I have only visited Goa twice, once as a gangly teenager with hair up to my waist and then again, almost two decades later, battling early hair loss. I was in Goa to deliver a talk. The good thing about five-star resorts is their Do Not Disturb sign—almost serving as a metaphor for the life you want. My journey to Goa had involved 18 hours of staring at reams of typed A4 paper with enough legal jargon to intoxicate an elephant or 10. Understandably, I hit the bed and slept hard for the first 12 hours I spent on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
When I woke up, I had almost half a day to myself. I ran into a spa attendant while asking for directions to the beach. He pointed me in the right direction with a perfidious offer of a sports massage at some point during my stay—as if walking counted as a real workout. The beach was dotted with guests from the hotel and a few people carrying towels from point to point. I decided that running right then and there would make me feel as if I were in a fish-bowl—a stressed out workhorse who had jetted away to a sea-coast for fun and fitness.
The morning after, I went on a run along a different beach. Dear Zindagi had not yet released then, but when I think about my run that day, I wonder why the ocean is central to so many notions of escape from the realities of the cartwheel we find ourselves on. I ran past a few oddly placed flags on the beach that pointed clearly to the direction the wind was blowing. The beach was packed so I did not have trouble running. It is rare when one finds a quiet run, a pleasantly warm morning and just enough humidity to indicate what might be a turning point. Shoulders soaked, I turned to head back. Maybe it is just easier to find those turning points when partially or completely isolated. That way, there is no ambient noise from people, opinions or circumstances to hold us back.
As I ran back, I thought about the kind gentleman in the audience who had been taking notes during my entire talk. I had met him briefly beforehand and sensed a kindly, avuncular soul who had worked extremely hard his whole life. Who watched out for people. Who knew where all the fun spots in town were, because a lot of his job involved meeting new people in new places. He had been talking about health but in an off-hand manner—not with the air of New Year resolutions or fashionable dieting—in a quiet way, hoping that he could keep his job and his health. Both seem to ask so much of all of us, every single day. While commercials would like us to believe that the two are not at odds with each other, most often they are. To find our throughline—that point in writing when a chapter or the story turns—as minuscule as it may be in the grand scheme of things, amid that tug-of-war between work and health, was, I decided, a daily quest. All the grains of sand in my shoes were witness to the fact that no matter how far we think we might have come, we still have a very long way to go.
As Tamil poet Avvaiyar said, “Katradhu kai mann alavu, Kalladadu ulagalavu.”
I interpret it as: “What we know resembles a fistful of sand, the harder you grab on to it, the faster it slips away. What we don’t know is as big as the Universe.” Maybe the coasts remind us of the first horizon in that Universe. Maybe that’s where the healing begins.
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.