I had accompanied my American neighbor on a hill run at the dish area behind Stanford. It was 3:00 pm in the afternoon and quite hot being the peak of summer. The daunting slopes did not make it easy added to which I had forgotten to pop a gu gel which I usually do before my long runs. I was also unusually tired this week due to some added work load. Besides my mind was a little aghast by a few recent instances that thrived on a lot of negativity. Nevertheless I decided to brave the heat and the hills with just a bottle of water in my hand.
I asked my friend to go ahead, not wanting to deter her pace, stating that I would meet her once I was done with the loops. Agreeing, albeit in a reluctant manner, she went ahead. Unfortunately I also forgot to carry my music which was usually my ally when it came to tackling tough terrains. There was practically no shade and the slopes were getting steeper. After a while my calves and quads begin to ache as I cruised up the inclines. Taking a sip of water I diverted by mind and looked around at the dried savana grass and the view of the distant mountains.
The battle between my mind and my body continued as I staggered up those slopes cursing myself for not having my energy bar before I left home. I wished I had my earlier trainer from the army who usually dosed out the right motivation to complete an arduous training session. During such moments I tend to offer a silent prayer which I did today in the hope that faith would help me move these unrelenting mountains. I paused for a minute , bent down to stretch and ease my calves from tightness.
“Are you alright?” I looked up to see a man of Indian origin looking at me in concern. I was pleasantly surprised to see an Indian at the dish area especially at this hour. I nodded in affirmative.
“I saw you struggling. Maybe you should take some water”, he said, gesturing to my water bottle that I was holding.
I took a sip.
“Better?” He asked with a smile.
I said yes and looked at him curiously. He had a kind face with rather large ears, big eyes and a toothy grin. Slightly plump in his build, he was wearing a green tee, black tracks with sports shoes.
“Maybe you should walk for a while before you continue running”, he suggested. Considering this was turning out to be my off day for a run, I agreed. “Are you from India?” I asked him.
“Yes and no”, he stated. I looked at him baffled.
“I used to stay in Mumbai but have come to the Bay Area for a short purpose”, he replied
“Oh really?”, I exclaimed, delighted to see a mumbaikar. ” I am from Mumbai too.”.
” I know. ” he smiled flashing his toothy grin again. I wondered how he knew and just for a minute I had an inkling that I had seen him somewhere or maybe he had one of those familiar looking faces.
“Which part of Mumbai”, I asked.
” I used to stay in Colaba.” I said. “so you are here on work?
He smiled without answering as he continued walking. “I suppose you are a student at Stanford university. Must be tough managing academics and your running?” He asked
Now life was certainly tough here as there was no domestic help-a luxury I was used to back in India. Doing all the household chores, managing a 3 year old daughter, studies and training was exhausting altogether.
I shared my thoughts with him and said, “Maybe the fatigue caught up with me today. Probably that’s why I am having an off day. ”
He looked at me for a while.
“You are battling multiple things when the only battle at this time should be with that inner voice which wants you to quit. Just go up till there and come back”, he said pointing to one stretch.
I looked at him surprised as these were the same words my earlier trainer from the army used in order to motivate me to get my workout done for the day.
I instantly ran up to the point and suddenly my legs felt stronger. On his encouragement I went up to the point 3-4 times and I found myself conquering those inclines.
” You are a fighter and you have it in you to fight out tough situations. You don’t need me to tell you what to do”.
I looked at him and felt that familiar feeling of seeing him somewhere but dismissed it again.
“Thank you” I told him.
“I didn’t do anything. “, he said. “It was all your effort. Remember, whenever you are in difficulty, always believe in yourself and tough situations will become easy. Sometimes we tend to mull over things that are not significant at all. You don’t have to curse yourself for forgetting to have an energy drink or your music.”
I gaped at him wondering how he knew. “H…h.. how…?” I stuttered in surprise.
” I know everything Swetha. Don’t you recognize me? I thought you would when I said I am from Prabhadevi. You have visited me several times. Anyways convey my regards to Amit and Samara.”
I stood there feeling a sudden shiver despite the heat as I felt my arms prickling with goosebumps.
“Wh… who are you”, I stammered . He flashed his toothy smile again and suddenly the sun shone brightly at that time.
I heard my neighbor calling out to me.
“Swetha, I was waiting for you at the gate, didn’t find you. Hope you are ok?” She said
I turned back to see that man gone. I looked around frantically wondering where he was.
“Hey are you ok? You seem pale “. She expressed with concern.
“That man…where is he?” I said faintly
” I don’t see anyone here”, she said. “Come , let’s go. ”
Still shaken by what happened at the hills, I went home and opened my apartment door. I saw a sudden ray of bright light falling on a small idol on my table.
I stood there transfixed as realization dawned on who that stranger on the hills was… I glanced at the date and calendar and realized that the most important festival in Mumbai and other parts of India was just a day away……
I stood there transported back to my city as chants of “Ganpati Bappa Morya” played in my mind…
It was Ganesh Utsav time…