the breathtaking blue expanse of the ocean below below an endless grey sky. Two little islands jut out of the light blue sheet of water in the middle of the ocean, just a mile or two off the coast . The clear pattern of coral reefs , the white sandy beach and the towering palm trees around, all added to the effect of the photograph-like image that stood below us. By the time we woefully climbed down the steep, wet path, the sun shone brightly through the grey skies and we were soaked to the bone, covered in mud.

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A conch reverberates and the wind carries the sound out into the ocean. On the shores, I look up at the torches that spit fire out as the flames dance to the rhythm of the wind against the backdrop of the fiery red sky and the dark silhouettes of the palm trees that stood like giants guarding the entrance to the village. The calm golden water reflects the setting sun as I sit facing the ocean observing the torch-lighting ritual .A man clad in a straw skirt skitters from one torch to another. Women stand above me, their bright colored skirts and floral head gear perfectly in place as they prepare for the Luau – a ceremonial feast.

More men in straw coloured skirts gather outside the brown thatched roof huts. Blood red and sunshine yellow flowers stuck their heads out of the ground, dotting the edges of the mud walls. I caught glimpses of the inside through the crowd of men. The almost delicate earthen walls of the tiny room hosted a variety of pots, dangling by hooks. Cherry pink satin drapes hang crookedly across the windows, occasionally revealing a tear. The floor was crowded with dishes, baskets and other odds and ends. Everthing a family owned was contained in this 20 sq foot room. The glimpse I got of the inside somewhat belied the happiness that shone on their faces that evening. Ringing laughter and native hawaiian chatter blend and float up, forming a background chorus to the cluster of local singers and drummers that tune their instruments. The night air is filled with the  smells of the village as pigs roasted on spits and in owes dug into the earth. Ana’aina, as the feast was called was in celebration of a victory at war.

Suddenly, a man appears in the clearing, armed with a wicks, the ends lit up by fire. He twirls the baton to the beats of the drums which are now growing louder, twisting and turning his body with the movements of the fire. He swirls the batons so fast that it forms a constant circle of fire around him. He then twitches and swirls it over his head and under him, and throws them up in the air juggling them, only to catch them deftly as I hold my breath. The women begin to dance , swaying to the tune of the singers who have now picked up a song.Luau, which I  realise is a complex art form, where the varied hand motions are used to represent the words in a song or chant. The movements signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or yearning. Foot and hip movements add to the charm of this ancient polynesian art form.

The feast was prepared in celebration of the glorious victory of the warriors of the village, men who had found the strength to kill, to fight to victory. The singers who had begun with a joyful melody now picked up their pace and the dancers swerved and moved fervently in frenzy to match the rhythm. Their animated expressions and hand gestures suggested danger and fear, as the men begin to put on a show of fight. Equally expressive, they seemed lost in a spell as they articulated beautifully the highs and lows of the war and the tremendous victory over the enemy tribe. The women were now chanting a happier, soothing song as the men and women united to express the final act of a safe homecoming.

The whole beach became alive with the sounds of the music, periodic swirls of green, pink and red skirts and the burning fires . Even the waves that kissed the shore seem to applaud them as the sun set over Kapolei and I was transported back to the present. The party erupted into applause as the performers beamed and the host for the evening thanked us.

Later, I found myself squeezed between the straw-skirted woman clad in a coconut shell top and a man who wasn’t dressed too differently from her- for he too wore a skirt- for a customary photograph. After assuring the man that I will not forget to tag him on Facebook, we headed out into the night.

My Undergrad Chapter

The pale green building 8-storey building stood alone amidst the chaos. The busy street bustled with cars and buses which spewed toxic fumes every minute and coated the building with a thin layer of dust.  This is where I spent four years of my life, parts of which are truly memorable.

Does it come as a surprise that it was the small things which are permanently imprinted in my memory? The kachori-wala for instance, stood at the entrance to the building (just a muddy patch of paved pathway) , everyday, rain or shine, with truly mouth-watering kachoris that I still dream of. The experience of being in classrooms with monkeys entering through windows, much to the anguish and exasperation of the lecturers, can only be gained at this place. The perilous route to the yearly tuition payment , which involved standing in a 10 sq foot room with 150 other people trying to thrust bills into the hands of one overworked cashier is truly one of a kind. Bangalore Institute of Technology was one great roller coaster ride , albeit a relatively smooth one.
I was truly wonder struck by the Mechanical lab which allowed me to carve and weld 2 pieces of metal together! (whoever thought that we would get to do it!) I was all for it and wanted to do it faster and better than anyone else 😛 As we entered the machines lab filled with the whirring sound of motors and generators, we stood ,blank faced as the lecturer explained the physics of the machines. We knew what the next day had in store for us- more last minute copying from that lifesaver Record book. And of course we breezed through the lab vivas by blurting out everything we could recall, make up or vaguely remember hearing. The same went for the written exams too, with the only exception being- they were painfully longer by 2.5 hrs.
The walk to the bustop was anything but ordinary. The ones who never experienced the sights and splendor of Kalasipalya would describe it as an unkempt place, unswept, raw ,mundane at best. To me it was anything but this. The slush filled roads and the traffic that passed by alarmingly close was not to be a deterrent for some of the city’s best street food vendors. I  had my first eggs-sunny- side- up right here. Sweets from all over the country could be found here, and I credit Prakhar for discovering these little delightful shops. I dare mention that he did end up visiting these shops everyday. The night air was filled with the aromas of dosas,voices speaking various languages and the comforting sounds of small city in itself, bursting with life.

Morgan Hill 26.2

 

Humans can never outrun a horse, a cheetah or even a greyhound. That’s a well-established fact. A lesser known fact is that on an extremely hot day, the human body is built to run long distances faster than any animal on the planet. We regulate our temperature via sweating, and sweating helps to maintain a consistent, fast pace over long periods of time without risking heat exhaustion. With appropriate training, anybody in good health can run a full marathon. And mine was about to begin in under 2 hours at Morgan Hill, California.

I was asked the ‘why’ question a few times. Why was I doing this? Why did I spend my weekends training, running 20 miles under the blazing sun in the 95F heat? Running with a bunch of professional runners so passionate about the sport can be a great motivator. But I was running with ordinary people like me, and this made it better as I could relate to them on so many levels. So did I do it to raise money? Did I do it to prove something to the world? Did I do it for fitness? Let’s go with fitness for now. It’s always a convincing reason, a safe bet.

When I reached the race venue, I thanked my carpool buddies and headed to the start line. I met a couple of Team Asha runners. I wanted a partner to run with but didn’t find one. It was just as well. I started to run anyway. The Morgan Hill Marathon was a quiet one. Running through the lush green forests and hills, passing a lake or two on the way, being alone with your thoughts amidst the desolate scenery were some of the highlights.

Mile 1-5 was a bit of a challenge. Running uphill can be pretty taxing, especially for someone who had decided to try her luck by skipping the past week’s runs! At mile 5, my only thought was – “where is the water-stop!!”

By mile 8, the runners were haphazardly dispersed on the course. Running alone felt good, the peace and the quiet. At mile 10, the pain in my thigh I had been experiencing for a few weeks returned. I didn’t want the setback to cause me to drop out. A runner passing by I had never met before came up to me and said: “keep moving”. The true spirit of a marathon is most evident in the goodwill of strangers- fellow runners who push you through the hard miles, volunteers who put in hours of planning, organizing and figuring out the logistics and spectators, who take the time to line up by the side of the road to cheer the runners.

Mile 13 was a significant crossroad. You could decide to take the left path and finish the half marathon strong, or decide to trudge along the right path for another 13.2 miles. Mile 18 seemed to go on forever. When I finally saw the 19-mile mark, I was almost ready to dance with joy! Taking in nutrition at regular intervals helped. We had to loop back the last 4 miles and I already got my first glimpse of runners who were triumphantly running towards the finish line. All I wanted was to finish, with a smile on my face. No, I take that back. All I wanted to do was lie down by the side of the road.

After what seemed to me like 1000 miles from mile 20, I saw the happiest sight of the day- Mile 23. My mind was conjuring up various images of the 6am training runs. My coaches’ positive words and fellow runners crossed my mind. Trying to draw some inspiration from it all, I realized how exhausted I was. This was my first 23rd mile. This was a distance that was completely new to my body (as we only trained up to 22 miles). When the runners’ high starts to wear off and the pace starts to drop, it’s easy to be overcome with a general feeling of helplessness.

I tried to maintain a good form and fight the exhaustion and trudged on. An Asha volunteer ran with me the last mile. But when I finally saw the finish line, I was unprepared to believe that this was indeed the finish line. There, I saw a lady jumping up and down with medals in her hand, flailing her arms wildly. I vaguely remember thinking this would have been funny at a different time, in a different place. I didn’t want to limp past the finish line. I summoned up all of what was left of my strength and ran as fast as I could.  The lady then flung a medal over my head, someone shook my hand and someone else clicked my picture. And then, it was over.

On an average a runner’s feet pound on the ground 55,334 times during a full marathon. A lot of runners ‘hit the wall’- as it is termed- on the home stretch when their legs feel like jelly and every cell in their body is ready to give up. At this point, running defies all logic. Their minds begin to function poorly just like their muscles, and they lose the power to fight, to reason, to convince themselves that they need to continue . So why did I do it? Why would anybody want to do it?

Long distance runner Emil Zatopek said “If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon”. During training, I met a mom of three who ran 13 miles every weekend. She aptly put into words what I wanted to take back from my experience – “You can deal with life if you can deal with running. You can deal with the pain if you can take the pain that comes with running”.

Over a 1000 marathons are held around the world each year and thousands of men and women run them. It isn’t an extraordinary feat to be a marathoner, in terms of what your marathon means to the rest of the world. But it is in terms of the enormity of the personal challenge. Each day you train and each day you beat the previous day’s mileage record, you experience a small sense of pride. This motivates you to do greater things. On days when you don’t know if you can pass an exam, get through an interview or run a marathon, you will always remember that you once did. “Out on the roads”, said Dr George Sheehan, “there is self-discovery and the persons we are destined to be.”