Running in Boston
It was quite hot. We had been running for the last hour or so. And so far, we’d stuck together, matching stride for stride. It was so humid in Boston, and we were sweating like pigs*, leaving a trail of sweat behind us as we ran. Some runners had taken off their shirts and were running bare-chested. I looked at Pee and told her, “You know, I’ve been thinking. One of these days, I want to take off my shirt and run free. That would be so awesome no?”
She looked at me and replied, “What’s the big deal? We can take off our shirts right now and run. Stop being a girl.” And with that, she took off her shirt and trotted off in her pink sports bra.
It took me a second to register what had just happened. When I saw her sprinting away from me, I hurriedly took off my shirt and ran after her. Damn. She’s even crazier than I am, I muttered to myself.
I had always wanted to visit MIT and Harvard since I had started thinking of going to a university in the US. MIT was my dream university. And I was crushed the day I got a rejection letter from MIT. I remember being super envious of all my friends who got to go there and I promised myself that after I finished my PhD at Stanford, I’d go for my post-doc to MIT. And then this summer, Pee told me she’d be coming for a conference to MIT, and I jumped at the chance. I’d get to run with her as well as see the Mecca of Engineering. I was super excited.
I took a week off from work and decided that I’d visit New York and Philadelphia as well, while I was on the East Coast. I mailed a couple of friends and made arrangements to sleep on their couches while I was visiting and I was all set. I couldn’t believe it. A year ago, I was stuck in this remote part of India and reading about New York and Boston and its wonders and here I was, all grown up. Ready to make my first trip. Awesome.**
Boston was as awesome as I had dreamt it would be. I rented a car there for the first day and then realised that you don’t need a car in Boston. You can get around everywhere either on foot or by taking the subway. Made me realize for the first time, how much the public transport system in California sucked. In some sense it reminded me of Mumbai. You forget how awesome it is to be able to go from place to place without worrying about traffic, gas or parking. Plus traveling in a subway, is so magical in itself.
You’re surrounded by strangers, everyone coming from different directions, so many lives, so many smells, so many voices, some nodding their heads to invisible tunes from their headphones, some with their eyes closed and heads arched back, exhausted from a long day at work, some sit there staring into open space, lost in their own thoughts, others chat animatedly, all trapped in a bubble of space and time for a moment, all lives moving at the same pace and in the same direction temporarily and then the doors open and the spell is broken and everyone heads off into different directions again. Sigh.
I clearly remember, we were hanging out with a bunch of friends in a bar, having beer and it was getting late at night and one of them remarked, “Dude, you’ve had six beers already. And its 1 am. You’re telling me you’re going to wake up in the morning and go for a run?” I replied, “Yep. Pee is going to kick my ass if I don’t.” And we did. We woke up next morning and ran along the Charles River. Oh, it was beautiful. The morning air. The cool breeze. As we crossed the bridge and ran across the Charles, we stopped for a moment on the pier to soak in the view. And I remembered. Years earlier, I had read Haruki Murukami’s wonderful biography, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and it reminded me how I had “seen” this view earlier from his eyes..
The river I’m talking about is the Charles River. People enjoy being around the river. Some take leisurely walks, walk their dogs,or bicycle or jog, while others enjoy rollerblading. (How such a dangerous pastime can be enjoyable, I frankly can’t fathom.)
As if pulled in by a magnet, people gather on the banks of the river. Seeing a lot of water like that every day is probably an important thing for human beings. For human beings might be a bit of a generalization—but I do know it’s important for one person: me.
If I go for a time without seeing water, I feel like something’s slowly draining out of me. It’s probably like the feeling a music lover has when, for whatever reason, he’s separated from music for a long time. The fact that I was raised near the sea might have something to do with it.
The surface of the water changes from day to day: the color, the shape of the waves, the speed of the current. Each season brings distinct changes to the plants and animals that surround the river. Clouds of all sizes show up and move on, and the surface of the river, lit by the sun, reflects these white shapes as they come and go, sometimes faithfully, sometimes distortedly. Whenever the seasons change, the direction of the wind fluctuates like someone threw a switch. And runners can detect each notch in the seasonal shift in the feel of the wind against our skin, its smell and direction. In the midst of this flow, I’m aware of myself as one tiny piece in the gigantic mosaic of nature. I’m just a replaceable natural phenomenon, like the water in the river that flows under the bridge toward the sea..
.. Breathing in the crisp,bracing, early-morning air, I felt once again the joy of running on familiar ground. The sounds of my footsteps, my breathing and heartbeats, all blended together in a unique polyrhythm.
The Charles River is a holy spot for regatta racing, and there is always someone rowing on the river. I like to race them. Most of the time, of course, the boats are faster. But when a single scull is leisurely rowing I can give it a good run for its money..
And now I had seen what I had dreamed for so many years. And as I ran along the Charles, I wondered to myself, does life get any better than this? When what you dream of one day, becomes a reality. And what seems so far away, is within your grasp. You wonder if this is what life is all about? Experiencing tiny moments of inexplicable joy and then going back to your normal lives. As I stood there on the pier, I wondered how long I’d be able to remember this view in my mind. I wondered if I were a fool to not take pictures. But then I remembered a resolve I had made long ago. I would capture in words what others captured in images. And if indeed I had to write a thousand words, so be it.
We were quite excited about our little race. It was a short race organised by the local drinking hole – Casey’s bar. It was the 20th Annual Summer Steamer and we had signed up for it just because we wanted to run a race together again. It had been a long time since we had run together and it was time to create another wonderful memory.
So there we were. On the starting line. Surrounded by hundreds of other runners and walkers. All bustling and jostling each other on a hot summer saturday morning. As the guy counted down,
I looked Pee right in the eye and shouted, “Yo! You think we can do this?”
She didn’t even look at me. Just nodded. “Ayyo Pa. Off course we can. Silly boy.”
And we were off…
We suffered together. Each step of the way. No matter how jet-lagged she was or how fast I was, we started together and finished together. Along the way, we told each other stories, caught up on each others lives and even discussed science. And before we knew it, we were near the finish line and Pee went, “Alright Bhamla, Lets show them how its done.”
And we sprinted like mad to the finish line – long clean strides, with people clapping on both sides – we finished in unison. Usually we high-five and hug as soon as cross the finish line, this time, we first put on our shirts and then hugged each other and headed into Casey’s for a cold beer.
This was one of my best trips so far. I hope the next time I visit, it’ll be to run the Boston Marathon. More about my running adventures in New York in the next post. Oh, and I get to run with Pee again in January when we run the Mumbai Marathon together. Five months. Bring itt onn !
** RM, do you remember, ages ago, we were sitting and talking about how one day we’d go to New York and Boston and see all these places? Time sure flies eh?