Being the Berlin Legend

A marathon in a city like Berlin cannot be anything but “legendary” – Yes, that’s the theme of the event and the organisers did some brilliant promotions to reinforce. Check this promotional video,

The event holds a special place among runners for being the ‘fastest course.’ Suresh Seshadri, a participant in this year’s edition, wrote an excellent piece for the The Hindu ahead of last year’s event.

“the combination of a flat, fast course, a pack of top-flight pacers and ideal autumn weather has ensured that the event is now regarded as the undisputed WR marathon race. Its claim to fame cemented by the fact that the last six successive world records for the distance, for men, have been set on the course”

World Record progession
Source: Runner’s World

Last year, Eluid Kipchoge set the fastest time ever by clocking 2:01:39 and certainly, the expectations were higher this year. I must have watched his finish a zillion times over the past one year and through him, I tried to visualise my own finish!

Kipchoge had to pull out of the event this year due to his committments with the potentially record-breaking attempt to run a marathon under 2 hours (which he did so). His absence this year was filled by the presence of Kenenisa Bekele, the world record holder for 5,000m and 10,000m events. He justified his presence by clocking an impressive 2:01:41, the second fastest timing and he was followed by Birhanu Legese who clocked 2:02:48, the fourth fastest timing of all times.

Check out the list of the 10 fastest maratons on “Record-eligible” courses as reported by Runner’s World on October 20, 2019,

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My entry to Berlin marathon was through lottery and I was over the moon when I found that I have managed to secure entry to the event, as I have failed in every other lottery to the world marathon majors. Having secured entry to the event, it was up to me to make it special. The preparations for the event started much earlier. My first priority was to do ‘something different’ to my routine and ventured to add Yoga to my routine since January. Ably guided by Prashanth, Yoga helped me to improve my breathing. The training routine was disrupted in June due to freak cycling accident and did not have the mental grit to bounce back quickly. I started my long runs in August and after finishing Hyderabad Marathon (for the 8th time) in 4:31:26, I decided that my realistic target for the event would be 4:15.


I reached Dresden, Germany a week before the marathon and my good friend Padmanava was there at the station to receive me. I hired a bike the following day at Dresden and set out to ride towards Prague. I reached Sezemice, near Teplice on Monday, stayed overnight in a quiet hotel, and rode from there to Prague on Tuesday. After going around in Prague on Wednesday, I returned back to Dresden by train. The route was scenic with some challenging climbs and the highlight was crossing the border into Czech Republic with no checks.


After staying another day at Dresden to enjoy the exemplary hospitality and tour of Dresden by Paddy, I proceeded to Berlin on the Friday, September 27. The city was warming up for the marathon weekend. The pre-marathon event expo was held at the now-defunct Tempelhof airport, one of the oldest airports in the world. The vast airport suddenly looked small when filled with runners waiting to collect their race numbers. The added attraction in shopping, largely related to running, from fancy clothing to accessories and nutritional products, represented a running festival.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2e4f.jpgOn Saturday, there was a ‘Breakfast Run’ organised from the Charlottenburg Palace to the Olympic Stadium — two iconic monuments with plenty of history. Running into the Olympic stadium, stories of 1936 Olympics and memories of the 2006 World Cup final flashed in my mind. It was in this stadium that Jesse Owens won the gold medal for the long jump in the 1936 Olympics beating Luz Long — a story that is a great example of sportsmanship. It was also the same stadium where the legend Zinedine Zidane bowed out in an unceremonious manner. So, when I met someone by name ‘Marco’ from Italy, I couldn’t resist enacting the sequence from 2006 World Cup!


It was also fun to bump into Chennai Runner, Vilva on the run, whom I was meeting after ages.


Getting 44,000 runners to run through the streets was no easy task. Runners were grouped in four categories and the start times ranged from 9:10 am for the elites to 10:10 am for the back-of-the-pack, where I duly took my place. Before the race, I decided not to wear my watch to track timing/distance. I started using tracking device from December 2016 and it has helped me in focusing my training runs well. This was a race where I had mentally prepared to give my best and I certainly don’t need a watch to tell me that I am running at my best. I had prepared for this event for the preceding 9 months, and decided that it would be best for me to run my heart out. From the gun shot, I made sure that I ran every minute of the race. 

After running about 10 Km, largely jostling for space, it started raining and there was some challenge in an otherwise “fast marathon”. It must be noted that by then, Bekele and other lead runners had finished their respective races. The rain was certainly not a deterrent for runners as most were busy living their long cherished dreams.


What was surprising though, was the unflinching support from the volunteers who didn’t move from their positions, until the last one went past them. The equally admirable crowd didn’t relent either and cheerfully supported the runners through the route. Lively music bands were stationed across the route playing vibrant music.

Timing mats were placed at every 5K point and at the half-marathon. I could vaguely guess my timing for the intermediate split based on the time displayed. For instance, I knew that I completed my half-marathon at around 2 hours and was slowing down after that. The rains weren’t giving up and neither did my spirit. I continued pushing towards my best to see how far I can stretch myself. Naturally exhausted after the 30th KM, I was looking for some external motivation to see through the remaining distance. Before the event, Ashok, from Pillar Pacers informed me that he would be waiting at the 39th KM point. His presence at the 39th KM provided me with huge respite, when I saw him waiting in the rain and cheering for me. He also clicked a picture, which was certainly priceless!

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The marathon route goes through some of the landmarks of Berlin including the Victory Column, German Chancellery, The Friedrichstadt-Palast, prominent art galleries and museums, Bundestrat, and finally, the Brandenburg Gate appearing between 41 and 42 Km points. Running through the Gate (Built in the 18th century to commemorate peace, it was closed for 28 years following the division of Germany), was something that I have been dreaming about ever since I won the lottery to participate, and the last kilometre was certainly my fastest!


Did I mention that the current marathon route passes through the landmarks of the erstwhile East and West Berlin signifying a unified spirit. In the first Marathon after the Wall came down, it was Uta Pippig, from East Germany, who won the race in the women’s category. Listen to her recollecting those wonderful moments,


A euphoric finish was rewarded by a wonderfully designed medal — one side featuring the important landmarks of Berlin and the other side the a relatively unknown Lutz Derkow. Lutz Derkow was one of the earliest employees of the organisation and worked for the event for over 30 years before passing away earlier this year. It was a tribute to him.

That evening, as I departed from Berlin, there were the finishers in the airport proudly sporting their finisher tees and medals all the way to their flights — the Berlin legends! I knew my finish timing only when I got my medal engraved. More than calling it a ‘Personal Best’ for being the fastest time that I have clocked for that distance, I would call it a ‘Personal Best’ purely for my efforts. Although, my 32nd marathon, this was one event that I would consider best in terms of planning and execution. The hype around the event was certainly worth every bit of it and I am proud to say “Ich bin ein Berliner

Do check out the highlights of the event in this official video,

An edited version of this blog was published in The Hindu – Metroplus on October 11, 2019 –

Berlin Marathon

Unlearn to Run

I was recently invited to talk about how to run a marathon to an eclectic audience across different age groups. Before the session started, one among the audience instructed her two kids, aged 6 and 8, to stop running and to listen to the talk about running. It stuck to me as to what do I talk about how to run to someone who is told not to run? The only way to run is not to be stopped from running. Renowned South African-Swiss explorer Mike Horn, when asked why he does what he does, said,

“Why do fish swim? Why do birds fly? Why I do what I do and why do you do what you do? Because, we can!”

Yes! We run because we can. It is a natural instinct in every human being. As a kid, after learning to balance ourselves in two feet, the natural progression is to try to run. Each one of us have run as a kid and we all know how to do it. Somewhere in the ‘growing up’ stage, we have stopped running. When asked the audience as to what prevents them from running, three major themes emerged.

Top among them are issues related to one’s health. The wear and tear in the adult stage due to complications developed from genetic, environment factors, and importantly, changing lifestyles. Not all issues are reversible and running is certainly not a panacea for any illness. While every complication has its own way of treatment, our ability to run – longer or faster – can be used as a measure of good health. As it is commonly said that we can improve only what we measure. While we may not be able to run at the same speed or distance as our younger days, we can certainly try. At times, even the thought of starting to run again can help us mentally prepare for recovery.

The second aspect is increased self-consciousness as we grow up – the way we feel that we are looked up by others. In a commercialised word influxed with products and services promising to boost one’s self esteem, it is quite natural to be excessively conscious of oneself. The biggest mental barrier around starting to run is all about how we would be perceived by others when we run. I was no exception in this regard. I was a laughing stock in every sport I tried before getting into long distance running. During my early days of running, it would appear that everyone was bothered about why a lean person like me is ever into running. I preferred to wear full pants to avoid people ogling at my slender legs. It was only because to my fellow runners in various running groups that I could get over these inhibitions.

The other area where being self-conscious affects us is the fear of being outpaced by others, especially by those whom we consider inferior to us, thus making us feel insecure and a loser even before we start to run. Being brought up in a world of cut-throat competition from school to college to work, it is quite natural for many to feel insecure. It is very much possible that someone older, person of other gender, or even someone whose appearance we ridicule could outpace you on the run. Participating in running events, be it a 5K run or a marathon, is one way to get rid of this mindset. In running events, we are just one among the multitude of people. We would be neither first nor last; and definitely second to none. As it is commonly said, every runner is ahead of someone who didn’t turn out for the event. Many times, the distance would force runners to show camaraderie and encourage each other finish. Running with like minded runners certainly help in breaking this mould and improve oneself by helping others.

The third dimension is the social perception about sports and fitness in general that gets forced on us. It is a widely accepted notion that sports and games are only ‘hobbies’ and to be pursued secondary to academics, family or profession. Even taking up a simple activity like a morning walk is usually considered as a result of medical advice or as a post-retirement activity rather than by choice.  Those not appearing obese are often made to believe that running is for those who would like to reduce their weight. In case of women, the barriers are lot more and discussions needlessly intrudes into their personal space. Many running communities have successfully dispelled these myths and have created a space for runners to come and join them.

There is not much that one needs to learn about running. If we have done it in the past, we can almost certainly start doing it again. It is more about ‘unlearning’ the complexities that we have created for ourselves over the years. As running has taught me over years, keeping it simple is the easier way to do it. The more I have tried to learn about running, the more I realise that I haven’t learned. Running, at times, does bring with itself complexities like choice of clothing, gadgets, statistics, accessories, footwear, nutrition, and many others; But, none of them have been a deterrent to get started and actively pursue it. One doesn’t need to be called a runner to run; just being a human being is enough to run.

A edited version (brilliantly done by Pankaja) appeared in The Hindu – MetroPlus (Coimbatore edition) on August 30, 2019 under the title “Yes You Can”. The online version is not yet available. 

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Coimbatore Randonneurs

Talk about France and cycling, the first thoughts that comes to one’s mind is the prestigious Tour de France. Equally popular though is the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) Randonneur event, which unlike the Tour de France, is open to amateurs across the world. Started in 1891, older than Tour de France, the next edition of the quadrennial event is scheduled to be held on August 18-22 , 2019. Unlike Tour de France, a multi-stage event, PBP is a single stage event where riders cover a distance of 1200 Km at a stretch. Riders are expected to complete the distance within 90 hours with stringent cut-offs in the intermediate segments, like 600 Km in 40 hours. To qualify for the event, riders have to complete a series of brevet rides, organised across the world under the regulations of Audax Club Parisien, the organisers of PBP. The brevet rides are long distance cycling events starting from 200 Km onwards, with time limits. The PBP is actively participated by riders all over the world and in the 2015 edition, about 57% of the 5,311 participants resided outside France. This year’s edition sees participation of over 300 riders from India, of which four of them are from Coimbatore.


1. Chakkravarthy Birur, 51 years

Chakkravarthy, popularly known as Chakra, was a pentathlon athlete during his college days before getting sucked into his business and family life. He started riding in 2012 to keep himself fit and has not looked back since. He attempted his first brevet in Chennai in 2012 and was instrumental in bringing the brevet events to Coimbatore. He finished the arduous 1000 Km ride between Chennai and Vijayawada in 2014 helping him qualify for the 2015 edition of the PBP. After quitting the 2015 event midway due to mechanical failure in his cycle, he is more determined to complete the current edition. He is also a triathlete and looking forward to finish his first half-Iron man event later this year.
2. Siva Balaji, 36 years
Siva Balaji, a production engineer by profession, had his interest rekindled in cycling in 2017 and was addicted to it since. He started riding the brevets and started scaling up from 200 km to 1000km, not just once but five times, within the next two years across South India. The longest brevet that he has undertaken is the 1200 Km early this year stretching over 4 days. He occasionally participates in competitive cycling and has won prizes in time trail events and finished third in the Western valley MTB challenge.
3. Sakthivel Manian, 36 years
Sakthivel Manian, an IT professional, started cycling in 2015 only as a means to keep himself fit during his hectic work schedule. He credits his friend Gokul Raju for getting him to take up cycling for fitness and participating in various events. It soon become a passion and unsurprisingly, he got hooked to brevets. He started riding brevets with Coimbatore Cycling and presence of his friends in the group are constant source of motivation.
4. Dr. Achyutha Krishnan, 29 years
Hailing from a family of doctors, Achu took up to cycling during his post graduation in Medicine, when he started riding with his friends at the We the Chennai Cycling Group (WCCG). A juvenile diabetic, cycling helped him to test his limits and the way beyond it.  Since the beginning of this year, he has clocked over 10,000 Km in his bicycle across the South India. Being a native Coimbatorean, it goes without saying that he enjoys climbing hills on his bicycle. 

The common thread that runs across these 4 riders is their passion for riding and the amateur spirit in them. They took up to cycling with minimal background in sports and it is the sheer persistence that has taken them to these heights. Their technical abilities and age may not help them participate in the professional events but their determination sees them through in amateur events.

A quick calculation would suggest that brevet require riding at only about 15 Km per hour, which doesn’t sound difficult when viewed with layman’s glasses. The real challenge lies in enduring the distance and finishing within the time specified. During the given time, one has to manage their sleep, food, mechanical failures, and other unforeseen incidents on the route. The brevets are largely self-supported and one has to plan their routines themselves. Further, the route include significant increase in elevation and drop adding to the complexities. The total elevation for this year’s PBP route is about 11,566m, well above Mt. Everest.
One of the key strategies in cycling event is to stick with the peloton – a group of riders. This helps all the riders to help each other and go the maximum distance with minimum effort. In PBP, this would be difficult to implement as over 90 hours, as they need to match not only their riding speed but also their scheduled and unscheduled breaks. They do ride with different groups at different points of time but the finishing the event ultimately relies on individual pursuit. 

An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus on August 17, 2019 under the title “Going the Distance (1200 Km)”


Run the Marathon of your Life

Emil Zatopek is often credited to have said,

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”

Andrew Johnston, a business faculty member, explains in a popular TEDx talk on how he taught his students the fundamentals of Business by making them train and run a marathon. The course titled ‘Change through Challenge’ has since become very popular in community colleges in USA. Most runners would vouch that the lessons learned during training and running a marathon can easily be applied in facing many other challenges.

While experience for runners may vary from person to person, one can be certain everyone will have something to learn in the process. Unlike other challenges in life, this is one where you alone would be the judge to measure the success or failure.  Here are a few steps to get started:

Choose the Race – The first step is to choose an event that you wish to run. If you are in Coimbatore, the choice is made easier with the annual Coimbatore Marathon held on the first Sunday of October. Some runners plan their marathons along with their business or personal travels by finding events closer to their destinations. Personally, the choice was made easier for me as I was lucky to win a lottery at the Berlin Marathon to be held in September.

Training Plan – While there are plethora of plans of available on the Internet, the best one would be the one you make, for yourself. Prepare a plan that balances your personal and professional commitments along with the running schedules. The first step would be to block the dates on which you are needed the most for other activities. The next step would be to line up your long runs – the maximum being 80% of the race distance three weeks ahead of the event. Then, spot the gaps and fill-in the mid-week runs which includes a variety of sprints and slow runs. Finally, top it with adequate rests, stretches and strengthening workouts. You can view my training plan for Berlin here..

Travel Plan – If you run is outside your home town, it is best to plan for travel and stay well in advance. Find your hotel rooms close to the event venue to get the best out of the run. If travelling outside India, it is important to get your visas well in advance.

Spread your ideas  –  It is best to speak out to your friends about the run, training plans, and your  periodic progress. Seeking opinions from diverse audience enhances your planning and reinforces your conviction to accomplish your goal. Through social media, one can expect motivation and help from unknown quarters too. If you intend to run for a cause, it gives a wonderful opportunity to speak about it too.

The Group – Even if your run is going to be all about you, it is important to have a group in which you find the strength to see through the distance. Coimbatore Runners actively supports runners planning to run the Coimbatore Marathon with their training needs, encouragement and motivation from their experience. Each runner undergoes his or her own experience and it is important to learn not only from your experience, but also others. The support from running groups often extend to assistance in planning the trip as well as stay arrangements. Of course, they are the best to celebrate with, once the race is accomplished.

Intermittent Targets – As a part of your training plan, assign a few intermittent milestones to measure your progress as well as reward yourself. If you are planning to run a marathon, the 30K runs or the fastest 10K during the training phase can be a milestone that deserves to be celebrated.

Live the Journey – To ensure that the event counts for, the best way to live through it. It is important not to see running events as an examination or a mundane ritual. This is a challenge that you have set for yourself and start looking to make changes in your routines to help you accomplish it. Every training run is an experience by itself and a step towards the finish.

Visualise the finish – Visualising the finish, either by watching videos of the past editions of the event or through a picture of the finish line. I have the picture of Brandenburg Gate, through which one finish the Berlin Marathon, on my work desktop.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

It is a powerful tool to help us keep focused on what we wish to accomplish and relish when we actually accomplish. At times, the thought of seeing yourself at the finish line with the medal and celebrating with your near and dear will take you through the tough phases of training.
When you reach the start line, remember that you have run most of the journey and race is only an icing on the cake. As Albert Salazar, winner of the New York Marathon in 1982, said,

“When you cross the finish line, no matter how slow or how fast, it will change your life forever.”

An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus on May 27, 2019 under the title “Run the marathon of your life”

TEDx Talk


Sometime in June 2018, Suriya asked me if I am interested in giving a TED talk at a TEDx conference to be held in his college (JSB) in October 2018. I was not only overwhelmed by his approach but equally panicked. I am no Haruki Murakami to write a book on “What I talk about running when I talk about running” or Christopher McDoughall to conduct elaborate research and give an informative talk about running. I went back to Suriya with a list of other names whom I belived can do a much better job. He insisted that I do it and there is enough time for it.

It was a challenge to figure out what to talk about running. My interactions about running have been laregely limited to an audience who run regularly and appreciate the travails and satisfaction that we derive from the activity. To them, any topic related to running will easily interest them, be it my experiences of organising events or running in various other events. As in running, so in activities related to running, I was lucky to look up to Ram Viswanathan for guidance. He shared some of his experience in talking to a non-running crowd and what appeals to them the most.

I tried to look at my own experiences what running has meant to be over the past decade and a- half that I have been pursuing it. It has shaped every aspect of life during this time period and this talk is a reflection of the key aspects related to running. The talk by itself was an education for me – to start with, it taught me how to prepare for a talk. It was certainly a memorable experience and I am happy to share with you all.

The transcript with the relevant links:

Hello Friends! I am Balaji, I am a long distance runner; and also a speaker. But, I speak only during my long runs. In fact, I don’t mind calling myself a motivational speaker; because everyone who runs with me, runs away from me when I speak during the runs.

Having said that, this is a new challenge for me – I am asked to stand still and talk to an audience who are firmly harnessed to their seats. I have to admit that suddenly, running a marathon looks a lot easier.

Okay… Here, I am asked to talk about running. I wondered whom to look up to. I looked up to one of my inspirations in running – Well, not, Nelson Mandela, he is definitely an inspiration in various other aspects. This is a gentleman by name Bruce Fordyce. He is a legend in South Africa, having run the Comrades Marathon over 45 times and winning 8 times. He was once asked to give a talk on running, and this is what he has to say about running ,

All that you need to run is good heart, lungs, legs, and no brain cells. 

This should come as a surprise to many. You know, we all associate learning with something to do our intellect, our intelligence. And here is a seasoned runner who tells us that it has nothing to do with any of them. You just need to have no brain cells. So, which effectively means that we all need to be like a Jelly fish – of course, it doesn’t have heart and lungs, which I learned later.

So, is there anything possible, any learning possible without using your brain cells. Actually, I have a confession to make – it is true that running doesn’t require any brain cells. It is a very simple act of putting one foot over another – some do it for a longer time, some do it faster; ultimately everyone does it very very simple, just one foot after another. So, what’s a big deal about running?

You take up sports – there’s lot to learn from it. There’s the skill, there’s hand to eye contact, wonderful body movements, and sometimes even beyond that. Billie Jean King, more than a sportswoman, she is known to this generation as someone who stood up for women tennis, stood up for LGBT rights, and she was everything that she learned about her value system through sports. She owes her personal development through sports. But, Running? Is it even a sport? You don’t need to use any skill set. Everybody is a runner, in my opinion.

Well, to play any sport, running is critical – whether you are a cricket player, whether you are a footballer, or a tennis player, you need to run. You need to run for something, which brings me to what I want to share with you. Running is not about what to learn but it’s more about how to learn. Just like how being a good runner helps you to be a sportsman, it is the same values and the culture that you learn from running that get applied to different aspects of life.

I want to dwell about a few of those that I learned over the last 15-16 years of running. So, the first aspect that I would like to discuss – it is setting an aspiration. We all come from a society where most of our aspirations, goals at a younger are set by our social norms – you have to go to the school, followed by the college, followed by the work and in the work, the progress is measure by what the work dictates us. We have never been taught how to set an aspiration for ourselves. Let me admit – I did not take up to running because I really wanted to be a runner. I wanted to be a sportsman – I wanted to play cricket, I was complete rubbish in that. I wanted to play football. I was put as a goal keeper and I learned dance more than actual goal keeping. I took up to running because, I didn’t find myself fit to play any sport. That’s how I started running. Once I started running, I started setting aspirations for myself. Initially, it was just an activity to help me to improve my breathing and thus control asthma. Later, it became a way to discipline myself. After I learned that I can cover some distance, I moved to marathons, Ultra-marathons, and so on. This simple aspect, you know, how to set aspiration for yourself is one of the very significant learning that I could pick up from running.

Dennis Bergkamp, a legend in football had this beautiful thing to say. We all aim for perfection and that’s one thing that I always liked in running.

You climb a mountain, you see the next mountain.

You run a marathon today, you just don’t stop. The next day, the thought is – Ok, what is next? What is the next place I want to go and run? Sometimes, the very next mountain is going to be the very next day of running. That’s how the aspirations are set in running.

The next aspect I want to talk about is Persistence and Determination. These two qualities can never be taught in any text book or it cannot be taught by any coach – although, it can be facilitated by some of the coaches. Ultimately, persistence and determination is something that we pick up from ourselves. I want to share this one life incident that brought me this wonderful wisdom. 

It was in 2006. I wanted to run the Mumbai Marathon. Honestly, at that time, I couldn’t really call myself a runner. I used to run 5 Kms, 10 Kms, but a marathon is way out of my reach those days. I still went ahead, registered myself. Those were the days when Mumbai Marathon started at 8:00 AM in the morning under the scorching heat of Mumbai. Somewhere around the 13th or 14th Km, I realised that I cannot run anymore. It was at this stage that I realised that, ‘Ok, let’s throw the towel and go back home – you know, we are not fit for running anymore.’ 

I asked myself, ‘Did I come all this way to quit at this stage? Ok if I walk all the way, I will still be a laughing stock. Doesn’t matter. I have come to complete the distance of 42.195 Kms and let me do it. Walked through the streets of Mumbai in the hot sun. The vehicle movements had already started; there was dust, there was pollution, there was no waters station. I had to buy water here and there. But, I persisted with it. I managed to go  all the way to the finish line. Luckily, there was one volunteer who was packing all the medals. He unpacked the box and picked a medal and gave me. I was so grateful for him for that medal.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the protagonist, would be asked where does he see the strength to finish. He had this one line to say

You find your strength only from within.

Persistence and determination to do anything, in any activity ultimately relies on the individual – whether it is your professional work, whether it is your personal assignment, you need to find the persistence and determination only from within. And I am grateful to running for teaching me that quality.

Having failed miserably in 2006 in running the Mumbai Marathon, in 2009, I managed to run the entire marathon finishing under 5 hours in 4 hours 53 minutes. So, what happened between 2006 and 2009? That brings me to the third aspect – The Group. Support from the group has been very very critical for me in improving my own running. 

Sometimes, it is not just about running, it goes beyond running – the kind of guidance, support, or as you would see in the picture – I started running with full pants and it was the group who taught me by saying that ‘Hey, you don’t need to worry about yourselves. Start running in shorts’. It could be a trivial one but it helped significantly. The group has always been a major source of strength for me – both in running and in the subsequent activities that I have undertaken in running – be it organising events, training people for running events, various social work that I have undertaken around running, the group has always been a real pillar of strength. And I am very happy to say that even today, when I am giving a talk here, I have my friends from my group sitting in the audience, who are the major source of strength for me. Has Helen Keller, beautifully says, ‘together we can do so much’. One of the output that most of you in Coimbatore would have seen is the Coimbatore Marathon, which I am proud to be associated with a group of friends. They have been always a source of strength, and the kind of activities that we could achieve has been unparalleled. Each one of them are highly self-motivated and they keep the motivation levels very high of the group.

So, you have an aspiration, you persist with it, you have a group to support, which is a perfect ingredient of success. But, you miss one aspect of it – Humility. No matter what you do, no matter however high you go, you got to keep yourself grounded. Running has certainly taught me how to stay grounded. Early this year, I went ahead and ran the famous Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa. It was a 56 Km run which we have to finish under 7 hours. This is something that I thought I can take it for granted. Here, was I who finished, I ran the ‘occasionally called as the big brother of the Two oceans,  the Comrades Marathon – I have finished the race under 12 hours. So, I thought this would be a cake walk for me. Somewhere in the sixth hour, I started cramping and I could not move any further. It was a humbling moment and I realised that there is something that we still cannot do it. It was a different story that I managed to scrape past the time limit to spare. It was truly a humbling moment – whether it was a five Kms or fifty Km or even a five hundred km, you have to respect the distance, the terrain. We need to learn that the external factors that support us or often challenge us and stay humble. 

So, that brings me to close about the four major aspects that I feel the I have learnt from running. It helps me to set aspirations, it helped me to persist with my aspirations and be determined to achieve them. I have wonderful bunch of friends to support me in these aspirations; and running always keep me grounded and humble and to look for more. Well, Is that all enough?

Today morning, when I was hearing the talk by Sonal, I realise that running is not just a task I undertake. It is also a privilege I have. The fact that I am able to run, run comfortably is a privilege that I have. The name, the fame, the financial success, of course I didn’t have much through running, whatever it may be that you achieve through running or any activity in life, it all counts for nothing unless you build a single most ingredient – your character. Reputation comes and goes, character is something that stays with you. 

I often credit running to help me to build my character. This is not something that I can say that I have learned but something I still continue to learn and I will continue to learn. This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the iconic moment in the world of sports. It was the 1968 Olympics – Tommie Smith, Peter Norman, John Carlos finished in the top-3 positions of the 200m race. Tommie Smith and John Carlos decided to use the opportunity to convey something different. They did not want to cherish the success; they did not want to enjoy the celebration; get a multi million contract, endorsements.. No. They used the opportunity to demonstrate the prevailing injustice among their racial sections of US. They come from the underprivileged Blacks and it was that time when United States were undergoing a lot of discrimination, and there was lot of violence against the blacks. They decided to use the opportunity to protest against all these injustices. They were banned from international sports, they lost the credibility of United States athletic association, which means they could never participate in any race again. They were condemned; they were banned from any sporting activity in any other part of the world. Including Peter Norman, Who stood alongside with them, although he didn’t protest directly. Australian Athletics federation decided to ban him for standing along with these two guys. But, somewhere in them, they really made the statement. They stood up for what they believe in despite what they could have achieved. Incidentally, it’s a very emotional moment when you realise in 2006, when Peter Norman expired, Tommy Smith and John Carlos travelled all the way from United State, to carry the coffin all the way to the grave. In a recent interview, John Carlos said it beautifully what it means to protest. I would like read it out for you,

In life, there is the beginning, and the end. The beginning don’t matter and the end don’t matter. All that matters is what you do in between. Whether you are prepared to do what it makes to change. There has to be physical and material sacrifice. When all the dust settles, the greatest reward is to know that you did your job when you you were here on the planet.

Running has given me so much. Many times, I am proud to say, it has often taught me what I can be and what I ought to be. Having said that, all of them counts for nothing if ultimately, I don’t build my character. If there is a single most lesson that I would like to learn from running, and constantly learn from running is how I can build my character on the run and transform it off the run. 

Having said that, I would like to end my speech by saying that I would like to see each one of you on the run, sooner or later. 

Humans of Marathon – Raja Marthandan

Running has introduced me to myriads of people, to whom I would remain forever indebted for the treasures of wisdom that they parted with me, in thought, word and deed. One such person was Raja Marthandan, who at the first sight wasn’t someone I would have looked up to.

In 2010, I was volunteering for the Auroville Marathon 2011 when he appeared in our office. He had come all the way from Chennai and his dreary look certainly didn’t give an impression of someone remotely interested in the event. I nonchalantly handed over a Tamil application form, the only reason being that the form was on my desk unused. He did not possess any mail id or even a phone number, and his other queries made me sceptical about the seriousness of him participating in the event. I was hesitant to take the money for I was not sure if he would really turn up. I further tried to dissuade him by letting him know that the event doesn’t carry any prize money and we communicate only through e-mails.

On the day before event, he appeared late in the evening which only increased by scepticism. I handed his running bib and wished him good luck. He asked me if I can help him with a place to stay that night. Auroville does not have enough ‘affordable’ places for stay and during that year, we stopped arranging for dormitories. Since, I was running the following day, I tried to escape from the scene, and looked up to Anand (as I used to do in times of difficulty!) to handle him. Anand, as ingenious as ever, suggested that he can sleep at the bib distribution centre and take care of our belongings. Despite the ‘poor stay arrangements’, he went on to surprise us the following day by finishing the marathon in 4:20 and thanked us profusely for the help! (For records, I finished the marathon in 4:58).

A year later, he appeared again to register for the 2012 edition of the event. Needless to say, we were equally excited by his decision to participate. The entry fee for the event has been raised from Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 and he didn’t relent either. As he finished the process, I too stepped out of the office along with him to complete another errand. He asked me shyly if I can lend him Rs. 50. He had come from Chennai carrying the exact amount required for the trip and registration. Since the entry fee has gone up by Rs. 100, he fell short of the return fare. I took out the entire entry fee of Rs. 400 and handed over to him saying that he can participate as our guest. He refused the entire amount and took only Rs. 100. The following week, he returned back to pay the Rs. 100.

It stuck me deep inside that it is the money of people like him that we are spending to organise the event and made me feel more responsible towards it. It also made me to retain the entry fee at Rs. 400 as long as I was associated with the event.

In 2013, he appeared at the Chennai marathon expo. He did not register for the event as registrations for the event was only through website. I saw from far that he was hassling with Shahid, the race director, for an entry to the event. I met Shahid seperately, took the liberty to ask for an entry for him and pulled out my wallet to pay for it. On learning his case, he was kind to offer it for free. When I walked up to him and handed over the bib, he was elated but refused to accept it for free. He insisted that he pays for the event (which was quite pricey!) and thrusted the notes in my hand. Doing charitable acts cannot be always taken for granted!

I have not met him since and his appearance in Chennai marathon earlier this month made me feel so happy. Unfortunately for him, he registered for the full marathon and took the wrong turn to be disqualified!

Tour of Tamil Nadu – 2018


After riding in the 2010 (first edition of the tour), 2015 and 2017 editions of the tour, I registered for the 2018 edition of the Tour themed “Waterfalls”. My personal experience can be summed up the image below!


In addition to riding in the tour, I also ventured to write about the tour for The Hindu – Metro Plus. I was supported immensely by Ganesh Ram whose picture got deservingly featured in the News paper


It is a paradox that in an age of access to bullet trains, expressways, and long haul flights, choosing a bicycle as a means of touring still presents a challenge. There has been many stories of people touring all over the world in a bicycle ever since the first bicycle was invented and yet, many find it difficult to navigate even familiar cities due to issues like safety, weather, road conditions, traffic, on-road support and so on. Despite the advancements in technology and communication, the psychological barriers amongst riders today are more than ever before. In 2010, Tamil Nadu Cycling Club (TCC), a Chennai based not-for-profit organisation started out to organise an annual cycling tour in partnership with The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation. Vasanth Ramaswamy, Secretary TCC and curator of the tour, outlines the objective of the tour as

to promote eco tourism in the state of Tamil Nadu and provide a platform for touring on cycles.

Given the vastness and diversity that the state presents, TCC came up with innovative themes every year to explore different facets of the state. In the first edition, the tour started in Coimbatore with the theme of ‘Mountains’ where the tour offered the riders a chance to explore the three magnificent mountains, Ooty, Yercaud, and Kodaikanal, in their bicycles. The subsequent editions explored themes like heritage sites, cuisines, eastern ghats, forests, western ghats, Nilgiris and wildlife focusing on places that are intricately linked to these themes. This year, the tour was themed ‘Waterfalls’ and covered four of the waterfalls in North-west Tamil Nadu – Hogenekkal, Kiliyur falls in Yercaud, Periyar falls in Kalrayan Hils and Agaiya Gangai in Kolli Hiils. The tours typically start and end at one of the major towns in Tamil Nadu and this time, it was Erode. The intermediate halts over the next seven days were at Hogenekkal, Yercaud, Kallakuruchi and Kolli Hills.

The route for different days are designed to provide a variety in ride experience – flat sections, uphill rides that tests one’s determination, downhill rides that requires good control, headwinds to frustrate and tailwinds to provide much wanted relief. “We avoid National Highways as much as possible as they offer very limited scenic beauty; and most of them are all about speed” says Venkat Venkatadri, one of the key organisers. The first day of this year’s tour was from Erode to Hogenekkal through some of the beautiful roads that posed stiff headwinds, the second day had steep inclines, the third day was a relaxed ride at Yercaud that was all about scenery, the fourth and fifth day posed gentle climbs in Kalrayan Hills, and the toughest one was reserved for the sixth day when riders ascended the Kolli hills. The last day was a ceremonial easy ride back to Erode.

It is inevitable that any cycling tour would instantly evokes comparison to the prestigious Tour de France. Rajaram Pattabiraman, the tour director, quickly dismisses any such comparisons, “This is not a race; it is a tour. It is immaterial whether someone rides fast or slow, entire distance or partially, all days or some days in the tour. We want each participant to enjoy the tour and will offer support and recognition to all riders in the best possible manner.”  The participants for the event were from all came from all over the country including few international participants. The riders were from all walks of life, diverse professional backgrounds and all ages. For many, especially those fromother parts of India, it was a new experience to ride through Tamil Nadu in places that they have rarely heard about.

The tour would not be certainly possible but for hours of volunteering work and the extravagant on-road support by the members of TCC. When questions were raised about the sustainability of these tours, Vasanth explains, “We wanted explore the possibility of such tours and break a few inhibitions in the process. Participation in the tours have been largely through word of mouth and thus every rider helps in motivating few others. Over the past 9 years, we have made a repository of route maps, information on hotels that are cycling-friendly, availability of support and others. We have also followed it with feedback from participants. We plan to create a portal and then, make it available for general public. It will then help people design tours as per their convenience and choices.”

Vasanth Ramaswamy –  Ace cyclist and Curator of the Tour

It is not always the destination that counts but also the journey. One may not find a small town like Kallakuruchi any romantic but when reached through the Kalrayan hills and  breathtaking views of Gomukhi dam, it will be a place to visit. Riding up to hill stations helps one to enjoy every bit of the view from the top and enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Modern day highways bye-passes most of the small towns and links only the major cities. Cycling through small towns helps us in connecting with many wonderful people and institutions. The friendly cheers from the children that accompanies one during the ride makes each of the rider feels like a celebrity. It also offers us a chance to try local cuisine and get a closer look at local customs and traditions. As Eddie Cantor once said, ““Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going to fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

An edited version of this article was published in The Hindu – MetroPlus – Coimbatore Edition under the title “Up and down and round and round” –


Mind your running Ps and Qs

What makes a good running event? Is it the organisers and the arrangements? The city? The objective or the cause for which the event is conducted? All these certainly contribute a long way in enhancing the quality of a running event. Ultimately, it is all about the runners. It is the runners who can make or break the event. A running event is an occasion for everyone to share their special moment that celebrates the efforts put in over days and months together. It is this common objective that binds runners together and make running events one of the finest examples of peaceful congregation. While adhering to the stated rules and regulations of the event is a fundamental requisite, there are some additional steps that runners can take to make the event better for themselves and others who participate in the event.

At the start line:

  • Most running events have corrals at the start point and runners are grouped based on their past timings. If not, line up yourself in the right position based on your target for the event. Not every one running the event is aiming for the prize positions and hence, need not start at the gun time. Race timing, provided with the help of RFID chip, help in capturing your time from the time you start the event.
  • If you have a warm-up routine, find a quiet place to exercise without disturbing other runners.
  • Listen to the instructions of the race officials ahead of the event. If there are any last minute route diversions, it will help you to be aware of it.

On the route:

  • Your running bibs or numbers must always be pinned to the front of your shirt. This helps in race marshalls to track your progress and respond quickly in case of emergencies. The route is entirely reserved only for runners sporting the running bib.
  • Follow the directions provided by the race officials as to which side of the road to be used for running. Remember that the road is shared by runners from different events and there needs to be adequate place for everyone. If no instructions is provided, keep to the extreme left of the road.
  • Avoid overtaking on narrow  or crowded roads unless necessary. In such cases, call out to the runner in the front well ahead in advance to make way for you. Also, make sure you leave plenty of room before you move across in front of them.
  • Do not stop or slow down during the race for any reason. If you would like to stop for taking a walk break, raise your hand to indicate you are slowing down. It helps the runner behind you to Look for the runners behind you and make sure you don’t disturb them. If you would like to communicate to them, raise your hand to indicate that you are stopping.
  • Do not walk or run in groups of more than two or three. Walking in larger groups obstructs other participants. Also, avoid walking in the middle of the road.
  • According to the rules of IAAF and many other event organisers ban the use of headphones/earphones. If not mentioned, it is advisable to avoid them. If you still like to use them, keep the volume low so that hear the instructions from officials and runners behind you.

Aid Stations / Water stations

  • Always choose the farthest point to collect your glass of water/sports drink or any of the refreshments provided. Once collected, leave the station immediately.
  • If the aid stations look crowded, wait for your turn to pick up your requirements. Use the time to relax and recharge yourself.
  • Try to use the waste bins to dispose the cups or other waste. It helps to keep the route clean for other runners as well as the city post event.
  • Thank the volunteers, for it makes the experience pleasant for everyone involved.

Finish line / Finish area

  • Once you finish the race, do not stop immediately. Keep walking till you bring your body to normal heart rate.
  • Crowding at finish area must be avoided as it affects the functioning of race officials and medical teams to handle emergency. Once you cross the finish area, do not visit the area again as it also affects your event timing.
  • Most finish areas are designed for unitary flow of the crowd. Follow the directions provided at the venue for breakfast, medals and exit.
  • Medical emergencies
  • In case you find someone in trouble, call out the nearest volunteer and inform them. Do not try to attend them on your own (unless you are trained for it) or offer them any assistance. Volunteers are generally briefed on how to handle emergency and they can get in action quickly.
  • Adhere to advice of volunteers and medical personnel when asked to quit the event.

Running events are the perfect avenues to celebrate human spirit of oneness and the joy of coming together. It can only get better if each help others and everyone runs together. Make the event special for you and for everyone.

Copyright ©2018 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, October 3, 2018

Crash Course to 5K


An interesting information that I came across recently was that of the first lady to go across the world in a bicycle learning to ride it only two weeks before the trip. As apocryphal as it may sound, I refused to verify the authenticity for I loved the sheer audaciousness that the story carried with it. Not everything that is achieved need to be premediated or planned; somethings can always happen by chance. With little over a month to go for Coimbatore Marathon, why not a running or walking a 5K happen to you even if it was not one of the resolutions for 2018? Fancy it, read further
Let’s begin with a caveat. Your health is of utmost importance. Running is not a panacea for any existing ailments or complications. If you have been advised against walking or running by a medical practitioner or suffer from medical ailment which can be made worse by running or walking, adhere to the advise of your medical practitioner and seek their inputs. If cleared by your doctor, here’s a crash course to get your going in the next one month to participate in the Coimbatore Marathon.
Register for the event. Registrations for the event close by September 7th and it is advisable to register early to avoid disappointment. Also, by registering, your resolution gets even stronger with the financial commitment in place.
Sleep early and rise early. The most difficult distance to cover is often the distance from your bed to the shoe rack. It is always best to choose mornings over evenings, especially when you begin to run. The freshness of morning air easily gets you going. Running in the evening is often difficult due to vehicle movements, pollution, tired days, which require additional motivation to get started. The initial few days may present new challenges like feeling drowsy during morning hours and it is usually matter of time to get over it.
Get your friends and family on board Reach out to your friends and family and rope them in your adventure. The best, almost certainly, doesn’t come alone. If you do not find any, there are always Coimbatore Runners with whom you can give a start. It is perfectly fine to start and finish your run with them, even if you cannot adhere to their training programs. 
Download an app If you have a smart phone, download one of the many apps that are available today to help you keep record of distance, time and maintain a diary of activities. Many of them are simple yet addictive, and possibly help you in encouraging yourself. Should you prefer peace over complexities, you can still go with your simple notebook.
Well begun is half-done. The actual act of running or walking is definitely not a rocket science by any means. It is all about placing one foot after another and repeating them, till you feel like stopping. Take it easy and never exert any pressure beyond what you are able to. Do not get into running to prove anything to anyone. The journey is a reward by itself as you will soon find out. 
Baby Steps – Take small steps each day and progress gradually. You are your own judge of your capabilities. If it is 1 Km on day, do not rush to 2 Km or 3 Km on the next day. Just increase it by 100m on the next day and see how you feel about it. Similarly, do not try running the distance all out in a single stretch. Alternate running and walking and slowly increase the proportion of running.
Reward yourself – The race day brings in its own set of entitlements that you will make your run unforgettable. Then, there is nothing stopping you in rewarding yourself. A new apparel for the first five days of training or a new gadget for accomplishing a certain distance is not a bad idea to start with.
Look forward with excitement. Do not see the event as an examination but as a celebration of your effort over the next one month. Attending the pre-race event expo is another experience by itself, where you get a chance to meet runners in plain clothes and listen to their extraordinary stories. No matter the time of your finish, when you cross the finish line, each one of you will be a winner with a lovely medal that will have stories of one lifetime. 
Finally, participation in Coimbatore Marathon should only be a beginning in bringing in a new life style. The last minute preparations for school or college examinations often make us miss the flower for the fruit. The real joy in running is not about the participation in one event but making it a habit. The event certainly acts as a catalyst to set the new lifestyle. As Ajay Varma, finisher of the 89-Km Comrades Marathon in 2017, says, “My running started with the Coimbatore Marathon in 2013. I had registered for the 5K and in fact, tried to prepare for the event only the evening before. I had not looked back since.”

Copyright ©2018 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, September 4, 2018 –


Running for 100 days

Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.

– widely attributed to Anton Chekov

Sports persons are often unfairly judged on what they do for few minutes on the event day, ignoring the hours of drudgery of their routine training that consumes most of their lives. In long distance running, while achievements like running a marathon or a half is widely celebrated, the simple act of getting up every morning and stepping out is rarely appreciated. It is for no reason that runners consider the distance between their bed and shoe rack as the most difficult distance to accomplish!
Tanvir Kazmi, a  renowned recreational long distance runner who has inspired many runners through his blog as well as being one of the finishers of the Comrades Marathon in 2010, found that many of the his fellow runners disappear soon after an event or two, especially during the summer months. Further, when they return back they are down with some injury or other. In 2014, he came up with a simple proposition – run a minimum of two Kms everyday for 100 days.

“It was a new experience for me too. There were tired days at work, travel, vacations and reasons aplenty to excuse oneself. This was a test of will power and I wanted to first try it on myself.”

says Tanvir, whose idea has now spread across India.

TANVIR KAZMI Photo: Special arrangement

Started formally in 2015, the 100 Days of Running has attracted people from places all over India. The idea is simple – run everyday, minimum of 2K and no pressure on timing or pace.The number of participants have gone up from 48 in 2015 to over 10,000 this year with at least 25% of them running all the 100 days. Coimbatore has its own champions – 15 of them went on to finish all the 100 days and we hear from some of them about their experiences.

ARUNAN Photo by Arun

Arunan Thlagavathi, 29
Arunan made his first attempt to run 100 days in 2017. However, it has to do be discontinued due to personal exigencies. This year, he was even more determined to finish and challenges at his work did not deter him from completing the 100 days. On asked about the most difficult days among the 100, he said, “One of the days, I had to report to work very early and could return back only at 11:00 PM. I realised that it is impossible to go home, change and go for a run. I asked my friend to drop me 2 Kms before home and I ran to home in formal clothes to ensure that I complete the distance for that day.”

VENKATESAN R. Photo: ‘Lion’ Selvaraj

Venkatesan R., 70
Venkatesan started running with the Porur Racers, a running group based out of Chennai. He extensively credits the group for getting him to challenge himself through running. He found running to be the perfect way to keep himself active as well as healthy post his retirement. “In Coimbatore, running with the Sai Baba Colony runners helped me to complete this challenge with ease. I was also moved by their nice gesture to honour me on the final day.” says Venkatesan. On asked about the most difficult days, he humbly commented, “Luckily, I am retired and don’t have any work pressures. The only commitment that I have is attending weddings and on those days, I have to be up early and finish my runs before honouring them.”

MANJU V. Photo by Palani

Manju Viswananthan, 39
For Manju, the 100 days challenge presented a transition from a walker to a runner. She started doing morning walks for keeping good health and found this challenge intriguing. It was her group U2 which brought her into this challenge. “Initially there were a lot of apprehensions on what it means for someone who has never been into sports to take up running. Once started, there was no looking back.” says Manju who found plenty of encouragement from the fellow runners in Sai Baba Colony. “There were days when I stepped out at 9:00 PM to go for a run and wondered what people would think of me. Once, you get over that fear, no distance, be it in running or life, is difficult to conquer,” says Manju, who has since gone on to finish a few 10K races during the 100 days.

SURIYA C. Photo by special arrangement

Prof. Suriyaprakash C, 50
Suriya has been a regular runner for a while but his travel commitments often presented him with a challenge to keep up with his running schedules. He found the 100 Days of Running as the best way to force himself into discipling himself towards regular running. Despite his travel schedule, ranging from monsoon drenched Mumbai to hot climes of Pondicherry, he ensured that he kept up his running schedule. The biggest challenge was left to the higher altitudes. “I had already planned for a trip to Kailas-Mansarovar during this time period and it was a real challenge to run in the higher altitudes beyond 4000 metres. The serene atmosphere helped me though,” says Suriya who believes that running should be integral part of everyone’s life.


Senthil Kumar, 48
Senthil started running about two years back for fitness and had simple targets initially. He was always of the misconception that running will hurt his knees and never ran beyond 100 Kms per month. Joining the Coimbatore Runners at CODISSA was a turning point as they constantly encouraged him towards new goals. “The 100 run target was daunting initially but I thought it’s the best way to clock up miles in the process,” says Senthil who has run an incredible 1350 Kms in the process, highest among other finishers in Coimbatore. He is now raring to get more runners to take up this challenge next year.

Gayathri Babu, 42
A couch potato till 2016 – medical ailments forced her to quit her job and she started focusing her efforts in getting active. The first 500m of walk was herculean, to say the least. Her journey from counting tubes of pain relieving ointments ointments to counting miles is an inspiring story by itself. She was determined in her efforts and transitioned her walks to run in January 2018. Support from her family, doctors and fellow runners have been indispensable. “We are always evaluated by comparing oneself with others. Running helped me to focus on myself and get better every day. The icing on the cake was getting my first ever medal, that too at an age of 42, is certainly something that I would cherish.” says Gayathri, who is gearing up for a long run!

These are stories of few and there are many more who have gone on to make running a way of life.



Copyright ©2018 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

(And edited version of the Article appeared in The Hindu, Metro Plus, August 11, 2018 –