TODAY -

Running the extra mile

By Debanish Achom *

"Give me a moment please, to tame your wild, wild heart,"

You know, I used to run behind tigers. And this one time, I ran three strides ahead for the stupid beasts. They ought to thank me, those godless carnivores.

When PETA came calling, I bought their t-shirts, one for myself, one for my sister. The fresh PETA logo smelled of kerosene. The next day I took part in the PETA marathon. When the race ended, I felt like I could use a coffin to sleep.

Dripped in sweat like a wet mouse, I limped to the garden where some Zimbabweans had settled down to catch their breath. They had come all the way from their godforsaken land to run not for the tigers but the prize money.

I don't hate them and I never said they were cunning. Theirs was a necessity that brought them here. I remember this guy who finished second. His name was something Vendi, I forgot.

Another Zimbabwean, a girl, who didn't look like a girl, took the first place and I didn't go near her, not because I uphold racism or practise misogyny, but I didn't want to disturb her while she was trying to regain her strength after running the whole length without slowing down in between.

For the Zimbabweans, there was no such thing as second wind: Either they ran like a horse whose ass was on fire, or they risked losing the money for which they have traveled so far. The guy told me in broken English that he was nice to meet me. He asked me how things are at home in the Philippines.

"Very nice," I replied.

How the hell could I explain to somebody from Africa who doesn't speak English and who came to run in an obscure marathon in a land of one-billion heads that there is a place called so and so in the eastern fag end of India where so and so have happened in history and hence I look like somebody from the Philippines?

I let it slip. It also made me laugh in a way. Vendi left India two days later.

When the chief guest Maneka Gandhi in her just-ironed saree and carrying her just-washed face walked onto the stage and droves of people who have not taken part in the run materialised from nowhere like ghosts, I had this feeling that we had been used and tricked into running for such an absurd thing as a tiger.

I don't know why, but I disengaged myself from the crowd and walked to the parking lot suppressing the pain in my leg. I didn't look back even once. Then I drove back home. On the way, I struggled to keep myself awake.

My legs were shaking and grains of salt appeared in my arms, elbows and neck. I consoled myself saying everybody in the race venue also cared about the cause they had asked us to run for or fooled us to run for.

Over time, the animal-lover Gandhi and the marathon faded from my memory. But the Zimbabwean sometimes come in my dream and ask how things are at home.

I pray for his safety. And on rare occasions when I watch Animal Planet, I remember the cute beasts for whose survival we humans waste time and speak lies for material benefit.

Some creatures, not necessarily the four-legged ones, can maul you to death by snapping your spinal chord into two, and yet you have to love them.

I don't know why.




* Debanish Achom, a Bangalore based Journalist working with a big news media company, writes regularly to e-pao.net . The writer can be contacted at debanish9a(at)gmail(dot)com . This article was webcasted on September 24th, 2008

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