Tuesday, October 14, 2008
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
It is six in the morning. Bencoolen Street in Singapore has just woken up back to its busy life. This street has a lot of hotels on the either side of the road. Tourists from all over the world fill in the streets and you wonder where all the natives have gone. You cannot make out a native Singaporean from the visitor as all of them look like tourists in a tiny country with democratically elected government with ‘no opposition’.
The eateries on the waysides are the most popular haunts after the glittering malls of desire and consumption. The food courts are already active with young people puffing away cigarettes over their breakfast or morning tea. An infant sun tries to compete with the electrical illuminations in the street, and both the lights together give a kind of surreal sheen to the skins of the youngsters settled at the eateries.
Along with the aroma of the cooked food in the air, there comes a familiar sound; Tamil Songs. Many of the eateries are run by Tamils and Sri Lankans who have made Singapore their home ages back. I look at the tourists, most of them are from Japan and their only reason to enjoy a Tamil song in the early morning is their fascination for the ‘Dancing Maharaja of Indian screen’, Rajnikanth. Perhaps, I am wrong. Deeply immersed in thoughts they may not be listening to the songs. Or if at all they are listening, they are listening to foot tapping music; not the words.
I am out here for jogging; the irresistible feeling to run in a country where I am a first time visitor. I have my running shoes on and as I am not sure about the jogging conditions here, I prefer to stay in my jeans and T-shirt. But I don’t find any joggers in the street. May be, this well planned place have got places particularly marked out for jogging. I don’t know that place, if at all it is there.
Jogging has a lot to do with writing or any other creative practice. If you are an excellent jogger, then you would know the nuances of creative life. Or I would say, you need not be a jogger, you can be anything, but doing some rigorous physical work, then you would know what all creative life means.
I ask myself, why do I write this? Let me tell you, the reason is none other than the Japanese novelist and writer Haruki Murakami. I have been seeing Murakami’s works in the shelves of various book stores that I visit wherever I go, but have never felt like picking up on for reading. Of late, I was in Kochi and the book I had taken for reading was over by the flight landed at the airport.
I am like a patient who is suffering from breathing problems. Like the person needs an artificial supply of oxygen at regular intervals or constantly, I need books with me. Books are my lifeline.
In Kochi, I asked my friend Feroze Babu to take me to a good book stall. He took me the most famous one and to my shock I found that it was closed for stock verification. Feroze asked me not to panic. He took me to the beautiful Mattancheri where there is a place called Greenex. It is a complex where the foreign tourists are invited to have a glimpse of Kerala’s culture. They can enjoy whatever exotic stuff Kerala has under one roof. There is a book stall for the tourists to make leisurely purchases for soul.
I don’t believe in the airport and touristy bookstalls. I have a feeling that these bookstalls do not stock serious books. With the eyes closed you can say which are all the titles they have- Shantaram, Paulo Coelho, Chicken Soup for Soul Type, packaged Indian spirituality, Arundhati Roy, Richard Branson, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dalai Lama, Rajneesh, PG Wodhouse, Shobha De, Khushwant Singh and so on. Last not but the least, Stephen King’s ‘The Brief History of Time’- It is a must.
But let me tell you, I have found the most interesting books from such bookstalls so I cannot just write them out. I always wonder how these books find their way to the shelves.
I see Haruki Murakami’s book titled ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. It sounds as if it was one of those self-help, personality development, management, chicken soup kinds. But the word ‘Running’ in the title attracts me. What this guy has got to do with running? Hemingway used to be attracted to sea, fishing and voyages. Marquez used to travel a lot as a journalist. But here is a guy, a best selling, award winning novelist talking about running. I am a runner too (no, not a runner in serious terms, but a passionate jogger) and I like reading offbeat writings.
Back in the loneliness of hotel room, I introduce myself to Murakami and he introduces himself to me, of course through his words. Born in Kyoto in 1949, Murakami started off his life as an entrepreneur (basically running a bar) and later left his bar career for writing. His novels are widely translated into forty two languages. And, he started jogging when he was in his thirties.
That interests me. I too have started my running in my late thirties. Murakami, became an accomplished runner and he participated in several marathons held all over the world. After gaining fame and fortune as a writer, he got enough time to train himself as a marathon runner. The more he ran the more he became creative. The more he ran the more he became a visionary. And his life as a runner should fascinate anyone who has done any kind of physically taxing hobby or work.
Many people ask what a runner thinks when he runs a long distance. I myself have asked this question to myself several times. When I run around six kilometers a day, I think I should be planning my day out, or planning my week, or at least plan my one piece of writing. But then this whole planning vanishes. You start concentrating on the pains that slowly clutches your toes, calves, knees, thighs, back and shoulders. You feel like stopping it at the third or fourth round. Then slowly your body achieves a rhythm that vibes well with your breathing. Then you forget everything, your thoughts, your pains and even your running. You become running and the running becomes you.
Murakami reveals the same thing. He asks, what does he think when he is running? He thinks about what he could be thinking. Then the same process, the pain, the conflict of mind, whether to leave it half way or not. Then the ultimate liberation of all thoughts. You become the runner.
For Murakami, pain is the ultimate thing. If you have experienced pain then you understand your body through that pain. When you are a runner, you experience pain and once the pain is liberated, you understand your system and this understanding helps you to focus and gives you the capacity of endurance- two virtues essential for a writer. Running makes you focused and the pain sets your body for endurance. If you have a grain of sand inside your running shoe, your running loses rhythm, the same way, a disturbing thought throws you out of balance while writing.
The book captivates me; not because it is a manual for any runner, but it is a philosophy of life. Murakami, while narrating the experience of running in different places, countries and distances, speaks of the people whom he has confronted, the incidents that he has witnessed and the breathing rhythms of the people who run along with him.
Murakami likes running because, it is not about confrontations and competitions. Running is all about proving something to one’s own self. It does not demand external help, what you need is a pair of running shoes, a bottle of water and your decision to run. Perhaps, this suits me too. I don’t want to confront any one and I don’t want to defeat anyone. The happiest thing in my life, or the happiest thing that I do in my life is being alone, sitting at my desk and jotting down my thoughts. The pleasure is something similar to long distance running. It is pure loneliness and liberation. In my ageing body, it once again brings back the spring of creativity and I become a garden of words and imagination.
“In the 1980s I used to jog every morning in Tokyo and often passed a very attractive young woman. We passed each other jogging for several years and got to recognize each other by sight and smile a greeting each time we passed. I never spoke to her (I am too shy), and of course don’t even know her name. But seeing her face every morning as I ran was one of life’s small pleasures. Without pleasures like that, its pretty hard to get up and go jogging every morning,” writes Murakami. True, true, true, I say in elation. There are some presences in your jogging track, some passing fragrances, some fleeting glances that make you tick. Murakami’s writing become all the more enduring because he captures the flimsy beauty of life and make them eternal in his words.
I will not ask you to start running from tomorrow morning onwards. But do something that would make you understand your body, mind and your divine bonding with the world and its immense secrets that could be revealed only through the tools of creativity. That’s why I smile at those sleeping boys, who wake up late and wash their faces with beer, dip crumbs of gossip in their morning tea and waste away their time in mutual admiration, all in the name of art and creativity!