heels on fire: 05/11/06

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Day 9

Malappuram to Perinthalmanna

Pete 21kms
Dan 19 kms,
Rahul 15 kms

In a manoeuvre more suited to the end of an epic night out, we decided to run before dawn had cast her first shadows. We passed a staggering drunk intent on engaging us in conversation and the first signs of people going about their daily chores. My legs felt hung over from the previous days strain and my body felt battered from the torrent of abuse unknown to my limbs.

It was a pleasure to have Rocket (as Dan is fondly known) running with us. The same cannot be said for the company of the sleeping dogs lining the roadsides. The solemn words of a wise man who once said "we should let them lie" echoed in our heads, prompting us to gently tip- toe by, hoping not to disturb their sweet dreams of juicy calves.

We had arranged to meet Shafeeq a bright 15 year old boy from a village 10km down the road. In spite of having an Arabic exam at 7.00am Shafeeq was determined to join us to run a couple of kilometres on the way. Shafeeq had told us the day before that his father worked in Dubai, and we promptly jumped to a conclusion that his father must be quite wealthy. Shafeeq had a matter of fact approach and told us flatly how it was a common misconception and that his father made just enough to enable him and his family to get on by. We asked him if he would be interested in moving to a big Indian city like Delhi and avail the work opportunities available there, but Shafeeq had a determined mind and said he'd much rather live out his life ambition and become a school teacher in his home town.

I slowly trudged on, and found the going tough with my running companions drifting into the distance. Having no one to push you on makes the psychological battle that much harder. On the bright side, I welcomed an opportunity to learn how far I was able to push myself alone.

Our driver, Aji, appeared from a side road and gestured towards a path less travelled. I was hesitant on being informed by man next to me that the other two runners had gone on ahead up the road. I decided to follow Aji, although I realised that it might be the last I saw of Pete and Dan for the rest of the run. The run away off the main road was breathtaking. Very quickly the surroundings around me changed, the prosperity was less obvious, and the look on peoples faces a little more engaged in their own work.

Two kilometres up the road we came upon a village called Angadipuram, where I found Des, Sudeep & Stevie surrounded by a group of people. There was no sign of Pete and Dan; they had clearly missed the turn. Aji got into his jeep and went off in search of our two musketeers. We could not wait any longer our man- Shafeeq had an exam to get to, so I set off running with Shafeeq and two of his friends, stopping at a house to get some water from a well, then on up the hillside path, past a rock that looked like an elephant and onwards to his school. Des was picking his way up the hillside like a mountain goat with his trusted Nikon in hand. I was finding it hard work struggled to keep up not realising that time was running faster than us, and then there promptly at 0655 hrs Shafeeq flashed a smile to say goodbye and made off with a speed that left me -a dot on the horizon in his wake.

Santhosh, a 19 year old friend of Shafeeq, who continued with me in my struggle, told me how he had been forced to stop studying when he was 16 in order to earn an income for his family. His three siblings had died when they were very young and as the sole surviving child it was his responsibility to look after his elderly parents. He had plans to learn to drive. Des asked if this was in order to quit his construction work? “No! No!” He had no intention of stopping one job to start another, it merely made sense to him to have another skill and opportunity for work. There was no sense of this story being told with a feeling of self pity nor did I have any feeling of pity for him. On the contrary, I felt a real sense of respect for Santhosh. A young man taking control of the environment and circumstance within which he lives.
The day finished with Dan having backtracked looking for me, and Pete reaching a different town through a wooded patch. Some three hours later we all came back together to deconstruct on the confusion that had ensued. Lessons were learned about keeping together and in contact with each other. A story about a tortoise and a hare passed through my mind and a smile slowly crept comfortably across my face.


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