Saturday, September 28, 2013 – I disembarked from the train at Kumbakonam to venture into an unknown territory of long distance running – A multi-stage run into roads that I have never known before. The run was a consequence of ‘Bib’ Bala’s association with Selva ‘Sir’ and a confluence of their passions in scriptures, temples and running. They threw the challenge out open to a group of runners and those who opted (or successfully coerced by Bala/Selva) includes Ram, Neville, Srikumar, Durai, Peter, Vadivel, Vishwanathan, Suresh, Chakra, Ravikrishnan and I. In addition to the runners, the crew for the event included Bala’s family – Shanti, Krishna and Shreya, Vishwanathan’s wife Bhanu and Selva’s Mom. There were people from all age groups from the little Shreya to Selva’s 73-year old Mom sharing the same passion, energy and enthusiasm to get the best out of the trip.
We were welcomed by a rousing reception from Narayanan and his team. Narayanan was chosen to lead this contingent over the following 4 days and little did he know what was in store for him. It was his 20 years friendship with Selva that has dragged him into this event as a race director… this wasn’t a race… so, let’s call him ‘The Run Director’ or best, Our Caretaker, which would summarise his role during the event. It is still difficult to believe how Selva convinced him to take up this challenge. Whether it was the run or the temples or Selva’s friendship that inspired him, we were extremely lucky to have someone like him leading the contingent.
Narayanan was never a runner though he looked fit enough to run a marathon. An epitome of calmness, soft-spoken, short, bespectacled man, dressed so well to lead a contingent of formally dressed office going folks than a bunch of half-naked running ones. At first sight, it was impossible for most bystanders to associate him with our group. There were times I felt like telling him that he is just too nice to lead this flock. It was his conduct that set the standards of behaviour for the rest in the group and importantly, ensured that this is not just another running event but an event with a deeper meaning. In tours like these, where one’s physical body is tested to its extremes, it is not uncommon to see the participants lose their cool even to the slightest irritations. Narayanan’s presence ensured that the tour was free from any major outbursts and unpleasant incidents.
Narayanan also arranged a grand felicitation ceremony for us at his home in Thippirajapuram, where we were housed at the end of day 1. He further honoured us on our completion of the run at Thirunallar with a garland.
The same can be expressed about the support staff during the trip. They showed enormous patience to wait for every runner to finish the run and take meticulous care for all our needs. In addition to them, Narayanan had also arranged two cooks who prepared delicious food for us throughout the trip. They set up their kitchen in different places closer to where we would be present during the meal time and cooked food for us. It ensured that we benefit from ‘home-made’ food and also avoided any stomach related disorders.
Our first destination was the tiny hamlet of Ganapathy Agraharam, located about 30 Km from Kumbakonam. We were driven to Ganapathy Agraharam and scheduled to stay there for the night. As the name suggests, the village also houses a beautiful temple of Lord Ganapathy where he planned to inaugurate our run, the next morning. We were accommodated in a refurbished traditional Agraharam house and the inmates of the house warmly welcomed us despite their sleep getting disturbed by our late arrival. The accommodation was offered to us on a pro-bono basis.
We organised a quick pre-run briefing for the following day’s run. Ram conducted an one-minute interview with all participants on what drove them to take up this challenge. The only answer I could offer was that Bala asked me and I couldn’t refuse. It is always tough to resist Bala’s commands simply because he leads from the front! I also had the privilege of accompanying him for one day out of his 12-day-12 marathon adventure.
The ‘Official clothing’ for the event was soon unveiled – A handloom Veshti or veatti and a thundu. I prefer to use the Tamil words as the English equivalents fail to convince me of their purpose they are designed for. Dhoti (with origins in Hindi) is too generic and thanks to Bollywood, today most do not know the difference between Veshti and Lungi. Thundu, translated as towel, would imply that it is a piece of cloth used to dry oneself. The purpose of these two garments far exceed the actual purpose they were designed for. It was during this trip that I found the multivariate utility of Veshti and Thundu. Apart from being a quick-fix solution for decent piece of clothing, it also served as a bed spread, for protection against mosquitoes, heat and various others. It took very less changeover time to transition our appearance from a runner to a ‘spiritual aspirant.’ It was also a welcome change to see these kits instead of the usual T-shirts which I have accumulated over many running events in the past 4-5 years.
We settled down for a short night sleep as we were scheduled for an early departure the following day.