The following article has got published in this awesome online literary magazine which goes by the name of Spark. I have got the permission to display the post on my blog as well. You can see the article also on this link.
I wore my quick dry shorts and T – shirt and laced up my expensive Nikes. Switching off the light behind me I moved towards the door when Polki raised her head and started wagging her tail. I patted her spotted head and opened the latch to move out of the house. While closing the door I saw her returning back to her slumber.
At 5 am it was still dark outside. The cool morning air caressed my face while mosquitoes hummed along. The trees out in the garden swaying with the gentle wind seemed to be greeting me a good morning. I walked with exaggerated long steps to shake off the sleep till the gate of the society, keeping a watchful eye on the barking street dogs unless they plan to give me a chase. I seemed to have disturbed their siesta. The guard gave me a nod with a sleep smothered face. I broke into a light jog as I left the gate.
The road was nearly empty, with a few trucks, buses and auto rickshaws rushing about to their respective destinations. I was to run today in the backyard of an ancient fort, being moderately hilly, as part of my marathon training. The distance to the start of this beautiful trail was a tad more than a couple of kilometres, enough to get warmed up properly. I approached the bus stop where a few sleepy-eyed folks were waiting for their ride. An auto driver was trying to coax people at the bus stop to give up waiting for a bus and join those already sitting in the auto hoping the driver gets his passengers quickly. The bus stop bore the evidence of a busy previous day with empty plastic tea cups and bags, paper plates, and lot of unrecognisable trash lying around. The sweepers will get to their work any time now. I need to pick up my speed, I thought, glancing at my watch and looking ahead to the imposing flyover.
I should to be careful here, reminding myself while looking to my right and running up the flyover which was gaining height from the road with each step. First rule of running on the road is to run in the opposite direction of the traffic. The flyover, thankfully, was well lit for anyone to see me running towards them. While coming down the leeward side, my pace increased as I saw the entry of the trail on the other side of the road. The entry was inconspicuous with a mosque sitting beside it peacefully. I was already dreaming about the beautiful scenery waiting for me like a newly wedded bride. Another 500 metres and I will be in heaven, thinking and smiling to myself.
The start of the trail didn’t hold much promise to any unsuspecting passerby. It is narrow and full of unattractive bushes which gave it an undesirable look. As I entered the trail, the colour of the sky was changing rapidly. From dark black, it was now transforming into a hue of purple. I kept running into cobwebs spun across the tree branches. The air was cooler and felt pure within few hundred feet inside the trail. I kept filling my lungs greedily. The sand was loose in the beginning. I was waiting for it to come. And it came. As always the long, winding and steadily-rising stony stairway greeted me with arrogance. I gritted my teeth and start jogging up with baby steps. The boundary wall of the fort had started on my left. My heartbeat reached an unacceptable intensity till the time I reached the top when I saw the fort standing at far distance and inviting me into its abode. I kept running to shake off the lactic acid build up in my legs. The trail broadened from this point.
The ground was a firm grassy pitch after the daunting stairs. The trail ran all along the boundary wall of the fort. The boundary wall was made up of 13thcentury stone slabs with a jagged surface and small openings at symmetric intervals in the middle for soldiers to fire their rifles. At every 300 – 400 metres canons were placed on high structures to bombard the enemy. It was approximately a 2 kilometre loop of hard trail with many ups and downs. A typical 4 kilometre route would have taken me not more than 20 minutes but this trail always tested me for over 35 heart and leg pounding minutes. The ultra thin and flexible Nikes, the latest in running, gave a feel of running barefoot. I could feel every pebble, stone or tree root while running in them, of course to an acceptable pain threshold. Since the time I bought these shoes, it felt like I was deriving energy from the ground, as if it gave me the strength to run to my heart’s content. The sky was now painted a mix of light purple with an orange tinge. The sun was finally waking up.
The boundary wall of the fort ran on my left with thick foliage of undergrowth, while a small pond and a huge banyan tree decorated my right. A small mausoleum adorned with numerous green coloured chaddar and flags, was built under the tree for the dead. I kept my eyes on the track to watch out for any obstacles. I was nearing yet another winding, steep, stony staircase which was mercifully taking me down at the moment, though it would be there to challenge me on my way back. I was covered with sweat and cobwebs and had fine gravel in my shoes. I kept pushing forward as my lungs and legs were screaming for sympathy. I needed to get back in time to get ready for office. I kept wiping the salty sweat off my face until I reached the base of the fort which was just getting brushed with the first rays of rising sun. I stood there for a few moments to admire the majestic aura of the fort and had a view of the city coming back to life.
I turned back after feeling bit rested. The air was still cool with a hint of the impending heat that would inevitably build up during the day. The sun had raised its orange head and was greeting the world with its warmth. A few fellow runners could be now seen strewn all over the trail. After tackling the second stairway which went up this time, my legs had turned jelly. I kept jogging like an old man and breathing hoarse like an asthmatic patient and reached the first stairway. It was my turn to look down upon it. I stopped and turned left to give a last longing look to the fort which was now covered with soft morning sunlight. I ran down the stairway with a contended look on my happy face.
The bus stop had become busy. Buses came and went with people hanging out from it. The number of auto rickshaws coaxing the waiting passengers increased. The number of vehicles spewing black cancerous smoke had amplified and it was only few minutes past 6 am. People gave me appalled looks when I crossed them. I was grimy and pongy but in high spirits. The guard at the gate had changed by now. He gave me a crisp salute with the click of his heels and I nodded my head in reciprocation. I opened the gate of my house and saw fresh new wild roses. After smelling them, I plucked one to give to my wife, sleeping peacefully beside our tyrannical 2-year-old son. The door creaked open and I found Polki looking towards me and wagging her tail.