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sentiments and shoes

 

 

“I will come running with you.  I have been looking for a running partner myself”, said Arjun.

The next day, it’s five in the morning.  He is here like he said he would.  I look at the expansive view of the empty fields to my left.  It is beautifully framed by two trees on either side, a mango tree and a neem tree.  On my right, Arjun is taking out a motorbike.  I get out of my charpai, and change into my shorts, t-shirt and running shoes.  Something keeps me from wearing my short-short running shorts.  I wear my semi casual knee length shorts instead.  Modesty.

Why are we taking a bike?  I wonder.  But it’s too early in the morning to disagree.  An entirely compliant pillion, I get behind Arjun and the bike roles through Baba-ka-Gaon.  In less then a minute, he stops.  I see Utpal coming our way.  I presume he is joining us.  I shift closer to Arjun, making space for Utpal behind me.  Three of us on the bike, we are heading out of the village now.  We cross the Panchayat ghar to our left.  Arjun halts here but Utpal tells him to keep going.  He has another starting point in mind.  Arjun agrees with him and we continue on a dirt road.  Soon we reach a pucca road.  This is where Arjun stops.


“These are our fields here”, he tells me.
 

“Really.  How big are they?” I ask.
 

“Two bigha.  Over there.  See.” He says.
 

I have very little idea about agricultural land.  If someone had said to me two bigha zameen earlier, I would have had absolutely no idea how big it would be.  But I would have imagined it to be a vast piece of land.  I don’t know why.  Having lived all my life in a city, I have no real notion of agricultural fields.  I just imagine big fields.  Looking at two bigha now, I think to myself: it’s not that big actually.  Quite a small field.
 

Next I look at Utpal.  He is wearing rubber slippers. 
 

Is he going to run in these?  I wonder.  I don’t say anything.  There is little point.  If he’s going to run in these, he is going to run in these.  There is nothing I can do or say about it.
 

We start running.
 

“We will run at a comfortable pace.  At any point if you feel tired, just say so”, I find myself telling the two young boys to my either side.  I am much older to them and I am concerned.  I don’t know how much running they do, what distance they are used to.  I am especially concerned about Utpal.
 

“So do you go running often?”  I ask him.
 

To my surprise he replies, “yes”.
 

“They made us do 10 kilometers for the police entrance exam."  After a short pause he adds, "I didn’t make it.”
 

“Why?”
 

“Because I am not tall enough.”
 

“How tall do you have to be?”
 

“At least 5’8”.”
 

“And you are?”
 

“5’7”.”
 

First I sense relief - for my own height.  At 5’9” I could get into police, if I want to.  Not that I do.  Then I feel sad for Utpal.  He missed an important job only because he is an inch shorter. 
 

It’s a smooth tar road that we are running on.
 

“Is it new?” I ask.
 

“Yes”, replies Arjun with fierce pride.
 

“And what are you thinking of doing now that you done with Class XII?” I ask him.
 

“B. Com.”
 

“And what do you want to do eventually?”  I am curious to know.
 

“I want to be a teacher.”
 

“What do you want to teach?”
 

“English.”
 

“Then why don’t you do English Literature or something?  How will B.Com help you become an English teacher?”
 

I figure Arjun has not thought that far.  He probably wants to do a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com) because that’s what most people do.  It’s a safe course.  I decide not to interrogate his choice any further.
 

Utpal is now slowing down.  I look sideways, I see him trailing behind.  He motions with his hand, that he’s going to stop.  I smile and motion back, that it’s OK.  Arjun and I keep going.
 

We run a distance.  I have in mind to run half an hour.  I look at time.  It’s been 15 minutes.  I tell Arjun that we should turn back.  We are now returning to the point we started.  On our way, we see Utpal where he had stopped.  He joins us and soon we return to the spot where Arjun had parked his bike.
 

End of my 1st run in a rural area.

 
 

I am planning to go for my next run the day after.  Arjun tells me he will be leaving for Delhi, where he stays with his immediate family: father, mother, a brother and a sister.  Utpal tells me he will come with me.
 

The day after, I see Utpal turn up early morning.  I am relieved to see he’s wearing shoes this time.  Not exactly running shoes but they are better than running in slippers, I think to myself.
 

“Shall we take the bicycles?”
 

I am delighted!
 

“Yes, let’s do.”
 

I take one.  Utpal takes the other.  And we pedal our way out of the village.
 

This time I tell Utpal to take me to a dirt road.
 

“Running on dirt road is better than running on tar roads.”  I tell him.
 

We go the canal, leave our bikes there, and start running.  Again I have in mind to run half an hour.  We run 15 minutes in one direction and then turn back.  Utpal keeps up with me.  We finish the run and sit for a while on a small bridge on the canal, huffing and puffing.
 

“How was the run for you?”  I ask Utpal.
 

“Yes.  Fine.” He replies.
 

I’m not satisfied with that brief an answer, so I probe him some more.
 

“Oh well, I felt a slight pain in my stomach while running.”
 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask.
 

“What is there to tell?  It’s normal.”
 

“And what else?”
 

“My feet sweat..."

I look down at his feet.  He's not wearing socks.
 

We get back to where I am staying.  I look through my things and find a new pair of socks I am carrying.  Well, not entirely new.  They have been washed once.  I give them to Utpal.  He looks pleased.
 

He too is leaving for Delhi today, I find out, with Arjun, for a short stay there.
 

I am planning to go for my next run the day after.  By now I know my way out of the village, and today Utpal has shown me a great running route.  Here on I suppose I could go running by myself. 
 

End of my 2nd run.

 
 

The day after, Rajeev, my host asks me, “aren’t you going for a run?”
 

“Yes, yes I am.”
 

“I am coming with you.”
 

“Will you run?”
 

“I can’t.  My leg hurts.”  He says, pointing to one of his knees.  “Because of it I have never been able to run.”
 

“Oh no.  Then you don’t have to bother.  I know the place.  I can get there on my own.”
 

“Not a botheration for me.  What am I doing here anyway?  I will wait for you by the canal while you do your running.”
 

I protest a little, by which time Rajeev has already pulled out his motorbike.  I get on the bike and we get to the same place as day before.  I run on my own.
 

End of my 3rd and last run in this place, Sun 2 May 2010.  I am planning to return to Delhi tomorrow.

 
 

As I start packing my things, I leave my running shoes out.
 

“These are for Utpal.”  I tell Rajeev.
 

I look at them one last time.  Not a big sacrifice.  I have had them for four years now.  They’d broken twice the last one year, and I had to have them repaired.  I was planning on buying new ones anyway.  I look at them wistfully because they’re my first running shoes (since I took up running seriously).  By now I have a sentimental attachment to them.  I suppose every attachment must end - at some point.  I can’t think of a better ending for this one.
 
 
 
Baba-ka-Gaon is a rural village in Uttar Pradesh, India.  The closest town is Amethi.  All conversations were in Hindi.  They have been recreated here after a week, based on memory.  All names are changed.
 
 
 
 

- Sun 2 May 2010

 

 

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