Mad City Delhi


Tired but happy


“Do you promise not to judge me?” If I had a penny for how many times I’ve started my sentence with this line in these last 8 months in Delhi, I’d be a typically wealthy Delhiite.

As I was clutching the side-handles of the dangerously unstable cycle-rickshaw en route to my Friday night hangout, I began to reminisce my Delhi days. I realise that 8 months sounds like too short a time to reminisce, but these 8 months have felt so much longer than 240 odd days. Dog months.

So many beginnings and an equal number of conclusions. I’ve had a relationship start and end, twice over. With multiple people. I even got a divorce.

The wife left me. Delhi got the better of the poor bastard mentally and physically. He broke his leg in his final month and decided to call it quits. No evening Tang, no pointless fights, no burps on my face, no dinners at Qureshi’s (which FYI is owned by Huma Qureshi). I could almost picture a montage of all these wifely duties in slow motion with ‘Dost…Dost na raha’ playing in the background.


I was forced to shift house from the upmarket Greater Kailash 2 to the dog’s infected rectum that is Govindpuri. Govindpuri – where the roads smell of piss, traffic signals are a waste of metal and a flurry of screaming vehicles whiz dangerously passed lazy cows forever stationed right in the middle of the garbage riddled roads. When the screeching of the impatient cars dies down, the share-an-auto drivers are screaming random destinations in the ears of the passers-by.

By 9 pm, however, the traffic comes to a halt, the noise is negligible and the setting is solemn. This is in preparation for the rapes and robberies that take place at the dead of night. I, fortunately, have no first hand evidence of this – I’ve just been warned by many an auto driver. My initial reaction was that they all were exaggerating. I would know since, I’m a bit of an expert in that field. But then I saw this random guy standing on top of a relatively new Santro break the windshield with something that looked like a large brick. I looked at my auto guy in disbelief. He shrugged it off as just another usual occurrence.

The auto guys around my house are a nice bunch of guys – a rarity in Delhi. I know most of them by face. I just have to utter the words – metro, football or bar – and they know where to take me. I have never been one to experiment. I was on my way back from a drunken escapade once, when one the auto guys – Esrarji – blew my intoxicated mind.

I started a conversation with him, like I do with all auto/cab guys. I mentioned that I hail from Pune and his eyes lit up. He told me that he was an Osho follower and I couldn’t believe my ears. He asked me if I was married. Then he asked me if I have ever had sex. Then he shared his opinion on sex.

“Sex is not the destination, but the boat that takes you there. Marriage is against everything that I believe in now. But I am bound by responsibilities. My only other regret in life is that I had picked up Rajnishji’s book too late. If I was unmarried I would have all the sex I wanted so that I could finally reach my ‘dhyan’ – where you can talk to the trees and the stars”

Obviously, by this time, I had realised that his breath was a significant contributor to the stench of alcohol in that stuffy auto. But I didn’t care. When will I ever meet a forward-thinking auto guy again?

That’s one of the things I have loved about Delhi – the access and proximity to some amazing people. In one week, I talked football with the Maharaja of Tripura – he is a big Fernando Redondo fan – I had a beer with the owner of Salgaocar Football Club and met a guy who very nonchalantly narrated an incident of how he had been kidnapped in UP. I also had a drinking session with Rumboy Nicholas – one of the funniest people in the world. Amongst other disgraceful, disgusting yet hilarious guy-talk, RN educated me on the ‘Fart Theory’ while we slayed an old monk. “Macha, the louder the fart, the deeper the connection” – he told me. “There is a certain comfort factor with a willingly vociferous eructation. And that is the true test of a relationship. So let her rip!”, he said. We laughed our guts out.

And then I turned 25. I still don’t agree with the ‘quarter life crisis’ tag that comes with this number – at least not for us guys – but it does make you think about your life. When all your contemporaries are rattling off announcements of engagements and marriages and sometimes even babies – you do feel a little old. Like you’re on the brink of adulthood, on a cliff hanging by a thread that is getting weaker every day. You want cram a lot of craziness in the little time that you have left.

Luckily for me, I’ve been been doing that even before I turned 25. Delhi has been my hub of insanity. Never a dull moment. Many an unspeakable moment, I even wrote a song. But this mad city has always kept me at a safe distance from boredom. It has been exhausting, confounding yet exhilarating.

I got off the cycle-rickshaw aware of my intense fear of the rickety contraption and was calmed by heart-warming smile of the moustachioed door-keeper of 4S – my place of peace. It’s all good when you’re having a beer at 4S. I probably won’t settle down here but this will always be the place where I created the most memories. Oh and my moustache finally grew in Delhi.



Running on a Whim

The onset of November means that it’s running season of the marathon kind. The cool crisp air, moderate temperatures – the city has shed itself off all the heat and humidity and is in its accommodating phase of cordiality before the frigid winter takes over.

It welcomes the debutants with their mild morning practice, the motivated yet unfit lot who are on a spirited endeavour to complete 10 kms, the serious amateurs who are looking to beat their previous time in the half marathons and the seasoned lot that already have a few marathons under their belt. For the steely professionals, weather conditions matter little.    

With a couple of half-marathons under my belt, I form a part of the serious amateurs – or so I’d like to think. I’ve grudgingly half-followed the internet plans of early mornings, strict diets, progressive running strategies – an utterly disciplined lifestyle required to complete 21 full kilometres of road-running. That was for my first half-marathon and it was an amazing experience – a sentiment that will be echoed by other debutants. But it wasn’t a patch on the second one where I ran all of those 21 kilometres without training for a single day.


In fact, it was quite the opposite of training. During my lethargic stint as a Mumbai journalist, I was living the unhealthiest of all lifestyles. On a diet of cheap beer, rum and oily junk food and with no inclination to run whatsoever, I completed 21 kilometres in 2 hours and 53 minutes. That was rebellious, intense and hardcore.

It all started with this beautiful Bawi girl that I was in love with. She was incredibly sweet, smart and had this cute little British-Indian Parsi accent when she spoke. And I would melt every time I was in front of her. That particular time, she slayed me at the NGO that she worked for when she convinced me to buy a Marathon bib for a little more than half my monthly salary. I agreed with no hesitation or care in the world – nodding away to everything she said. I agreed to run for her smile, and for the children of course.

My boss was quite happy when I told her this. Not happy enough to reimburse me for my foolishly vulnerable innocence, but happy that I’d now be able to run the first five kilometres of the marathon to get a feel of the atmosphere and add a whole new dimension to my article about the potential Olympian – Ram Singh Yadav – provided he made the qualification time. Experiential writing she called it. Boy, was she in for an experience.

Yes, as the junior-most, I had to sacrifice my Sunday morning sleep and report on the Mumbai Marathon. As far as running five kilometres was concerned, I was sure that I would be reeling at the end of 2.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen 5 am on a Sunday morning sober. All I knew was that I was depressed waking up to darkness and sure as hell wasn’t looking forward to running pre sun-up. But I put on my marathon gear – my lucky tight red bikini briefs (my ‘Marathong’ I call it), Nike skins – which protruded pregnantly at the stomach, my short shorts and running shoes and set out to the Bandra side of the sea link – the starting line.

I couldn’t reach the sea-link, however, because of the thousand odd people that had turned up. Within minutes, there were a couple of hundred people gathered behind me and the feeling was not unlike being inside a weekday morning local. I went where the crowd took me and awaited the flagging off 500 yards behind the starting line. Wiser from experience, I stood at the side and watched while the foolhardy beginners sprinted like they were competing in a 100 meter race. I jogged slowly, then paused before I saw the huge expanse of the sea link in front of me. The Marathon gives you the privilege of running on roads most people don’t get the chance to walk on and then to stop and stare at some breath-taking views of the city of Mumbai. I took my chance to enjoy the scene. And then I saw the early sprinters peeing off the bridge. Each one has their own pleasures I guess. Some were getting pictures clicked; others were on the phone with their loved ones attempting to describe the magnitude of the moment. I was alone. I carried on.

 The legs that were stiff and high-strung on that torturous morning were slowly warming up as I reached the half-way point on the sea-link. I was able to enjoy the energy of a thousand people. Two kilometres down and I was surprisingly sprightly yet circumspect with my strides. I decided to walk half of the third kilometre just to ensure I would make it to five and avoid embarrassment and humiliation of my friends and colleagues. I increased the pace slowly after and joined the crowd in speeding through the open toll gates. Nothing was going to stop us then. The Gujaratis, Marwadis, old or young, male or female, all were of a free spirit that day. Maybe the sprinters weren’t foolhardy after all. Maybe they were just propelled by the release of all their inhibitions. I, however, was still running on a whim. I continued at jogging pace through the fourth kilometre. I was giving it a little extra as it was time to wind down at 5, like I had planned, like my boss had told me too.

I reached the end of the sea-link, the end of my little stint and I began to come to a slow halt. Except that I didn’t really want to stop. I saw this sweet little girl running with a big smile on her face. An old fit man was jog-walking bare feet. I might not have had the energy but I certainly hadn’t run out adrenalin. And I estimated it to be another couple of kilometres before I would run out of steam completely. I’d still be able to catch up with Ramsingh after quitting at 7 km, I thought. So I began running again.

The next two km were a bit of a drag. We were to take a left at Worli, run all the way up to INS Trata circle, take a u-ey, and come all the way back to the end of the sea-link. I wasn’t satisfied with that so I continued running. Just up until Atria mall, I thought. Then I would call it quits for sure. I would have to, no?

No. I alternated between swift walks and slow jogs as the notorious Bombay sun slowly started to make its presence felt. I managed to trudge up to Worli dairy with Atria mall in sight when I heard my name being shouted out loud. I looked swiftly to the right and saw an open top bus full of my fellow journalists covering the event. I was cheered on by them. Another shot of adrenalin. I ran past Atria and on to the bridge towards Haji Ali.

The sun was now taking prime position to drain. And I was slowly falling victim. The Adrenalin tank was running on empty again and reality hit me with its brute force. I started cramping in my stomach. I slowed down and walked slowly. My thighs started to pull a little. I came to a halt. I had completed 14 kilometres and was contemplating quitting. There was also the matter of Ramsingh – potentially only the second Indian to qualify for the Olympics – tomorrow’s front page news.

Then I saw the old man again, jog-walking away at his consistent pace with single-minded focus and I said F**k it! I’m running.

At that point in time, I didn’t want to be caged by responsibilities, I had no intention of being the diligent hard-worker I always had been, the teacher’s pet. I felt like doing something outrageously crazy. Carelessly rebellious. I lost the plot completely. It was the most amazing feeling. I decided to complete the 21 kilometers.

I had absolutely no energy but I was propelled by my own release. I smiled at the old man. He didn’t bother responding. I jogged passed Haji Ali to the right and then stopped to walk again.

The stretch between 15-17 kilometres is the toughest. It’s the loneliest stretch of the race. You have no water to quench your thirst. You’re stomach growls intensely – crying for some food. You have nothing but the clothes on your back. The sun is now prime position to take away your reserve of energy. You’re looking for some solace in the smallest of things. I was. And I found it on Peddar Road – where my 8-year-old nephew spotted me, shouted “Kabir Mama!!”and ran towards me. I had never been so happy to see anyone in my life. I was cheered on by his parents as well. They stayed right on Peddar Road but they woke up that Sunday morning and participated. They were part of that Mumbai spirit that is such a vital fuel for long-distance running.

I waved goodbye and walked up the slope. I grabbed 14 Parle-G biscuits from the other enthusiastic little kids on the sidelines and devoured them all at one go. That biscuit had never tasted as good as it did then. The salivating juices in my mouth dissolved the biscuits into a succulent gooey mush. I had a mouth-orgasm. With Parle-G.

When I turned right into Marine Drive, the sun was at its scorching worst. The legs were weary and heavy as concrete blocks. My back was stiff. I could barely move my hands. I felt like I was just a stride or two away from dehydration. But my mind was somewhere else. At 18 kilometres, you involuntarily let your guard down and become a little crazy. I felt intoxicated with exhaustion. Then I was distracted by some screams on sea-facing side of the road. I saw two beautiful figures with mikes in hand addressing the crowd on a stage.

Then I found myself stopping and shouting “MONICA! NANDITA! I LOVE YOU!” – exclaiming my feelings for Dogra and Das all at once.

Some laughed at me. Other fellow half marathoners were dancing to the music playing in the background. There was an old bald fat man who stopped and started singing “Tum Hi Ho” and doing a little Hritik Roshan dance. Everyone had gone mad. Everyone was happy.

I turned left at the Oberoi and passed my work place. I had just run all the way to work. That was quite cool. Now the journey to the finish line – the last lap of the race that inevitably is the longest. I had nothing to distract me. I couldn’t help but focus on the pain. My legs were red and now screaming with pain. I could barely lift them. My stomach was cramping up. I sucked it up and continued towards the finish line that refused to arrive. My thigh pulled up again and I just began to walk slowly, not allowing the twister of a cramp to take over. I finally reached CST and the finish line came in sight. I was elated. And then it hit me. I hadn’t covered the marathon. I didn’t have my phone with me. The office would be expecting news right about now. I was hoping against hope that Ram Singh didn’t qualify. But a journalist friend I met at the finish line informed me that he did.

I took an empty train home. I rushed to my cell phone and found 39 missed calls – 28 from my boss and 11 from my two colleagues. I had to change immediately and make my second trip that morning to Express Towers, Nariman Point. Needless to say, my boss blew her top. My colleagues were venting their transference of anger from her. Life was hell on steroids for that day and the next two week – because of my act of defiance.

But I honestly didn’t care. I was still high on running on a whim. I felt undefeatable. If I had to, I would do it all over again. I’ve made it a habit to do something spontaneously combustible every now and then. And I believe that everyone must do something radically crazy at least once a year to keep themselves sane.

This one’s dedicated to the Bawi girl, who just announced her engagement last week.

 Here’s wishing you all the best as you set out on a marathon of your own. 

Gin Soaked Girl

ImageAditi Mutatkar is a sea-snake. She’s venomous when agitated, determined to move ahead despite the overwhelming resistance of the waves and generates electric energy with every forward march.

So how do I define Aditi Mutatkar?

It’s really hard to say. She is a badminton player, with superlative skill – that’s for sure. But you can’t really categorise her definitely. She is not a failed hero – she’s still aggressively pursuing personal stardom. She isn’t a total failure – she has achieved far too much. The 25-year-old isn’t a has-been – she still plays competitively. She has had a complicated relationship with the sport she loves unconditionally. It has brought out every heart-rending emotion in her.

At best, one can call her the grittiest of all comeback queens, most familiar with the drawing board – having gone back to it no less than three times in five professional years.  During this tough time, she battled severe trauma stemming from a weak knee, operated upon repeatedly. She remained stubborn, however, and got back on her feet every single time. Her recent comeback being the open nationals – where she beat the current India no 1 en route to her third place finish.

I had promised her a blog post on the condition of her victory. But her semi-final finish after close to two years of inaction seemed to be a victory in its own right. She thought so too. She was amazed at herself, shocked with her performance and then she released her emotions through tears of joy. Image

 In a career marred with injuries, she has often been forced to search for her own bandwidth of success, her own separate formula for motivation and that has been far from easy.

She started like any other star. She started like Saina. Bursting on to the scene, winning everything there was to win, dominating her age-group and others as well. She won all the possible national level events in the junior category. Like Saina. And then she met Saina as competition. She was uttered in the same breath as the current world no 3 for the first and only time. It was during the under – 16’s that both shared a back and forth of victories. Aditi had the last laugh when she thrashed Saina in the under – 16 national final. She still remains the only player in the Indian circuit to have beaten her. But things changed drastically from that point on.

Saina won her first international tournament and was heavily publicised in the media. Aditi had no such support for her victories. Looking back, that was a pivotal moment for Aditi. Maybe she was under the wrong Godfather. Maybe luck wasn’t on her side.

Whatever the reason, Saina slowly started pulling away. When Aditi won the minors, Saina won the majors. When Aditi was sneaking her way into sports pages, Saina was flashing out of front page headlines. Aditi took one step forward and Saina took two. She was a Roddick to Federer; Qaresma to Ronaldo; Frazier to Ali. She was in that scary space between good and great – close enough to take in the sweet scent of international glory, yet far away from achievement. 

Hard as it was, Aditi tried not to let it bother her. She focused on her own success and it seemed to work for her. In 2009, she performed well in international tournaments. After, arguably, her career-best performance of reaching the Bitburger Open final in Germany, she climbed up to 27 in the world rankings – her personal best. That was when disaster struck. She suffered a debilitatingknee injury.

The rehabilitation was unplanned and misguided. She received no help from the Badminton federation. She was discarded as if she was nothing. When she required professional help, financial assistance, she got nothing. At the seemingly prestigious position of being India’s no 2 shuttler, she was in the loneliest place on earth.

Her knee was operated upon and was never really the same after that. She was immature at the time and didn’t really know how to handle the immense pressure. She did not have the insulation of a psychologist or a personal trainer. She received ordinary treatment when professional consultation was the need of the hour.  

She felt demoralised but was persistent in achieving her goal. She cried her tears and then came back with renewed vigour. Only to find herself climbing a hill of grease. Thus began her roller coaster journey – her twisted bond with the cruel sport.

She practiced with maniacal dedication. Her discipline was unmatched and work ethic was something to admire. She kept coming back. But so did her injuries.

In 2010, when she made her first comeback, she seemed fearless. She had a good stint in the Vietnam tournament where she reached the quarterfinals. She built on that success and went on to win a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. She was selected for the Asian Games and reached the pre-quarterfinals when she injured her calf muscle. She had to be away from the sport again. She was angry, frustrated. She broke her rackets. She cried for days on end. She sought reassurance but only found pessimism. Then her coach told her to take a breath. Relax. Recover.

The injury healed as injuries do, but the scar still remained. She was tentative with her strokes and she favoured her knee every time she hit the shuttle. It took her time to get back to her aggressive intensity but once she did, she was unstoppable. She went on to miraculously win the senior open nationals, thus bagging every national title in each age-category. She is one of four women in the history of Indian badminton, who have managed to achieve this feat.

She was doing well – having reached semis and the quarterfinals of two international tournaments. After she came back, however, she suffered a triple blow when she injured her knee, twisted her ankle and tore her hamstring.

The doctor said that she didn’t have long to play. She was devastated. She contemplated retirement. She did nothing for two months, reached the limit of her frustration and then got a panic attack.

She decided to take a break. Get her mind away from badminton. A fresh start. She decided to travel. She revisited Germany without her rackets and found it to be a refreshing experience. She trekked across the hills of Kashmir, relaxed on the sandy beaches of Goa and spent fifteen full days bonding with her grandparents. She studied for the IAS, the GMAT and then worked in an NGO. Her mind was wandering, but wandering away from badminton.

ImageThen she started to the miss the sport again. But she wasn’t fully ready to get back on the court. So she took up tennis. She played for a week and then realised the sport was a poor substitute for her true love. She then got back on badminton court after a one and a half year hiatus. She took to the court like a fish to water. She was more relaxed. Her dreams had diluted into concrete practicality. Her expectations were minimal. She went back to the basics. She now played for the love of the game and nothing more. She surprised one and all with her third place finish in the nationals.

But Aditi knows better than most that third place finishes aren’t remembered for long. In India, after all, even second place counts for little in the long run. Aditi often looks back and wonders what would have happened if she received the same attention as Saina. But she also agrees that Saina is made of a different fibre. She is deserved of her Olympic bronze medal. She is envious, not malicious of her intentions towards Saina. When asked, however, if she ever wished she was in Saina’s shoes, she continues to say, “I’m still on my way there”.

Whenever the wave pushes her back, she sheds her skin, goes back to the drawing board and starts swimming again. The sea-snake.                  

“Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.” 
― China MiévilleThe Scar