April being a month dedicated to autism, there were naturally a few videos with thought provoking messages floating around. I happened to watch one forwarded by my friend Mallika which stated about how each of us were different and unique in our own way. For instance a certain image is perceived differently by different people but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those who were different from us were ‘strange’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘weird’.

I had read somewhere that it takes all sorts to make a world. We all have our share of eccentricities and shortcomings but that’s probably what makes us so special. The same logic applies to individuals with special needs whether they are intellectually challenged, wheel chair bound or diagnosed with autism. All they need is that extra dose of care, acceptance and patience which isn’t too hard to bestow if we just awaken that humane side to us.

Being primarily a student of psychology, I had an opportunity to work with autistic kids as a part of my project during my post graduate days. They were an affectionate lot who resided in their unique world of creativity which many unfortunately misconstrued as ‘madness’.  Therefore when I got an opportunity to run the 4th edition of the awetism run, I embraced this opportunity to put my foot forward for a cause.

Sayuri-a runner friend and the organiser of this event conducted this event every year in the month of April. Her son Vihaan who is diagnosed with autism is an extremely talented young lad who possessed a flair for painting and weaving short stories as well.

It was a 10 k run which was conducted on the Eastern Express Highway-a scenic flat terrain frequented mostly by runners from Mulund, Powai, Ghatkopar and Thane.

We reached the venue at 5:40 am as the run was scheduled to begin at 6:00 am. The warm hugs, smiles and chatter set the tone for the short distance as we geared up to run 4 loops of the 2.5 km stretch. The race was flagged off sharp at 6:00 am.

Since I was following the Maffetone training program (a heart rate based run where one had to maintain pace within the heart rate and aerobic zone), I decided to go slow and enjoy the run for a change. The volunteers were stationed with hydration at regular intervals and earnest photographers stood in the by lanes clicking away merrily.

Not listening to music like I normally do during my runs, gave me an opportunity to enjoy the constant shouts of ‘good going’ by fellow runners and the noise of the planes above. Such runs also gave me ample time to let those thoughts flow as my thinking cap went on an active mode.

As I observed the several runners prancing up and down the road, I reflected back to the video which I had seen the previous day. There were some who were running fast, a few at a moderate pace and others in a relaxed manner. I realised how the same track was run by individuals of varying kinds and yet when it came to the camaraderie post the finish line, we were all equals posing gaily in front of the cameras, arm in arm with one another.

Nobody was differentiated based on speed or timing.  Each person possessed their own strengths and shortcomings which may make them sometimes ahead and sometimes fall behind others. Ultimately it was their spirit and earnestness that triumphed over these petty factors.

The awetism run further enhanced the fact that running is a free and equal sport, which meant embracing everyone despite the several differences, yes including those with special needs as well. It made me feel that aspects like speed, normalcy and madness were relative as what may be considered fast or normal for one may differ for another.

As I stood there basking in the jubilation around, I suddenly remembered the Cheshire cat’s line where he tells Alice “I’m mad. You’re mad. We’re all mad here. I realised how true it was. Underneath all that high spirited laughter lay those inner demons or turmoil that each of us were battling with and that which probably drove us to the brink of insanity at times.

The awetism run was truly ‘special’ in many ways besides being a well organised one, providing beautiful medals and a breakfast of delicious muffins, batata wadas and mango juice.

This event enabled me to look at running through a different lens this time. For once my focus was not on pace or timing, but on the larger things of life that we often miss out in the hullaballoo of the rat race.