My second most favorite activity in Mumbai is going for a run. The early morning light is subdued; its cooler and the humidity is lower. Earlier in the day, people are nicer too, And running along the sea-face at Marine Drive is just what life all about. Importantly, starting the day with a nice run makes me less guilty when I indulge in my #1 favorite activity in Mumbai: EATING. Running justifies eating. The more you run, the more I get to eat. I can live with that.
I would start at 6:15 am from home near the Colaba Police Station. After a brief warm-up, I would run by the Cooperage football field, along Madam Cama Rd, past the Oval Maidan, Mantralaya and reach Marine Drive by the Air India building next to the Oberoi/Trident Hotel. This is how it looked on the day I took my camera along. It's a great feeling to realize I would run the entire Marine Drive upto Walkeshwar. A nice 7 Km run.
By Cooperage fields I dodge a gang of mangy dogs, who think they own the road (if anyone is interested in taking a supari for getting rid of these dogs, let me know!). Just past the Oval Maidan I saw this person pulling the water tank.
Past the Mantralaya (State House) and the MPs' quarters, as I trained my camera on the mural of the vigilant Shivaji Maharaj, this person gave me a threatening look. Instinctively I managed a smile and a greeting in Marathi. As he carried on, I slipped away! Phew!
Along the wide sidewalks of Marine Drive, it was heartening to see so many people enjoying the day. Some just sat by the water, others sauntered, others dashed, motivated by speed. Whatever you chose to do, it was the perfect time.
Along the way, a large flock of pigeons were feeding on chanaa; Morning walkers buy cups of this lentil from the hawker and sprinkle it on the sidewalk. It’s quite a sight.
On Chowpatty beach, these two women relaxing on the sands seemed to capture the tranquility of the morning by the water. They seemed to be in no rush, just waiting for the tide to come in.
As I run, I am in a state of euphoria. I can't count my blessings enough: to be here, healthy, to be able to do this. Here and now! What a blessed life. But what’s so special about this place I wonder. Running along the Charles River in Boston is even more spectacular, and you don't have to worry about rabid dogs. What's with this place? As my mind raced on, I noticed this statue in front of me. I thought it was the poet, Rabindranath Tagore, but as I ran closer it was someone else. And the lead phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.
“My place is with my people” it screamed.
Suddenly my heart seemed to slow down, my muscles relaxed, my breathing returned to normal and I was no longer gasping for air. I realized why Mumbai and India were such a special place for me. Because it was my place, and these were my people; and I belonged to them. A place where no one was gonna ask me – where you from?
A calm descended on me and I knew why I did the things I did. I felt I could keep running forever. The ache was gone. I was beaming! I dashed past Wilson College and charged up the hill on Walkeshwar Road. Just before Teen Batti, as the sidewalk ended in a chaotic urban congestion, I ended my run in front of this nariyal paani wallah (person selling tender coconuts) – Mahipal.
Mahipal would slice two large mitha malai-wallahs (sweet with a light cream). At 17 Rs each (~ 30 centes) it was a bargain. The best refreshing drink you can ask for after a nice run. Beats any day, the yucky tasting, colored, chemical laden sports drink you get elsewhere.
As I cooled off here, I would chat with Mahipal for about 15 minutes. He is a recent migrant from Madhya Pradesh and actually works for a Mallu owner (it was satisfying to see the Mallu monopoly on the nariyal paani business still going strong ;-). After a few days, he would notice me struggling up the hill and start to pull out the best nariyal. When I asked him to pose, he wanted a copy of a pic. He planned to send it to his parents in Madhya Pradesh. Apparently they were arranging his marriage, and a nice picture would snare him a pretty lass. With a person’s life possibly at stake, I tried my best. He does look debonair in this pic, wouldn’t your say?
Satisfied with the run, I take a cab back home. Aiee and papa would just be waking up and the kaapi brewing! Its going to be a great day and I am ready to sample Mumbai’s best! My number one favorite activity!