Between kilometre zero and kilometre 21 on the highway from Hubli to Bijapur, Karnataka, between 5 and 9 every morning, you are likely to spot a gaunt runner, wearing Khadi shorts but no shirt or shoes.
Vishwanathan Jayaraman is a familiar face for the residents of the villages along this stretch. They exchange smiles. Sometimes he raises his right hand in acknowledgement while he runs slowly, feet barely lifting off the ground and then meeting the tarred road softly.
“We used to be curious and wonder what he is doing,” says Shivananda, a farmer from Hebsur village. That the village bus stand has a statue of Gandhi is a mere coincidence, but it is here that Jayaraman, a Gandhian, stops, checks the time, and turns around to run 21km back home.
Jayaraman makes no conscious link between running and his beliefs. For him running is meditative and helps him get through the day.
“It’s just like meditation,” he says. “You don’t oppose the thoughts but after a while its just blank, zero. You are certainly not thinking of your feet.” The 51-year-old begins his morning marathon (at least 36km on days he can’t manage 42km) at 5am, sometimes earlier.
But his day begins earlier, when it is still dark, at 2.30am. He makes himself a cup of green tea and sits down to spin the charkha (spinning wheel) to make yarn from cotton. “That is the beginning of my meditation,” he says. He twists about 300m of yarn everyday and weaves his own clothes.
At 4am he takes the family dog, Biscuit, for a walk around the railway quarters in Hubli—Jayaraman is a financial adviser and chief accounts officer with Southern Railways. “I wouldn’t be this regular in waking up if it weren’t for Biscuit.“
The walk brings joy for both—on days when his feet are sore from the previous day’s run, the grass feels like balm.
“...and miraculously, I am all set for the run,” he says. “Being in the government service can make you feel dejected. The job is dehumanized. But here’s Biscuit, who can find enthusiasm in anything. I have become more extroverted in the five years that Biscuit has been with us.”
The running schedule began in 2000 (he started with 3km a day), when Jayaraman took what he holds as the most testing decision of his life. He quit smoking. It was this trial that introduced him to running. His wife Banu Vishwanathan and he, remember the day he kicked the habit. “It was 10 August, 2000,” she says and recalls the relief at the time.
"There is the concern that the fabric (khadi) will become heavy and cumbersome if it rains when i am running, but it’s not a big deal"
“Nicotine plays all kinds of mind games and after having failed four to five times, I didn’t want to fail again,” he says. He started to run in the neighbourhood park in the hope that the exercise would help in dealing with sleep issues that the nicotine deficiency propped. “In a way, running saved his life,” says Banu. He mostly ran short distances until in 2008, when he did a half marathon in Bangalore. It was then that he found his love for long-distance running.
In 2011, he finished the Bangalore Ultra Marathon (100km).
His belief in Gandhi marched alongside. Even before he quit smoking at 38, he had given up meat and alcohol. In 2009, he bought a charkha. “Your life is your message. In every act it is possible to live like Gandhi, and for me this is the path to becoming a better person,” says the man who is shifting to an all-Khadi wardrobe. He wears a Khadi shirt with formal pants to work and for running, he wears shorts, and headgear, all made of Khadi. “There is the concern that the fabric will become heavy and cumbersome if it rains when I am running, but it’s not a big deal,” he says.
“If you are conscious about your nakedness, look people in the eye,” he says of his sudden call to go shirt-less in 2012. Until then he wore the breathable dry fit T-shirts that are the code with most runners. “I don’t know what Kasturba Gandhi thought when Gandhi decided he won’t wear upper clothes, but I certainly appreciate how my wife takes my decisions in her stride with a smile,” he says.
He had his own inhibitions to overcome. For days he would avert his glance from people he would otherwise smile at, and put his shirt on when he entered the city on his way back from the run. “Then I figured that it was all in my head. I met people’s eyes. Now they say cheerful hellos,” he says. The realization held good for all other seemingly radical decisions. Like riding a cycle to office. Or turning vegan, which he did in May, after reading a newspaper article that spoke about the bad treatment of cattle at dairies.
Last year, he also ditched his running shoes after hearing a talk by Barefoot Ted McDonald, a barefoot running instructor from the US, at the 2012 Auroville Marathon.
“Recovery from barefoot running is much faster,” Jayaraman says. “I wake up every morning ready for the day’s marathon.”