The traffic in Mumbai is unbearable. Its lifeline – the local train – is painfully packed all the time. A stink hits you the moment the aircraft door is thrown open.
And, if you come to Mumbai by train, the first sights you see are people defecating and relieving themselves all the along the tracks, both sides.
Yet I love this city.
After all, where else would Anil Ambani poke you in the shoulder and say, “excuse me, please,” so that he could make his way to the front of the waiting area, where over 10,000 half marathoners were waiting for the starting gunshot on Sunday. Not a bad way to get your first meeting with the younger Ambani for a journalist, who is looking to switch over to business reporting. Where else would your host come home at 4 am, after a night on the town with the one-for-the-road still in hand, and wake you up for your race?
Shortly after Ambani taps me on my shoulder, the half marathon began. This year it was a new route and had many more ascents and descents.
The weather was brilliant – colder than the usual Mumbai winter. The city looked like the picture on the cover of Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, with much less light and much more purple dominating the sky from the sea link.
Peddar Road’s ups and downs really slowed me down till I got off the flyover. From there on it was smooth. But my knees started hurting from there on and I wanted to take a short break.
However, a middle-aged woman, and I were keeping pace with each other. So, I did not stop for the breather I badly wanted.
She was going strong Marine Drive onwards till the last 500 metres. Had it not been for her I would have walked for a bit. But she egged me on. For the last 500 metres, I broke into a run. I crossed the finish line a stride ahead of her. We shook hands, hugged, posed for pictures and parted. Thanks to her, I shaved 20 minutes off my time last year.
I didn’t see Anil Ambani at the finish line. He was live on TV a couple of hours later, addressing a press conference.
(Shrenik Avlani, asst editor, Hindustan Times, half marathon (1 hr 53 minutes))