40 minutes in Mumbai
by Kate Isler
I am a runner. Running is a release, a way to clear my mind and have some amazing experiences. When one imagines a runner, generally they think of very fit people: thin, sleek and graceful. This is not me! I have been running consistently several times a week for the better part of 18 years, and I am not thin, sleek or graceful, rather I like to think of myself as jean pool challenged. Specifically, I am short, about 5’3 on a good day with short legs and a bit of a round shape all over. I love running, and I love thinking of myself as a runner. I also love when the immediate up and down look I get from people when I tell them I am a runner.
For many years I was fortunate enough to have a job that took me all over the world, that allowed me opportunities to site see via an early morning run in over 50 countries. I have experienced amazing things during the 40 minutes outside the hotel conference room or offices that most travelers never have the chance experience. A few have been so much fun that I thought I would share.
This day I was in Mumbai India. I arrived at 2:00 a.m. from Thailand on Air India and encountered the standard India airport chaos; long queues for immigration, an arrival stamp put on your form, followed by a check to make sure that the stamp you just received is correct, mobs of people with airport trollies piled too high to see over, lots of calling to family members on the far side of the baggage carousels all of which results in 120 minutes journey from the plane landing to the airport exit. I was staying at a typical high-end western hotel, a familiar feeling of relief hit me when I emerged from the baggage area to see the sign with my name on it knowing that there was a quite air-conditioned car with a cool bottle of water waiting just a few 100 meters away.
When I woke the next morning, I followed my standard routine as I dressed in my running gear and headed for the gym. My hotel was on the beach, so I was looking forward to running with a view but was disappointed to find the gym in a basement with little to see. Never the less I stepped on the treadmill and completed my 40 minutes accompanied by music and thoughts of work needed to be done during my stay in the country.
My second day in Mumbai I woke early and as I had seen the night before there was lots of activity on the beach. People were walking and a few running, so I made up my mind to join them rather than face the stuffy basement gym. I headed for the massive security gate, keeping the locals on the beach and the hotel guests sheltered on the inside. I explained my intention to run on the beach to the guard, he did his best to persuade me to reconsider and return to the airconditioned basement gym. I made it very clear that was not my plan so he wrote down my room number and an estimate of how long I would be running. He unlocked the gate then walked a few steps out with me to assure both of us that the group of dogs laying around the gate entrance where not dangerous. I turned towards the water amazed at the site. It was 7:00 a.m. on Sunday and there were literally thousands of people on the beach.
It quickly became clear that I stuck out from the crowd; 50ish, round white women running through these organized activities was not a normal Sunday site. Everyone was friendly and peaceful, and I was seeing a completely different side of India. I was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle when suddenly on my left shoulder I heard a “good morning madam how far are you running?” I turned to find a man dressed in India wrap type shorts with a Sikh headdress, a gray beard, no shoes or shirt, smiling at me as we ran along. I told him I was aiming for another 5k, he nodded and said “great, I will go with you”. As we ran, he became the narration to each activity on the beach. “This is the normal youth soccer club; this one is a regular line dancing class (it was complete with boom box music), this is regular Ti Chi group, etc.” and he offered advice on when to step wide to miss an obstacle in the sand all the while continuing to encourage me as the heat was taking its toll on me.
We made it to our goal, the point at the end of the beach on the Arabian Sea in Mumbai and turned around and headed back the way we had come through the throngs of people and activities. When we approached the hotel gate, I noted that this was my spot and I said goodbye. He wished me a “Very good day” and continued without missing a step.
As I rang the bell and waited for the guard to open the heavy door, I couldn’t help but be happy and thankful that I dared to step out of my comfort zone behind the gate to see a bit of everyday life in Mumbai. Being Bold and taking the risk to step out of my comfort zone and on to the beach had once again given me a priceless experience that I am better for having. I never did get the name of my beach running guide, but I am sure he will be out next weekend looking for partners to take along for the run.
Image credit: Cynthia Hartwig