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To say that Bengaluru has changed in the last decade would be an understatement. The city has become unwieldy in commuter traffic, and the amount of smoke from exhaust alone is mind-numbing. That aside, I now almost mandatorily think about safety when I run in the city. I don’t remember calculating the odds of survival before setting out on a ride or a run or braving sexist coaches before this.
On the first day, before leaving for my book tour, I found myself awake at 3.30am. I had flown in from London and my body was unable to reset in 48 hours. After responding to a dozen emails, drinking coffee and doing some yoga, I looked at the clock and it was 5.30am. I decided to go for a run. It had been several months since I had any consistent running on my calendar. Writing a book had mostly served me a massive portion of humble pie. Even more than all that humility, it had robbed me of my sleep and routine. I wondered if I would remember how to run.
I started my run without the iPod on purpose. I knew I was tired and I wanted to be vigilant. The only portion of the scenery that stayed the same were the many dogs. The sun had started to come up within 20 minutes of my being out and I started to relax a little. Daylight somehow brings the false security of having more eyes watch you. The morning walkers multiplied as I ran along and I kept plugging at a steady pace. Most of my runs are point-to-point, with enough rickshaw fare in my pocket to return home. Maybe some extra change for the odd coconut water splurge on a summer day.
Changing my routes has reduced my chances of being followed or in some cases my routes becoming predictable. Think about it, a little detour might be all it takes to confuse anyone who is keeping track of you without good intentions. I only planned on running 45-50 minutes that morning and after a quick stop to lace up my shoes, I ambled towards an auto and made my way home, all before 6.30am.
I think the hour at which one runs also helps in navigating spaces differently. Since I have always negotiated my own neighbourhood on my own two feet or on the seat of my bike, I have learnt a lot more than I would have if I had say, driven around in an air-conditioned car with my windows rolled up. There is something of an education in understanding the early mornings.
The first step to having a conversation with one’s neighbourhood is to unpack the mental images we are inundated with. To rely on our own faculties, sight, smell, sound and intuition to gauge our surroundings. To leave behind the devices, pressing whose buttons could distract us long enough to become a danger to ourselves. To cultivate the ability to stay calm, even when in unfamiliar surroundings. To rely on people to give us directions, in case we get lost. To develop a healthy respect for being uncomfortable. The air-conditioned car might well protect us from dust allergies and heat but it will never tell us where a little alley, right behind that crossroad with the big banyan tree, leads. All before 7am.
Anu Vaidyanathan is a lost sole and author of Anywhere But Home. In a bimonthly series, she recounts her experiences of being on the run in not so well-known places. She tweets at @anuvaidyanathan.