So the need to run and move is a problem over here. The streets are not a place to run unless you get up at 4.00am to avoid the traffic, and the pavements – well, there aren’t any.
I am not silly and realise that running on a building site and the top of the hotel roof can only be a temporary fix to my need to exercise. I have had my eyes wide open since I got here, and open spaces and parks are rarer than gold dust.
So I thought, if anyone knows where to run it will be one of the waiters I had a look and found one that looked like he looked after himself physically, even if that meant just going to the gym. Well if I have to join a gym, that might be my only way of exercising, so be it. Namdev is his name and since, we have become good friends. At breakfast I say Namdev, ‘where can I run?’
He replies ‘the roof’.
‘Isn’t there anywhere else’?
He thinks and says these following words that over the weeks to follow become my home, my sentry, and my savour.
‘It’s a park’ and then he googles it on his phone and shows me.
It’s an open space I see, I am enthused for the first time since arriving, somewhere to go, to walk freely and somewhere I can run.
‘Where is it, how far away?’
‘Not far, you can walk there, but I would get a rickshaw first so you know where to go’
Yes, I am ready. I lay in bed, thinking about it. I am not working tomorrow so when the family go to school, I am out to find Ghandi Maiden. It’s the smallest things that keep you going, and when I can’t run or walk freely, I can’t operate.
I get a rickshaw and on the way to the park, a coconut tree collapses across the street. I am not sure if it was a planned felling or it just collapsed. The driver tuts, and turns around to find another route. I arrive: 18 rupees for the journey.
So this is Ghandi Maiden: a rectangular opening, red dust space, with hardly any grass. This, I imagine, has been worn out with constant use. I read the sign on the metal gate before I enter the park. It reads ‘it is open 24 hours a day and for the people’. It is a rectangular shape measuring maybe 120m long 60m wide or maybe bigger. Trees surround the park giving it shade; there is a small park for the younger children at one end of the park. There is also a large concrete area with a basketball court. It looks as if this area serves the people well. There is also a small walking path that runs all around the side of the park, where people walk. There are two ladies sweeping all the fallen leaves from the trees up by hand, placing them in large piles and later used or sold on.
This place is the place, the life of the community.
So now I am here, it is time to run. I am looking forward to such a natural experience. Looking around I need to plan my attack. The biggest problem, well not really a problem after running on a building site and a roof top, but the problem here is the cricket. There are cricket games going on all the time, and the later you get here, the more balls you have to avoid whilst running. To start with this might seem funny, and I have quite enjoyed throwing the cricket balls back. But these guys here are not messing about and really know how to hit a ball – only rubber balls and tennis balls are allowed, but getting one of these on the back of your head isn’t funny.
My first run, loaded down with a rucksack on my back filled with water, an umbrella and sweat towel inside, I start. It doesn’t take long before I am approached by a young guy. He stops me.
‘Where you from, out of India?’ he says
‘Certainly, I am from England’
‘Why are you running? How old are you? Why are you here?’
I realise my run is over for now and he wants to practise his English, so we talk. Ali is his name, a student, 17 years old. We talk about religion, politics and the stuff you don’t really want to talk about especially with strangers, even though he seemed a good guy. On future occasion when I have returned there, he has been there. And he shouts out as I run pass, ‘keep going John Messi’ – I wish!
Anyway as we talk, I can’t help noticing all the stray dogs around. They don’t seem unhappy and most are just lying in the sun. I talk to Ali about these dogs which are obviously not just in the park but also walking the streets; they are not aggressive in any way.
It’s interesting to note how dog society mirrors human society. Since being here in India I have noticed there is a strong social hierarchy amongst the people. An ordering where people believe they are more or less important because of their birth, their job, or because the amount of money they have or don’t have. I am not going to make any comment on this, except I find it strange and a bit dated. It could have been us Britishers’ fault, (the name English people are sometimes called by).
So with this in mind, Ali starts talking about the dogs. They are fed and looked after by the local people, which would explain them being happy and contented, I think. While we are talking, we are approached by a black and white dog. Ali tells me that this Jack, he is second in command. Really? I am thinking, so who is in command?
‘That would be Kalu; he is there’ and he points,’I think he is twenty years old, but he is the top dog. Nothing happens in Ghandi Maiden without first being agreed by Kalu’. I smile. There is not only a social hierarchy amongst the people, that is respected, but there is also a social hierarchy amongst the wild dogs, which is shown equal respect. Only In Khush India.
So, determined, I stop talking to Ali and return to my midday, 35 degree heat running. Only ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’, runs through my head as I trundle around Ghandi Maiden, avoiding the cricket ball missiles. 20 minutes is enough for my shirt to be completely soaked through, like someone has poured a bucket of water over me! I need to stop. I think people are looking at me, I can’t think why!
Why would anyone here in India think seeing a middle aged, short, grey hair guy, carry weight and a rucksack running look out of place on a nice sunny afternoon?
Thank you Ghandi Maiden, I will see you again soon!