Monday, December 23, 2013

The Harmonica

1979- Schooldays

I could hear him playing Ik din Bik jayega Mati ke mol. Madhav had received a New Hero Harmonica from his tutor. The metallic red instrument in cardboard box with Chinese letters caught my attention. Madhav would have an extra tuition class for me and tell me the new stuff he learned. In a month I learned to play the same song.

I wanted a harmonica of my own. Few school friends asked me about gift for my forthcoming Birthday.

“I wish I could buy a harmonica. It costs a lot of Rupees.”

My friends handed me the cash on my 15 year birthday. A friend and I cycled to M G Road and checked out almost all shops.

“No! We do not have a Hero. We have cheap stuff for kids.”

I was frustrated. Next weekend I started a thorough search around Pune. After 4 hrs, I finally came across a shop that sold toys.

“Chinese Harmonica hai?”, I asked. (I was now ok with ANY foreign harmonica.)

The shopkeeper pulled out a box that had lot of Indian Harmonicas. Then he gave me a Metallic Blue Harmonica that was wrapped in a butter paper.
It read Butterfly. I blew into it. It was almost as effortless as Hero and sounded good. I paid Rs 50 which was Rs 10 over my budget and it did not even have the cardboard box.

I must have been a pain at home, as I kept harping and practicing at study time or Dinnertime.

1981- Apprenticeship

The Butterfly accompanied me to the apprentices hostel. I earned reputation of a good player as I could play almost any song. I escaped the ragging sessions as the seniors were ok if I played them a tune. During my In-plant training as a Draftsman, I came across another harmonica player. I did not listen to him play but he gave me the bigger picture of the world of Harmonica. He talked about Brands that I never heard about. I remembered Hohner, which was manufactured in Germany.

I was to play at the Hostel Get together and the Chief Technical Director of Tata Motors, Mr Jakatdar was the chief guest. My friends wanted me to play a new song and I had been practicing with our Music band in TATA motors Hostel. It was my first stage performance and I had the shivers.

As soon as I started playing, the shivers vanished and I escaped to my world of melody. I received a huge applause from the crowd. It was one happy moment in my life.

Two weeks after this performance, I was summoned by the Divisional Manager of Training Division. I was terrified at the prospect of meeting a senior person and I hoped there was no bad news for me. (The same man had grilled me over a lost TATA motors trainee badge and I had received a caution letter for my negligence.)

Mr Mukhopadhyay was nice to me. “Do you play Harmonika really well, Parag?”
“Yes. I think I can play any song.” I was surprised at the purpose of the visit.
Then he said, “One of my friends is going to Germany. Which Harmonica is the best in the world? Suppose you were to buy one.”

I told him my wish. “It’s a Chromatic 64 key Harmonica called Hohner. I have never seen it but people tell me that it’s one of the best.”

Mr Mukhopadyay said, “Thanks for the advice. I will suggest it to him.”

One Month later I heard, that Mr Jakatdar had retired from his position as Chief Technical Director at Tata Motors, soon after his visit to Germany. It was only then that I realized, who the friend was.

I hoped he was happy with his Harmonica and I was glad to have been of service to a great personality.

Two months later, Mr Mukhopadyay summoned me to his office.
“Did you get the Harmonika, Parag? I gave it to the rector.”

I was shocked.

A 64 Chromatic for me? It was a very costly Harmonica. Was I good enough?

It was a rich man’s stuff. It was fine for a Director. Not me.

I fumbled for words to express my appreciation and gratitude, but I only answered him with silence.

I mumbled, “I will check with the Rector. Thank you so much.”

The man had bought an expensive harmonica. Judged me from single performance?

He had nothing to gain by giving me this costly toy! I was just a low level Apprentice.

My respect for the retired Director grew to a new height. This was the culture at TATA motors that bred great men and one of them had just blessed me.

I waited restlessly at the hostel for the rector. He appeared after his rounds.

“Mr Mukhopadyay asked me to collect the Harmonica.”

He looked at me. “You can take this instrument play it whenever you want. But it should be handed back to me. It will be kept with other Musical instruments as Hostel Property.”

This was a rude shock. Harmonica is a private instrument. How can it be shared?

The rector knew nothing about music. Or perhaps he did not want me to get it so easily.

However, I suppressed my feelings and carried it to the room. When I told the story to my friends they were shocked too. “Dude, this Harmonica will end up at the rector’s home for sure.”

I was sad as I felt the same. In 1984, I left the hostel without the harmonica.

1985-Earn a chromatic

My friends at the hostel shared the loss of the instrument with me. Venkatesh approached me one day and said, “There is a Hero Chromatic Harmonica for sale and there is only one piece.”

I thanked him for the splendid news. He gave me a ride on his bicycle. The seller was none other than my Old Harmonica friend. He was glad to see me. “It is not a 64 Chromonica, but it is not too bad either for Rs 125/.”

The Hero lasted for 14 years during my service at Tata Motors. It broke many-a-times and had been bound by Adhesive tape. Unfortunately, I could never flaunt my Chromatic on stage.

1999- New milleneum

I had joined a software company and had the opportunity to visit USA for 3 months. There was a stopover at the Frankfurt airport. Had Mr Jakatdar travel for the Frankfurt Motor show?

Frankfurt? Germany? It "tasted" of Harmonica again. Could I buy a 64?

The stopover at Frankfurt was around 3 hours. Mangesh and I caught an internal train to get us to the shopping area.

“Does this airport have a shop for Musical Instruments?


“Danke Zehr!” I mumbled in appreciation.

The gentleman had no idea what this meant to me and the reason for the beam on my face.

It was a full fledged Hohner shop! I had walked into a dream.

There it was! A Silver 64 Chromatic Hohner glistened through the showcase at $26.

I looked at all options. There was a costlier harmonica at double the price.

"Can I touch it? Can I blow?"

"Nein!", warned she. Then the shopkeeper pulled out a blower. I pumped into the harp to test it.

I shelled out the advance money that my Company had handed me to cover any dire situation.

Mangesh said, “I will cover you as long as you keep playing tunes for me.”

The dream started in 1984 had yielded fruit in 1999. The expensive asset was earned and not gifted.

No one could take it away from me this time.

During my last performance on stage at my company, I wore Dark Black Sunglasses when playing the harp.

A colleague asked, "Why those glasses.?"
I answered, "I cant stand the glare of the lights.". 

I knew that perhaps I looked very funny with them on. But I expected no one would have understood the reason then.

The Hohner Harmonica that I held was purchased with my buddy, Late Mangesh Deshpande.
Mangesh was lost in the clouds and the goggles were a silent tribute to my companion.

Just like my lost friend, the Harmonica has one key missing.
I need to play the key by shifting the button.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wipro Chennai marathon 2013

'The race day is an occasion where you get results of your training.'

I was not training well for a marathon.
One 37km run a month before marathon was the only occasion I stretched.
I was not doing well ..certainly not as well as my friends Jeetu, Nitin and Rupesh when I joined them for a run that started at 4AM from Wanowrie.
Near Hotel Blue diamond I felt lot of heat in my head and Jeetu suggested removing the head band that I usually wear to prevent seat pouring down my eyes. Near Agakhan Palace we had the last sip of water at a municipality tap and I dropped into a walk, gesturing to my friends that they should continue.
I would try to pull on and join them at Pune running Amanora event where we did our rest 15km with water support.
I was not ready for a long run and had all the signs were showing me my weakness. But when I was inside Amanora looking at the crowd of other runners set a cheer and I continued in better pace with plenty of water to nourish me.

I had joined a 200km in One month Challenge as a salute to Sachin Tendulkar. Diwali vacation did not allow me to train well and I slipped in my target miles. After Diwali I trained with the NIBM Runners group and got back on track to complete 200km. It was a nice change from my Solitary runs to be with a group of jovial runners. I volunteered for a 21km trail run by Pune Running (as a photographer) which was directed by Jeetu and planned by Nitin.
I had a heel pain, A result of stepping on some pebble OR the TCS run where I pushed myself bit beyond my limit for 8km PB.

A week Before Chennai Marathon, I stepped into "taper".
During this period of inactivity, my weight increased from 78 kg to almost 80kg. I was keen on getting my heel in better shape. I used the Decalthon flat sole Shoes with heel inserts to ease the pain.
By end of the week, Thursday, I caught a viral infection and visited the doc.
I mentioned that I was planning to run Chennai marathon in 2 days.
He said, “You seem to be in good physical shape. But the infection will take 3 days to go. You need complete rest.”

I thought, “ He did not say that I should not run the marathon.”

I had to skip office on Friday, as I was completely bedridden. I slept through the day and the medication was indeed too strong . The cough syrup made me drowsy. I kept drinking a lot of water and electral.

Steam and gargle to keep the throat in better condition.
Sat 4AM..I caught a rickshaw to the Pune airport and joined Umesh who was to accompany me to Chennai. Mayuresh (Pune Running Friend) was on the same flight.
I had last sip of cough syrup before boarding. 3 hrs to kill at Bangalore till we got on the Chennai Flight.

We were received by Army personnel, who took me to the bib collection center and then to OTA (Officers Training Academy) which is adjacent to the airport. My host Lt Gen Sunil Jog was out of town but all arrangements was in place at the Flagstaff house which had tight security.
I met my Cousin and my Grandma and felt at home. After lunch, we had a walk around OTA campus. Cadets under training reminded me of NDA campus. A splendid view from the top of the hill that showed us the airport and St Thomas hill.

Before sleep, I massaged the right foot arch. Any strain here was going to cause taut muscles, that could wreck my knee during the long run.
The massage did well initially, but it also started causing a dull ache to my foot arch later in the night.

We got up at 3AM after5 hr sleep. I did few stretches for my feet to relieve me off the pain.
A jeep escorted us to the start point.

I met Vishwanathan Jayraman (Hubli express) and we hugged each other. I was moved when he kissed my hands and said, “You are a great artist.” We have a great appreciation for each other. It is a treat to meet good people at occasions like marathon.

Everyday Marathoner: Vishwanathan Jayaraman

I met my old friends Thomas Paulose and Bhagirathi (From Soles of Cochin).
Thomas was targeting 10km at around 1hr.

The run was flagged off at 5AM sharp.
I had changed the rules of my game. i.e I kept my pace very slow. Over pacing at Hyderabad Marathon had cost 5:35 of my time.

My intent was to achieve 10km in around 1+ hr. I was using a few good things from Jeetu (who completed his 100km run), especially landing on the paw, sliding the foot just over the road. The smooth road caressing the foot.

Rain started and I welcomed it. Wet road offers lubrication and is a treat for bare feet.
I chatted along with a few new friends from Chennai and then picked pace. At 10km line I glanced at my watch 1:07. I was indeed going slow.

Marina Beach..I believe there is no better way to see Chennai than a Marathoner. I saw Vishwanathan running back the loop. He was way ahead of me.. Near The war memorial I saw Bhagirathi and few yards later, Thomas wave at me.
Bhageerathy Vaidyanathan

Thomas Paulose

I had settled in my pace. My strategy of reducing pace seemed to work! It was almost effortless running. My breath was just normal and so was my pulse (Or so I sensed). In bare minimal running, I have kept all gadgets away apart from my Very basic Mobile, that helps me to catch up with my friends at end line.
I could see plenty of bare foot runners and I am glad that the tribe is increasing.

Umesh and Parag

Lot of people cheered from the side of the road. I remembered Mumbai SCMM. Very similar spirit in Chennai. I was sipping water every 2 km. The rain had stopped and I had started heating up. I poured water all over my T shirt. The rejuvenation was instant and I accelerated my pace. Some Bhajan’s could be heard from a temple. We were now running against the overwhelming 10km race crowd.

At 21km mark I checked my Watch.. 2:18. (This was just the right time to get me a sub 5 target).  For a long time I was ran alone. I had slipped into a state of trance, where there was no pain or no effort and I was focused on NOW.
The end line and the distance was never in the mind. I soon saw the IIT campus. Lot of youngsters was out there cheering us. I waved my hands to thank them.
Throughout the later part of the run,. I had started squeezing Lemon and salt into my mouth ..and sipping a glass of water to drown it.

I can confirm..Lime and salt is the BEST rejuvenate. I did not take any other electrolytes during this run. At occasions I used to gobble a small piece of banana (doused in salt) and these few natural ingredients were sufficient to keep me nourished. There was absolutely no nausea, as usually seen with sweet electrolytes/ soft drinks.

Some construction sand and mud…The people with shoes avoided it. I ran through it as it was a pleasant glide for my feet which had traded with the asphalt. The sudden luxury had got me carefree and I landed on a sharp stone. I winced at the pain and rubbed the foot on the road as I ran. The pain vanished.

IIT Madras! It is indeed a beautiful campus. What an apt terrain to run the last miles! Groves of trees on sides. Cheering youngsters. Volunteers on cycles tended to the runners for water.

"Focus on NOW! I reduced my pace." I tell myself. "When I run an ultra, the run will never end. All that matters is current condition! Deep abdominal breathing. Cool down the body."

My legs were rolling and there was no muscle strain. I may have looked funny as I engage in the “Drunken monkey roll”. At three stations I drowned myself in ICE water showers at the sponging stations. It is a huge relief and all the freshness returned fast.

Bhagirathy on her return loop gives me a clap. She is doing pretty well. Thomas Paulose soon follows. He asks if everything is ok. I reply, “Never felt better in my life!”

I am now close to km 38. Four kms to go. I quickly know what this means. It is like 2 rounds at the Pune racecourse, which at my normal pace takes 25 mins. For sub 5 I only have 20 mins.
It is a shock for me as I have relished my pace. The sudden thought of numbers and figures and goals leaves me awestruck.

km 39 is more painful. only because it is a mark closer to the goal and unsure that I will end up Sub Five. I am soon at km 40 water station. Without asking me, two girls empty their ice water sponges over my head. The water runs along the back. And the “labor” evaporates.
In my mind, I am back at my solitary run at the racecourse..Just one round. I have not looked at the watch after km 38. Figures cause pain.
I am back with Nitin who yells,”Strong Finish!”
My Gallop starts. I overtake many runners. By standers seem amazed at the pace and the energy.. Cadence gets less as I am in a sprint (and kill) mood. My feet pound (as they never pounded before)..Kraftwerk sings CARDIOGRAM to me and I breathe Swish Phaaw Swish phaw. 
In this last km I broke all my rules..The crowd from Chennai applaud.. I glance at the electronic display…5:04
My watch shows 5:03.. Same old Personal best as AHM 2012

I rush inside the ground..Sip Glucon D. Then run to the stretching area.
Surprisingly, there is absolutely no indication in my legs that I ran a marathon.
The pain is in the ankle joints. I know from my experience that this lasts a couple of days.

Stretches help me to relax. The worse cases are being attended by Chennai Volunteers. I lie down for a while.  Then I stroll towards Soles of Cochin that I recognize in their light green T shirts. Thomas did it quite well as this is his first Barefoot marathon.. He says, “ Our Goal is no injury.” We have an agreement on this!

The prize distribution ceremony is on and I listen to the glory of the brave winners. The Westin food bag is a surprise and the food is excellent. 

Many runners come to me and congratulate me. “You ran very well!” 
I am embarrassed.
 I do not recall seeing them before..Or is it that last “high perf” sprint that got me attention? Or am I being "not nice" as them?
The crowd is so different and friendly than all my past marathons.

Umesh meets me at the endline. He made it in his usual time. “ Maximum Enjoyment from the investment in Bib.”

I brood. I gave everything I had, for this run. I had changed my game plan. No electrolyte..Slower pace. This was the only marathon where I did not walk. I often break into short walks after km 36.
Even with the last sprint, I could not get under 5 hr target. It is a realization, that this is the limit that allows me to enjoy my run, pain-free.

Should I really care about sub 5? It is just a number.
If it happens automatically, it would be nice to have.
I have a good breath, nice pulse and lower BP, which should be more important.

While chasing for my “best time”, I conveniently forgot my Viral infection and the Humid Chennai climate.

Best mileage in Standard operating conditions. There is nothing I should crib or flaunt about.
I know my reading for Chennai. I am in a happy frame of mind, injury free.

I loved this event esp the organization, The volunteers the well managed traffic and the crowds that cheered. And the humble crowd of people that I ran with.
Marathons in various cities shows me the potential of simple and financially poor runners. It is an event where I make friendships across states and I feel like a true Indian.

Long Live India! 

Night- Next Day after Marathon.

The Ankle joint pain has vanished and I run a high fever in the night.
Next morning I visited the doc and confessed that I did not rest for 3 days, but ran the marathon. Perhaps the ice water baths?!@#$
He nods his head and says, "Nothing wrong with the marathon or the baths. You seem fit to have pulled out of it! But you had a bacterial urinary infection, apart from the Viral that I had diagnosed. You probably ran with it. Did you not pee too often during marathon? Did it not affect your time? What do runners do at Olympics?"

I answered,"Yes. 3 times. 4th time was just before start." I mused about the Olympic runners and the various public toilets where I had been.

Doc says,"I advise 4 days complete rest. Stick with it this time. No running please."

A week of Strong Antibiotics and I have re-started my 9km runs at racecourse again!

My Advice:
Do not strain too much if you are ill. (My reduced pace helped me through.)
The Dr will be a better source to blindly listen to than your brain.
My run was probably done in a dangerous condition and not ideal for others to follow.
Please take Calculated risk. :)