The standing joke in our Punjabi-Tamil household is that we would probably need to settle in Madhya Pradesh, in a huge joint house with all the in-laws in tow, equidistant from their hometowns in Tamil Nadu and Punjab, to reduce the consternation about Cupid’s cross-cultural conquest. When I found myself in Indore in July, I couldn’t help smiling.
Although, in all honesty, the 5 hours I had in the city after landing from Pune at 7am, were by no means a funny thought. I reasoned that a little stress would not kill me; I was investing in future returns. I had to take a taxi with a co-passenger to the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indore, 20km from the airport, and that took around 45 minutes. I had approximately an hour to shower, prepare my talk, eat breakfast and head to the auditorium.
The other joke in a mom’s life is that if you get even 20 minutes to exercise, you don’t just take it, you grab it with both hands. I knew I had a long day ahead of me but I decided not to put off running. I had been confronted by the friendly bathroom cockroach, which scared me silly and sped up my exit from the room.
As I stepped out in mismatched run-gear, I realized that the thing about being inside an academic institution in India was that there was almost no chance of getting lost. There were neat signs pointing to the library, the dorms, the administrative buildings, the auditorium, and in the odd case the main gate, in English, Hindi and a third language on occasion. Neat zebra crossings in lemon-yellow and black, occasionally masquerading as speed bumps, controlled the speed of vehicles and runners alike. I pondered leaving the campus to find some solace in the brilliant green fields and in the company of cattle. I considered pacing the motorcycles that plied the single-lane roads, strapped with two large aluminium cans that looked like giant paniers being used to carry milk.
I finally decided against that because I was content running alongside manicured hedges and lawns within the gates, with the promise of tranquillity. However briefly one finds oneself on these campuses as a student, teacher, random runner, they are peaceful, if only in the knowledge of an abundance of those road signs.
While I typically design my shortest runs to be around 30 minutes, that number came down to 20 on several occasions in July. I figured 20 was better than 0. I hoped my calculation was not short-sighted. I could not be that far off, I reasoned. I thought of writer Jim Harrison, who said “...but calendars lie. They’re a kind of cosmic business machine like their cousin clocks but break down at inappropriate times”. I decided that perhaps my clock was just off-beat for the day. If I were running slowly, the road was running slowly too.
The campus seemed empty as I ran through it, as if reflecting my own exhaustion. Where were all the students at that hour? I preferred the empty space at that point in time. It helped me contrast the crowds I encounter at other points during my day. It helped me put in perspective the 1,500km journey (Pune-Indore-Hyderabad) that I had to undertake that day. I ran downhill, past an empty pool, a few startled gardeners and several bunches of white bougainvilleas, wondering how they measured time. Do flowers have to-do lists?
That evening, I found out that the gentleman sitting next to me on my plane to Hyderabad was heading there for an eye surgery to replace his cornea. I thought about my carefree, shorter-than-short run in the confines of a safe, gated campus. I thought about this encounter with an ageing Sikh, who needed no such safety. He went about his life with the hand he was dealt.
Anu Vaidyanathan is a lost sole and author of Anywhere But Home. In this series on running, she recounts her experiences of being on the run in not so well-known places. She tweets at @anuvaidyanathan.