Thursday, 2 July 2015

Book Review: The Orphanage for Words, by Shinie Antony


What’s common to Chetan Bhagat and me? We are both fans of Shinie Antony, the author of a number of novels and short story collections such as Kardamom Kisses, Barefoot and Pregnant, Why Don’t We Talk, Séance on a Sunday Afternoon, When Mira Went Forth And Multiplied etc. and who I believe has edited Chetan Bhagat’s recent literary endeavours. Antony’s most recent book, The Orphanage for Words, is a collection of short stories, all of which revolve around ‘loss’. something which Antony suffered when her father passed away not so long ago. The chapter titled ‘Fathers’ is a touching account of her father’s last few days and was previously published, with minor differences, in the Hindu. At the end of ‘Fathers’, Antony tells us that she is used to confiding everything in her Dad. She tells him everything! Naturally, the book is For Dad.

Even though the theme of The Orphanage for Words is totally different from Antony’s previous books, it is easy to recognise the Antony girl. 'I need common sense, she thinks desperately, as if ordering a drink. One Common Sense, please. On the rocks, with ice, lots and lots of ice.' Later towards the end of the story as she breaks up with her lover, the Antony girl bravely decides that ‘she is going to ace it, the business of being an ex.’ In another story and in another world, the jilted female lover concludes that ‘the next time, if there was a next time, there would be a safety net – of a formal engagement and parental blessings-when it came to men. Perishables like love and lust are best refrigerated in marriages. She would play the game society’s way. That way, when he fled they would chase after him and club him to death’. Antony does not use a moral meter as her protagonists, mainly women, have affairs, abortions, suffer cheating husbands, express desire, display lust, scream, cry and get on with life. She is mildly amused, Antony is, as she looks at her characters on the moving travellator, unashamedly put on public display for the whole world to see.

Cancer is a sure fire way of suffering a loss but Antony’s cancer victims are survivors. In Hair, when Afreen Khaala or Afri-ka loses all her hair as a result of the chemo, her sister, the narrator’s mother, strokes and kisses Afri-ka’s hairless head in order to comfort her even though she never liked the vegetable stir-fry which Afri-ka made. It is unclear who is more traumatised – Afri-ka or her sister. However, in Breasts, the cancer victim is braver, even utilitarian. Her breasts are ‘like small trusting things not made for this world. Like secrets told before their time. With veins like baby skies under the skin.’ Such breasts can salvage a situation.

What happens when a woman undertakes a 24 hour journey to meet with a former teacher, one she had an affair with, now suffering from Alzheimer’s? Is she entitled to assume that her former lover, one she almost had a baby with, remembers the kiss she had initiated many, many years ago? Is she right in thinking that as a nineteen year old ugly duckling she had possibly initiated the affair with her 46 year old teacher who was only being kind to her?

Oh! And in case you thought The Orphanage for Words is all about women in various stages of undress, that’s not true. There’s a girl who has an accident and dies (and goes on to narrate her own story) and a dog which falls out of a multi-storey and also dies (and is hugged by a boy who I assume loved it). An old man loses a lot of skin on his feet and ends up inconveniencing his daughter-in-law who is all set to go out that evening. Actually she does go out and the old man’s son takes him to the hospital. Because, in Sandeep’s own words, it’s his job, not his wife’s. Why should others spoil their day on account of Sandeep’s father?

In The Orphanage for Words, loss never seems to cause sharp piercing pain which kills. The Antony girls and other protagonists are too brave and strong to die on account their loss. The agony is more of the lingering kind, the one which gets worse as some of the memories fade, a few random ones get stronger and as one struggles to remember. Antony is so good with her prose that hours or even days after one puts down The Orphanage for Words, her words return to haunt her victims, the knife twisting in the wound as one considers yet another permutation or combination amongst so many vague possibilities.

Do read The Orphanage for Words for Antony is unique among Indian writers and The Orphanage for Words is easily her best. Till date.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Book Review: Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel


Neeraj Grover, an employee of Synergy Adlabs, a Mumbai based television content production house was murdered on 7 May 2008. A few weeks later, actress Maria Susairaj and her boyfriend naval officer Emile Jerome were arrested for Neeraj’s murder. Eventually, Emile Mathew was convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and for destroying evidence and is still in jail. Maria Susairaj was sentenced to three years imprisonment for destroying evidence – she was acquitted of any role in the murder - and since she had already served most of her sentence by the time the trial ended, she walked free pretty soon after the sentencing. The murder and the subsequent trial caused a media sensation, especially because the murderers were alleged to have cut up the victim’s body into 300 pieces before partially burning it. There have been a number of movies on this topic, but Meenal Baghel’s Death in Mumbai is the only one book on this topic, at least in English, which has been published by a Tier 1 publisher.

At the beginning of her 230-odd pages book, Baghel gives us a hint of what to expect when she says that ‘large swathes of Mumbai have been ‘reclaimed’, as if the sea were an encroacher against whom a case had been filed and won.’ Baghel devotes as much energy and space telling us about the lives of television executives like Neeraj Grover, television moghuls like Ekta Kapoor and Oshiwara where many aspirants to Bollywood and television live and where Balaji Telefilms and Yashraj Films have their offices, as she does in narrating the story of Neeraj Grover, Maria Susairaj, Emile Jerome and the people who surrounded them in their day to day lives. We even get glimpses of celebrity movie directors such as Ram Gopal Varma!

Neeraj Grover was a Kanpuria, the son of an immigrant from Peshawar. A small town boy who dreamed of making it big, as restless, hardworking and ambitious as they come, a glib talker who was successful with women. Baghel, true to form, takes her readers to Kanpur and walks them through the city which was once called the Manchester of the East before ennui and industrial decay took over. Emile Jerome on the other hand was the son of Malayali immigrants to Mysore, middle-class to the core, educated at good schools such as St. Matthias and Marimala Pass. Jerome was unsuccessful in cracking the IIT entrance exam, but made it to the Naval Engineer’s Course in 2000. After completing his BTech, he decided to join the Marcos, India’s reputed marine commando unit, but was not accepted, more because the Navy did not want to lose an engineer. He however passed a grueling divers course, one in which only 5 or 6 out of 30 odd applicants qualified.

Maria Susairaj was the spoilt daughter of a construction moghul in Mysore, an immigrant from Tamil Nadu. She went to the same school as Emile, but was his senior. Neeraj Grover and Maria Susairaj had a lot in common. They both wanted fame and were willing to take shortcuts. Emile Jerome and Maria Susairaj did not have much in common, other than that they were from Mysore and were Catholics. Did Maria actually love Emile? Most probably she did, since she always introduced Emile as her fiancé even though Emile’s haughty parents had refused to accept her. Why did Maria want to marry Emile even as she flirted around Oshiwara, trying to make her way up the Bollywood ladder? Why did Emile kill Neeraj? Was it an unplanned act carried out in the heat of the moment or was it preplanned? Did Emile and Maria have sex immediately after the murder? Or was it an act of rape? These questions do not have easy answers, but Baghel does not best to provide some in her excellent book. Written in elegant but limpid prose, Death in Mumbai is a riveting read for all those interested in the Neeraj Grover murder.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

An Update From Juba, Republic Of South Sudan


Around three years ago, I had published a letter from my friend Ayak Acol de Dut who grew up in Juba and Khartoum in Sudan, did her law degree from the National Law School of India University and currently lives in Juba, the capital of the Republic of South Sudan. At my request, Ayak sent me an update to her previous letter.

“It is hard to believe that three years have passed since our last interview. And even though it feels as if not much has changed, a lot has.

Soon after the interview I started a job within the petroleum industry where I remain to date. The work is interesting and the industry is very dynamic and is on its way to expand even more in the future.

On a national level South Sudan is going through turbulent political times. In December 2013 war broke out between the Government and supporters of the ex-Vice President following accusations of an attempted coup d’etat. As the conflict spread there was widespread destruction to both life and property. It also caused displacement in parts of the country – there is a substantial part of our population living in insecurity. Oil production was also affected drastically, resulting in a slowing down of the economy. Although Juba has gone back to being peaceful, there are parts of the country where conflict flares up from time to time. At the moment the Government has the upper hand, but it is also engaged in peace talks with the rebels.

As I mentioned, Juba, where I live, has gone back to a new normal and continues to expand. What seems mundane and is taken for granted elsewhere in the world is novel here: new roads, traffic lights, buildings, you name it. When visiting different areas of Juba after an absence of a few months one is constantly surprised by the many changes taking place.


Infrastructure is improving







In spite of the recent war I can say that we have slowly been joining the rest of the world and are striving to be noticed: a South Sudanese troupe performed Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ at the Globe Theatre in London, and Miss South Sudan was crowned Miss Africa and then took fourth position in the ‘Miss World’ Competition, and we are also trying to join the sporting world, among other things. These are small steps but we will get there.

Crowds of people doing traditional dances on the outskirts of Juba during the weekend.



Christmas 2014 celebrations at the Juba All Saints Cathedral.



As regards the future, especially given the problems South Sudan is going through the question may be posed as to whether I still feel optimistic. The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ South Sudan is on a very steep learning curve and is going through major growing pains but it is also a big learning process. We are optimistic that the rounds of peace processes bear fruit.

Small-town Juba



Beautiful Juba



To translate the words of a song by one of our popular singers Emmanuel Kembe: ‘We are all in one boat, moving forward. Our boat is a bit rickety, but it is still moving forward.’

AYAK ACOL DE DUT
June 2015
Juba.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Book Review: “Flood of Fire” by Amitav Ghosh

I had pre-ordered Flood of Fire almost three months ago and last week Flipkart delivered the third and final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy to me. I had liked the first one, Sea of Poppies and the second one, River of Smoke, a lot more. Flood of Fire turned out to be good very good in fact, a better than even the River of Smoke.

Like the first two books in the trilogy and not unlike most of his works in the last fifteen years, Ghosh uses his fiction as a vehicle for history narration. His subaltern version that is. Mind you, I am not complaining. The Ibis trilogy is, just like the Glass Palace, a devastating critique of colonialism and Ghosh makes his point very well. In the Flood of Fire, the British are determined to open up China for opium trading, just as Commissioner Lin Zexu does his best to keep opium out. At first, Lin believes that the opium traders do not have the backing of the British government, but his illusions are soon dispelled. The best thing about the Flood of Fire is that most of the characters are likeable, even if they are British soldiers like Captain Mee or businessmen like or shipman turned opium trader like Zachary. Shireen, the wife of the late Bahram Mody is especially likeable, though she travels to China in the hope that the British government would be able to, through the use of force, compel the Chinese government to pay reparations of opium confiscated from his husband’s storehouses. They are all part of a grand design as the story moves along and the great capitalist enterprise is unleashed.

Ghosh’s sympathy for 19th century China shines throughout the novel. He also makes a case to show how common Chinese people who once lived in India, like Asha didi, developed deep and lasting bonds with India. He relishes characters like Neel who easily transcend cultures and makes friends with the Chinese Compton. Chinese authorities seem to treat their Indian prisoners relatively well. The use of Chinese words such as “barbarian” to denote foreigners is shown to be, not a problem with the Chinese or their language, but the result of mis-translation by European scholars who have an axe to grind. On the other hand, the East India Company’s armed forces openly promote and support the caste system. Indian soldiers are given inferior weapons and lesser pay. When fighting in China alongside the Cameronians, racist taunts and harassment are routine. As Havildar Kesri Singh ruminates on such inequities and looks on the Chinese soldiers fighting them with respect (for their dedication to their cause and the opportunity they have, unlike him, to fight for something they hold dear), one gets the feeling that Ghosh has transplanted a modern day man into the body of a humble soldier who lived around 170 years ago.

At one point, Ghosh tells us (wistfully) through Taranathji, the Tibetan monk that the Gurkha King Rajendra Bikram Shah had proposed to Beijing that the Chinese and Gurkhas should launch a joint attack on British forces in Bengal. However, it was against Beijing’s policy to makes alliances with other Kingdoms. And in any case, the Qing did not entirely trust the Gurkhas. I am not sure how historically accurate Ghosh is in this context since google couldn’t throw any light on this, but I think the rest of the novel is kosher.

In a manner which Bollywood would have been proud of, Ghosh brings together in China a number of characters we had met in the previous two books the trilogy. Thus we once again meet colourful characters such as Serang Ali, Baboo Nob Kissin, Paulette, Zadig Beg, Deeti etc. However, the Flood of Fire is a lot more realistic than the previous two books, even in such aspects.

Most of the characters fit their stereotypes, but with Zachary Reid, Ghosh plays God and does an amazing job as the innocent and hardworking carpenter is transformed into something else. I do not want to disclose more and give away the story – please read this novel and find out for yourself.

I knew that armies of yore were accompanied by drummer boys and fifers as they marched into battle, but did not really believe that any civilised army would intentionally and unnecessarily put young uns in harm’s way. The drummer and Fifers in Flood of Fire are nice lovable characters, in particular Raju and Dicky and yes, they do accompany troops to the battle field, put themselves in harm’s way and some get killed! I’ll not dwell any more on this point, other than say that Ghosh has done a splendid job in portraying the world of drummers and fifers.

Some of Ghosh’s observations in this novel are really profound and meaningful. After observing British Indian troops rout imperial Chinese soldiers, Neel is mighty impressed. “Thinking about it later, he understood that a battle was a distillation of time: many years of preparation and decades of innovation and change were squeezed into a clash of very short duration. And when it was over, the impact radiated backwards and forwards through time, determining the future and even in a sense, changing the past, or at least the general understanding of it.

Ghosh liberally sprinkles his 600 odd page tome with Bhojpuri and Chinese phrases. I thought the occasional Chinese phrase made sense, but the Bhojpuri didn’t since the characters who emitted those Hindi-like words speak only Bhojpuri and I didn’t see the point in the random phrase. It was as if Ghosh had done his research and collected those phrases and didn’t want to waste them.

On the whole, Flood of Fire is a good read and one I would recommend to anyone interested in historical novels.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Book Review - The Tailor's Needle by Lakshmi Raj Sharma

Prof. Lakshmi Raj Sharma’s The Tailor's Needle has been on my reading list for a while now. Recommended by many, The Tailor’s Needle had a smell and feel of a grand novel and I couldn’t bring myself to read it in bits and bytes as I normally do with most books. As a result, the enjoyment was delayed by a fair extent. Nevertheless, when I got around to it, I was not disappointed.

What would be the result if an Indian author with excellent command over English writes a book which is the Indian equivalent of a masterpiece such as Doctor Zhivago or War and Peace, but has a heroine who could be, in a different era and geography, Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett? Throw in a bit of Agatha Christie and you would have The Tailor's Needle which is set in the early part of the 20th century when the British were still entrenched in India and the freedom struggle was slowly gaining momentum. A time of great changes and hopes as well as a period when traditional values were starting to be questioned.

When the novel begins, one meets Cambridge-educated Sir Saraswati Chandra Ranbakshi who is the Prime Minister of the princely state of Kashinagar. Sir Saraswati has three children – Yogendra who aspires to be like his father, temperamental Maneka, our own desi Elizabeth Bennett and Sita, as humble and meek as Indian women as stereotyped to be. Lord Mortimer Edmund Griffin-Tiffin, the Viceroy of India, would like to annex Kashinagar under one pretext or the other and Sir Saraswati takes it on himself to keep the wolf from the door. After the death of the Maharaja of Kashinagar, Sir Saraswati moves to Mizapur with his family. Interestingly Wikipedia tells me that Prof. Sharma too hails from Mirzapur.

A tailor’s needle does not discriminate between garments. Sir Saraswati aspires to be akin to a tailor’s needle, one who treats all people alike, be they Maharaja or mendicant, Englishman or low caste Indian. If this gives the impression that Sir Saraswati is a benign see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, tell-no-evil sort of being, you couldn’t be more off the mark. When a friend is in danger of being attacked by dacoits, Sir Saraswati organises a defence in a manner which any general would have been proud of. Yogendra too follows his father’s footsteps, in terms of values and principles.

Maneka on the other hand is a far cry from these two fine gentlemen. I found Maneka to be the most interesting and even likeable character of the lot, despite her temper tantrums. Maneka’s story is worthy of a separate novel, with so many twists and turns and crests and troughs. Maneka’s affair with an Englishman leads to her pregnancy before marriage, which in turns forces her to go for a dangerous and surreptitious abortion. A normal woman would have crumbled as a result of all that, but not Maneka. Literally handpicking her own husband who turns out to be an exceptional prince with a history, Maneka has a never-say-die attitude which makes her a woman far ahead of her time. Sita on the other hand is an excellent example of how two children of the same gender from the same womb can be so different. I will not give away any more of the story and spoil it for other readers, but only disclose that the man who Sita happily agrees to marry could have been one of the princes described in Freedom at Midnight by Lapierre and Collins.

One doesn’t expect a murder mystery to be tucked inside a novel like The Tailor’s Needle. I was therefore doubly surprised when I found not one, but two (related) murders in the course of this novel. Maneka is deeply involved in the murders and her father and brother take on the role of detectives to solve them both. Prof. Sharma’s style of writing so good that one doesn’t notice the transition from War and Peace to Pride and Prejudice to an Agatha Christie crime novel.

Yogendra falls in love with a pretty girl from a good family who is from a different (lower) caste. The universe seems to conspire against the loving couple and Yogendra and Gauri lose all hope. Does Prof. Sharma play cupid or does he go with the values of those times? Remember those were times when even Gandhi-ji was slow to support inter-caste marriages!

One of the best bits about The Tailor’s Needle is how it shows the values and mores of those times in a realistic way. British officials ranging from the Viceroy to District Collectors are not too honest or morally upright, though they take pains to appear so. Such efforts have given them a clean chit for posterity, but Prof. Sharma does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. Sir Saraswati is in awe of the British and their values, even as he fights to prevent them from annexing Kashinagar. Towards the end, as India’s freedom struggle grows stronger, Sir Saraswati is better able to reconcile his natural Indian values and his admiration for the British.

Lakshmi Raj Sharma is a Professsor of English at the University of Allahabad.

On the whole, The Tailor's Needle turned out to be a splendid novel and an excellent read.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Book Review: Forgetting by Devashish Makhija


What makes one forget the past? Embarrassment? Inconvenience? Guilt? Because one doesn’t give a damn? How easy is it to read about a new dam being built and not think of the consequential displacement of the people living in the hamlets that will soon be submerged? In one of Makhija’s stories, an adivasi boatman is asked where his village is, as he rows a boat across the waters of a dam. ‘Right below us,’ he murmurs.

There are 49 stories in Devashish Makhija’s recently released Forgetting, each of them a concentrated gem of pain or suffering or anguish or sometime just a memory. In the first story By/Two, Rahman and Rahim are identical twins who share an autorickshaw in Mumbai. The autorickshaw is langdi, the lame one, a beast with three legs, one that sends tremors up the driver’s legs, like a cheap massage. One of the brothers is dumb and so the other is forced to play dumb as well – you see, only the dumb brother has a licence to ply the rick. To the entire world, the rickshaw has only one driver, a man who doesn’t have the need for sleep, a legendary Duronto among other drivers. The brothers had run away from Akbarpur to Mumbai when they were young, to escape from the tyranny of their butcher father. From Akbarpur, ‘a small filth-heap of a town that sprang up along the railway tracks soon after the East India Company ran the first train across the nations breasts.’ To Mumbai, a Mecca that feeds those who live in its bowels, despite the lies they tell. Every time there is a blast in Mumbai, Rahim is picked up for interrogation, Indian police-style. Beatings, kicks, questions. Finally Rahim’s heart gives way and the police tell Rahman that there’s a body in his rick. Do the memories linger forever? I assume they do.

Makhija’s writing is not pleasant. I don’t think it’s meant to be pleasant. It is messy and convoluted, just like memories and forgetfulness.

It’s not only the oppressed and the victims who try to forget, or remember, if you will. There are many middle-class Indians who see, feel, smell and try to hold on to their memories. A few would rather not.

I’m trying to forget, but it isn’t working. These stories are gonna stay in my head for a while, I think.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Book Review: Miles To Run Before I Sleep, by Sumedha Mahajan


Our ancestors used to run to survive, to hunt food and to escape from predators. Human beings can run for sustained periods of time, unlike all other animals. Running is no longer so important for the modern human being, who lives in an integrated world with such an efficient food supply chain that one can consume all the food one wants without ever setting foot on a farm. We still use our legs and feet to move and it will be a long, long time before they atrophy and become relics of the past, if at all. Even though brute physical strength is no longer so essential for survival, we still enjoy competitions that require speed, strength and stamina. Of the various sports and games that we either participate in or at least watch, running races are among the most popular. We have them in schools and colleges. Almost all multi-sports events ranging from the Olympics to the Asian Games give pride of place to both short and long distance running events. Running events of various lengths, ranging from 10 kilometres to ultra marathons, are held almost all year round, all over the world.

What is it that forces so many otherwise normal men and women to rig their alarm clocks to ring before dawn, slip on a pair of trainers, a few of them very expensive and many not so, and run and run and run, before returning to a standard humdrum existence? What was it that made Sumedha Mahajan, a brave woman who has suffered from asthma since childhood, to run a Greenathon from Delhi to Mumbai, a distance of over 1,500 kilometres, along with five other similarly crazy people? A few months before Sumedha started her Delhi-Mumbai run, she had unsuccessfully participated in the 2012 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. A month before SCMM 2012 which ended as DNF (Did Not Finish), Mahajan was the victim of a hit and run car accident. It was definitely a leap of faith for Mahajan, a leap into the dark, so to say, something the average human being, including yours truly, would not have the guts to commit oneself to.

I found Mahajan’s Miles to Run Before I Sleep unputdownable. Written in simple, functional English, Mahajan has chronicled how she took up running and despite her asthma and other health issues, became a long distance runner who was invited by Milind Soman and others to join a team of six crack runners who would run a Greenathon from Delhi to Mumbai in 30 days, covering a distance of 1,500 kilometres, in a bid to highlight the importance of preserving the environment.

Mahajan’s daily struggle on account of her various ailments and asthma as well as inadequate support from the crew as she ran 1,500 kilometres in 30 days makes Miles to Run Before I Sleep a compelling read. At times I was reminded of Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, except that Mahajan was successful and Amundsen’s trek would probably be a better comparison. Mahajan combated bad food, diarrhoea, stress fractures, disputes with the crew, bad weather, unruly highway traffic, pollution and periods. I am not going to disclose more here, but will leave it to you to read this wonderful book for yourself and find out more.

Miles To Run Before I Sleep offers its readers a study in human behaviour. The six runners and their crew set out on their expedition on the best of terms and spirits, all noble intentions and all, but things soon began to disintegrate. The crew was composed of non-sportsmen who did not understand what running is all about. This I think is a common refrain across various sporting events and organisations in India. Almost all sporting bodies are run by non-sports persons, usually politicians. Most marathons are organised by businessmen or politicians who have an agenda. As TRPs generated for the run failed to meet expectations, the journalists accompanying the runners became disinterested. When runners across cities flocked to accompany the six runners for brief stretches, the crew failed to extent any hospitality to the guests. Was this really the crew’s fault, I wonder? Were they warned in advance of the guests’ arrival and were they expected to have additional supplies for the new arrivals? Mahajan does not make this point very clear.

Raj Vadgama was one of the six runners and Mahajan tells us that on Day 25 he had a serious fight with the crew when they served cold coffee – only to Milind Soman and denied it to the other five runners. Soman tried to calm things down, but he was unsuccessful. Vadgama left the team and ran on his own, but he did complete the run. Recently Vadgama has been in the news on account of his Bharathon.

Mahajan’s first marathon was the SCMM 2011. We are told that though Mahajan ran without a clear plan and forgot to hydrate herself for the first half of the race, she ran in under five hours and came 15th in her category. A few months later, she ran a marathon in Malaysia and came 6th. The same year, she ran the 75-kilometre Bangalore Ultra and was the winner in her category. When it seemed that the sky was the limit and the next SCMM was barely a month away, fate willed otherwise and she was hit by a speeding car. An injured Mahajan bravely took part in the SCMM 2012, but did not finish. She also abandoned her plans to run the Comrades Ultra in South Africa, but that did not stop her from accepting Milind Soman’s invitation to take part in the 1500 kilometre Greenathon!

The Greenathon started on 20th April 2012, when summer was already underway. Why didn’t they choose to run in the cooler months, I wondered? Mahajan does not offer any explanation.

Mahajan does not seem to be one of those people who follow specific diets or plans. We are told that as preparation for the Greenathon, she used to eat 500 grams of homemade paneer, a lot of yoghurt, peanuts dates, spinach and fruits daily. Though she does not say so, one gathers that she is a vegetarian, but not a vegan. There is very little discussion about the merits or de-merits of any diet or exercise regime. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Listen to your body and eat what you feel like in moderation. That’s me, not Mahajan, though I’m sure Mahajan would endorse my statement.

Mahajan is highly observant and her various comments regarding the places she ran though are very interesting. A number of towns and large sections of the highway were extremely polluted, causing Mahajan to wonder about the cost we are paying for India’s development. The sad truth is that India’s poor are paying a disproportionately high price for this so called modernisation, though they stand to gain little in the short term. In various parts of Rajasthan, Mahajan was an item of curiosity as she ran wearing clothes which were considered unsuitable for women! It was not just illiterate villagers who disapproved of Mahajan's run. Even Mahajan's parents had initially felt that she ought to stay at home and think of having a baby, before Mahajan won them over to her side!

I have a friend who is chauffer driven to work daily. Most days, on his way back, he runs part of the way, around five kilometres and his car trails him. Sometimes he runs the entire distance of around eight kilometres. Though this works well for my friend, the environment gains nothing on account of my friend’s run, in terms of cutting down on fossil-fuel usage and carbon emissions. Most long distance runs are supported runs. The Greenathon runners required extensive support – they were tailed by a large crew in buses and cars carrying their supplies – it could not have been otherwise, though the idea was to draw attention to environmental issues and the need to preserve the environment. In an ideal world, a really fit runner ought to be able to run from Delhi to Mumbai, taking breaks on the way, buying food and water from clean wayside restaurants and dabhas, serving hygienic food and water. “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one.” I’m sure Mahajan would endorse this quotation.