Wednesday, September 28, 2016

0 to 10k: Finishing 5K

Author's Note: This is the second of a three part series.

I was living in Paris staying away from the family in those days. During those days, it is hard to find the energy to get up in the morning since the situation was far from ideal. As my family was living in India at that time, a cloud of lethargy had descended on my life. I was doubtful of uncovering reserves of energy to pursue a new hobby even if it was for better health.

Despite adverse conditions, I kept planning to reach my end goal of long distance running in my mind. The first step was simple. I should be able to run non-stop. One of the initial plans was to run and walk alternatively. I will run for a minute and recover by walking for two minutes. Over a period of time, I will gradually increase the running time while decreasing the recovery time. While contemplating this plan, I downloaded the one of the "Couch to 5K" programs. Despite all these efforts, I was still missing the spark to light up the fire.

Then, my assignment in Paris ended. As a result, I had to return to India. After settling down to the routine at home, it was my wife who encouraged me to go for a walk or run in the nearby park. The park is built around a lake and has a track for running or walking around the lake. It is crowded from 6 am. I decided to put on my running shoes and use the Couch to 5K program as a guide. Gradually, I was able to run for a burst of 4 minutes. When I was progressing with the running, a new assignment resulted in me shifting to the UK.

The move to the UK was a setback. Again, I was away from my family. The long hours at work and the late night binges to meet impossible deadlines had a detrimental effect on the waistline. Fortunately, my wife joined me in a few months. She helped with the diet. I had unsuccessful stints in two different gyms. During this time, I was able to run continuously for 20 minutes covering a distance of 2 kilometers on the treadmill. But I was not a regular.

I was due for the yearly health check. After the examination, the doctor explained the health risks due to my age. Although these may not be high, there are factors which I needed to control. The doctor asked me to change my lifestyle and advised to exercise regularly. I chose running as the activity for changing my lifestyle and infusing energy. As I had spent already spent money on gym memberships and running shoes, I decided on spending as little as possible in this venture which was started and abandoned many times in the past.

The only option was to use the streets in Reading, the city I was living,  like my treadmill. NHS has a free "Couch to 5K" program. Unlike other apps, this is a podcast. The podcaster talks to you, and there is music. They have a program which lasts 8 weeks. By the end of 8 weeks, you will be able to run for 35 minutes. When you run for 35 minutes, you would have covered a distance of 5 kilometers or more. The program is designed for beginner runners. I chose to run after 8 pm in the evening. The first few podcasts were only 20 minutes. Gradually over a period of 8 weeks, I was able to complete this program. 

Covering 5 kilometers in 35 minutes is not a laudable task. There were a few inconsiderate runners who had ridiculed my pace. But there were a few lessons to learn at the end. There are many things in life where you will minimal support from outside world. If you are lucky, you will get one supporter for every ten detractors. If you do, thank your stars and get on with it. Most of the times, you will have to find motivation within yourself. Secondly, you don't need an expensive or grand plan to achieve your goals. A simple plan is sufficient if you have the resolve.


Photo Courtesy: Photokkaran

Monday, September 26, 2016

0 to 10k: The desire to rise

Author's Note: This is the first of a three part series.


How can one run non-stop? The question haunted me for many years. After running a few meters, I would end up gasping for breath. Even from the school days, I lacked the stamina to run fifty meters. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I gave up. When I hit the gym, I used the treadmill for walking. I could even run for a couple of minutes with high difficulty. Even though I understood the importance of a twenty minutes of running to get the prep the body, I never could get to this point.

While living in Paris, I called up my young friend to check his plans for the evening. That day was unexceptionally dull, and hence I desperately wanted to break the monotony. He was catching the Metro from Montmartre. I was surprised as the station was far away from where he lived. He had run from Boulogne to Montmartre covering a distance of more than 10 km. I was not only impressed but also convinced. The 10 km run is an attainable task. The casual and confident tone of my young friend assured and encouraged me.

The above incident was not enough to get me put on the sneakers and run through the streets of Paris. In fact, I never ran through the streets of the city of light. I have walked her beautiful streets countless times. A minor consolation. But the conversation was sufficient to open up my eyes. A few months later, a photographer friend of mine described her experience after running the first and only marathon. She is a researcher, a species who will encounter a lot in Paris. According to her words, the experience gave her a high which lasted for a week. This exuberance was the observation of her fellow researchers.

The second incident described above was intriguing. Can a person remain on a high after running a marathon? How does running transform a person? As always by habit, I turned to my trusted source while troubled with a riddle. I went shopping for a book and eventually found "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. The book focuses on a group of people who loves running and their techniques. On top of these topics, the book also explains how the author prepared himself for the run. He trained himself under professionals. The transformation of the author reaffirmed the fact anyone can run on the lines what my young friend assured me a while back. 

On a pessimistic note, the author might have spent a fortune to train himself. He had the book and the publisher backing him. Where does that leave an ordinary mortal like me? I don't have the power to draw on the same resources as the author. What is the cheap alternative for people like me? When these thoughts were played out in the back of my mind for several months, I came across the programs named "Couch to 5K". The name is unusual enough to grab your attention and also to make you relate to what the program offers. The program is designed for people like me who never attempted to run.

During this time, I went to shoot pictures of Marathon de Paris of 2013. A year back, I had gone for the same purpose. At that point, I had chosen the starting point of Avenue des Champs Elysees. The morning was cold and breezy. Hence, I couldn't stay for long. So this time, I decided to wait for longer and visit the finishing point. The sight at the finishing point is uplifting. There were family members gathered at the finishing point cheering their dear ones as they crossed the finishing point. Watching people crossing the finishing line, I could understand the secret behind the exhilaration felt by my photographer friend. More than that realization, the sight of a man lighting up a cigar after finishing the marathon. The way he was holding the cigar with a big smile said it all. He had worked hard for this achievement. And it was no small feat. Now he rewarded himself.

I am not a cigar man. I will never understand the craze for that. But I saw the satisfaction and the pride in that man's face when he lit up the cigar after running the marathon. I believed running would give me the same pleasure. At that point, I decided to rise from my comfortable mental couch and run.


Photo Courtesy: Photokkaran

Friday, September 23, 2016

I hate this lunchbox!

Most of my colleagues pack their lunch from home. I like to see the open lunch boxes because each of them features a different dish. It is unlike the few choices you get from the cafeteria. Each dish has a different story to say. A friend of mine recently told me a story of a lunch box.

A colleague of my friend used to pack lunch from home. She always packed curd rice. For me, it is one of the easiest dishes to make. While it is not too time-consuming to prepare, curd rice has the added advantage of cooling you down in seconds. You can season the curd rice with different ingredients.

During the lunch hour, the colleague opens the lunch box. She stares at the content in the open box for a few seconds. During this time, her face displays a gamut of expressions, the prominent being hatred. Finally, she removes some of the ingredients and eats the curd rice.

After a few days, my friend couldn't resist his curiosity. How long can a person bring the same dish? Moreover, the colleague's facial expression clearly shows her dislike for this dish. So my friend decided to find out the truth. He approached her and started firing a series of questions.

My Friend: *gently* I notice you always bring curd rice.

The Colleague: *absent-mindedly* Yes. *after a brief pause* I pack the same dish for everyone in the family.

My Friend: *smiling* But you don't seem to like it.

The Colleague: *defensive* That is not correct.

My Friend: *still smiling but a bit confused* Judging by the expression on your face when you open the lunch box, I thought you hated it.

The Colleague: *understands my friend's concern* I like curd rice. But I don't like the seasoning.

My Friend: *feeling light after identifying the cause* Then it is easy! Don't use those ingredients for seasoning.

The Colleague: *exasperated* But he likes it so!

The "He" referenced here is her husband. Like I said, every lunch box has a story to tell.


Picture Courtesy: Harsha K R

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lessons from Massimo's lemon tart

When I look at the lemon tart offered by Massimo Bottura, it reinforces two things in my mind. The first one is about beauty; it can exist in imperfection. The second one is about mistakes. The world doesn't stop because we have erred. There may be redemption and reprieve.

Massimo's dish is called "Oops! I dropped the lemon tart". As the name reflects, it is what happened in reality too. While preparing the lemon tart for a customer, the sous chef affectionately called Taka dropped the lemon tart. Massimo was quick to recover and see the lemon tart from a different angle. As a result, you have a lemon tart which taunts you into trying it. Massimo also turned around a situation which would have ended up as an embarrassment.

We often strive for perfection. Why does everything have to be perfect? Haven't you seen a person with crooked teeth but has a ravishing smile? Haven't you heaved a sigh when a freckled face lighted up the room? In a traditional sense, those aren't perfect. It is still beautiful.

Sometimes, you see the world through different eyes by making a wrong turn. It may not always be the case. But there is always the possibility of discovery through a mistake. As a result, we should be encouraging people to fail. It is better than living in fear of failure. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Where is the time, dude?

When I came across the article on the free-time paradox, I was surprised. In a nutshell, the article states the rich has less time for leisure while the poor has more. The article came to my attention a few days after a friend commented on a workaholic friend. The workaholic friend featured twice in our conversations over a period. The last conversation was a few days before I came across this article.

In the first conversation, my friend extolled on one of the enviable characters of an ambitious person which our workaholic friend possessed. "Our workaholic friend is determined to get to the highest level in the organization. Our friend is constantly thinking about what next to do. All of us relax after achieving a certain threshold of success. We can't keep up the same energy levels. Our friend is tireless and enthusiastic." The second conversation was a melancholic one, awe giving way to concern. "Our friend is thinking of building an empire. He is constantly on emails or calls with his subordinates until early hours of the morning. As a result, his personal life is in shambles."

We make money to secure a peaceful future and to enjoy the finer things in life. But when we grow richer, we have lesser time for ourselves or our dear ones. The riches are never enough. I envy the poor people mentioned in the article. I wish I could just slack off. Then the reality dawns. They are living in their parent's place because they have avoided the errors made by mortals like me. The mortals yearn for companionship and a desire to produce better versions of themselves.


Photo Courtesy: JD Hancock

Monday, September 19, 2016

Old is not gold anymore!

I am over 40. So a recent study of how it is difficult for workers in Silicon Valley, who are over 40, caught my attention. Were others given preferential treatment because of my age? Frankly, I haven't yet noticed. The article is worrying. The concern stems from fear. Will anyone need my expertise? Will I be able to run as fast as the others? Will I have to compromise on my principles?

There are different schools of thought regarding what happens after 40. One of them says about your life restarts. As far as I am concerned, I did not press the reset switch. Neither did anyone. There were two occasions in my life where my age was mentioned. During a high-pressure project execution, I was trying to do many things at a time. The wins were few and insignificant while the losses were noticeable and damaging. As I had walked reluctantly into the fifth decade of existence, a friend remarked. "He just turned 40. He is grappling with the existential crisis". I panicked on hearing it and quickly decided to forget about the statement. The other instance was during a heated discussion when a friend decided to throw in the age factor. The friend advised me to plan for retirement as my employable days are over. Of course, it felt harsher and crueler than I could sum up in words.

With increasing life spans and escalating costs, I often wonder if it is ever possible to retire. Some people are smart enough to create something with their intelligence and retire to a peaceful life. But what about the rest of us? When I was in my mid-thirties, a team member was astonished to find that I knew about Yahoo Messenger. When you work with a young team, there is a sudden hush when one enters a room. So I can easily understand why people want to stay younger with the help of plastic surgery.  It is a sad situation but totally understandable. I for one cannot throw a stone because I color my hair. It might not be plastic surgery, but I am still covering up the reality. It still does not answer my question. What do I do if everyone else still thinks I am too old to do any job? Will my confidence of accomplishing the impossible and possessing a sharp mind good enough to go on?


Photo Courtesy: Archive New Zealand

Friday, September 16, 2016

Movie Review: Serra Pelada




Serra Pelada was a gold mine in Brazil. The English translation of Serra Pelada is Naked Mountain. But the movie is known as Bald Mountain in English. I definitely would have to ask the translator or the studio on why they chose such a bland name for the movie. Even if the film had retained the original name in Portuguese, it would still have invoked our curiosity. Coming to the gold mine, people uncovered the precious metal in 1979. The mine was in full swing in 1980 and closed in 1986. The story of this film unfolds when the mining activities are in full swing during this period. The movie tells the story of two friends arriving in Serra Pelada with a dream to become wealthy. The two friends Juliano(Juliano Cazarré) and Joaquim(Júlio Andrade) have known each other from childhood. They are both of different temperaments. In the mines, they begin a partnership. As they amass wealth, their friendship becomes strained because of differing morals and principles.

We have seen many rags to riches story on the screen before. The sudden accumulation of wealth generates greed for excess and hunger for power. This indulgence poisons one's mind and alienates dear ones. Finally, there is the descent into despair and the longing for a new start. Such a theme always draws us to a movie even it is beaten to death before. The director Heitor Dhalia has set this story against the backdrop of the gold rush in Brazil. This move may have a significant effect on the local audience. The local audience would have either belonged to that era or have heard about the tumultuous times from elders. As this depicts a historically significant period in Brazil, outsiders like us are also naturally inquisitive to know more. So Heitor Dhalia succeeds in getting us the first part of generating interest in the movie. Unfortunately, he fails to keep us glued to the seats because the film gives us a sense of deja vu. We may have been able to overlook this fact because of the performers. They are great. In addition to the two leading men, there is Wagner Moura (well-known face after Narcos on Netflix) in a small role but an eccentric character. If his presence is not enough for the movie, he has also shaved the front of his head to portray a bald man. While Heitor Dhalia spends time in finalizing the appropriate cast, he doesn't devote as much time to tell the story. As a result, the storytelling is hurried and makes us lose interest somewhere along the way.

Even though the movie is not able to do justice to the era honestly, it still stands out for one thing. The inhuman conditions of the miners in these claims came to light with the photographs taken by two photographers separately. These photographers were Alfredo Jaar and Sebastião Salgado. These photographs show miners climbing the hills with ores, and these miners resemble ants. The mining has also caused environmental damage. The movie captures these in a disturbing way. I am not sure if these are stock shots or recreations. Whatever be it, these scenes blend with the film seamlessly causing us to wonder about the length people will go to make a living and fortune.

It is still worth a watch if you have nothing else on your list.

Language: Portuguese

Genre: Drama

Rating: **


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