CSC Swim-A-Mile 2015 Honours Board

I had almost forgotten about the Swim-A-Mile competition that I had participated in back in August.

So imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I saw the Honours Board put up in the Club for this year’s competition. (My name appears quite some way down in the list. :D)

The numbers against my name were a reminder that I had only swum breast-stroke this year and that I must build my strength and stamina to swim freestyle next year to improve my timing.

Till then, I’m going to bask in the glory of having my name up on the Honours Board. 🙂

CSC Swim A Mile Honours Board

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Independence Day Swim-A-Mile Competition 2015

Swim-A-Mile

I’m a member of the Calcutta Swimming Club (CSC) and one of the annual events here is the Swim-A-Mile competition held each year on 15th August, India’s Independence Day. Last year, I had wanted to participate in this competition and had trained for it too. Unfortunately, I’d fallen ill with only a couple of days to go and couldn’t participate. I was really disappointed then and kept telling myself that I would definitely make it next year.

And so, for a year I’ve waited for this day. I was so eager to participate that I had been particularly careful this last fortnight, taking care of what I eat and trying to make up whenever I felt I hadn’t slept enough. In fact, I slept for 10 hours for two consecutive nights leading up to the event to make sure I got ample rest.

Today morning, I woke up nice and fresh and ate a workout bar along with a cup of chai that Dad made. This was at 7:30 and the event was to begin at 9. Plenty of time. We reached just before time and I realised that fresh, on-the-spot registrations were being made, which essentially scrapped the registration made when I’d called earlier in the week. Nevertheless, I registered again and was allotted a time slot for 10:30. To ensure that I was alert and didn’t have a heavy stomach, I didn’t eat anything in the interim and just had half a cup of coffee.

I hit the pool at the appointed hour, having a couple of glasses of water just before I entered, to try and reduce the chances of cramps.

A note here: I had not trained for this event at all. Owing to a cocktail of circumstances, I haven’t been able to go to the club to swim these last couple of weeks. Neither have I been working out, which would’ve helped my shoulders. Plus, I suck when it comes to breathing while swimming free-style. So I knew I would be swimming breast-stroke, which is nice and easy. However, that takes up a lot of time and hence, the worry about cramps. The only training, if it can be called that, are the runs that I regularly go for (which is why this post is categorized under Running, in case you were wondering).

I plan to write a separate post about this, but when I run long-distances, I always struggle the first 4-5 kms. Only after a while am I able to tell myself “You’re ok, you’re good. You can do this.” This got repeated today too: I struggled from the second lap itself. I could feel my triceps were not as powerful as they needed to be and I felt like I was going to have to push through this mental barrier.

This particular challenge lasted for the next 5 laps. Once lap 7 got over, I told myself “You’re a quarter of the way there. You’re good, you can do this.” After that, it was smooth sailing. My speed was pretty ok, and just like while I’m running, I was alert to my thoughts and didn’t allow myself to get competitive with better, faster swimmers swimming in the adjoining lanes. “You are your own competition, and I’m already pretty bloody proud of you.”

Only in the last two laps did I finally begin to cramp. I finished the competition in 56 minutes 2 seconds, which meant that I hadn’t had any water in an hour. Still, pretty cool for having competed and finishing the challenge. Next year, I’ll target going freestyle for the entire distance and gun for better timing.

Swim-A-Mile 2

Book Review – “The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories” edited by Ruskin Bond

Book: The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories

Edited by: Ruskin Bond

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication Year: 1994

Number of pages: 184

Price: Rs. 200 (Amazon.in) / Rs. 175 (Flipkart) / Rs. 166.25 (Kindle)

My rating: 3/5

I picked this book up at the bookstore near my house in Calcutta, a couple of days before I left for the Cherra Marathon. I read a few of these stories in Shillong, a couple of them on my way back on the flight (I see the irony here), and then finished the book back here in Calcutta.

And once again, the reason why it took me so long to finish this book is because, like it happened with Murakami’s “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman“,  the stories, at least in the first half of the book, didn’t impress me much.

The book is split into two halves: stories from before and after India’s independence. And although I’d expected the stories in the first half to fascinate me more, this is where disappointment lay. In place of stories which I expected to make me travel back in time, to a place where railway stations were little hubs of activity and filled with interesting stories, I was peddled with stories with weak plots which rather felt like I was sipping tepid and tasteless chai at a railway station.

The only story worth mentioning from the first half is the excerpt from Jules Verne’s Around the World In Eighty Days. The story is able to capture some of the romance of early railroad travel made especially challenging in Indian conditions. In it is a description of the opulent city of Bombay, forests to be crossed and unexpected interruptions as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout make their way across the Indian sub-continent.

The rest of the stories in the first half, even though a couple of them are by Kipling, can be skipped over. They did little to catch my attention and much to test my patience.

What impressed me really, was the second half of the book. With stories from writers such as Khushwant Singh, Satyajit Ray and Ruskin Bond himself, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. And I wasn’t.

The following is a brief review of each of the stories that appear in the Stories After Independence section:

Loyalty by Jim Corbett – One of the two disappointments in this second half, Loyalty is an autobiographical narration by Corbett about his challenges from the time when he was employed in the Indian Railways. The only aspect of this story that caught my eye was how much responsibility a twenty-one year old was entrusted with back then. My rating: 2/5

Mano Majra Station by Khushwant Singh – An extract from Singh’s Train To Pakistan. The tale, which begins amusingly, is a story set in the Punjab during the time of Partition. It captures the character of a village caught up in forces beyond its reckoning, as the story comes to a chilling end. My rating: 4/5

The Woman on Platform 8 by Ruskin Bond – A vintage Ruskin Bond story. A schoolboy, travelling alone, is waiting at a station for his train. A woman befriends him and offers him a meal. But are things really what they seem or is she a crook? My rating: 4/5

The Intimate Demon by Manoj Das – A beautifully worded little story about a father and daughter’s railway journey. My rating: 4/5

A Stranded Railroad Car by Intizar Husain – A group of men in a village gather round for their evening hookah and narrate tales of this new fangled beast called the railroad car. My rating: 3/5

Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment by Satyajit Ray – The master story-teller that he is, Ray whips up the suspense pretty early in the story and the surprise ending will certainly make you smile. My rating: 4/5

Balbir Arora goes Metric by Bill Aitken – The second and final weak story in the second half. Too long-winded. Might be of some interest to a railway geek. My rating: 3/5

Railway Reverie by R. K. Laxman – An extract from Laxman’s book The Messenger. An ill-chosen extract perhaps, because it was surprisingly short and had a very abrupt ending. My rating: 3/5

The Cherry Choo-Choo by Victor Banerjee – A heartwarming little tale which made me laugh at a number of places. My rating: 4/5

99 UP by Manojit Mitra – “This is the kind of story about railways that I wanted to read,” I told myself when I finished 99 UP. The story captures how a little town on the outskirts of Calcutta gets caught up in a frenzy when a movie star is expected to drop by for a film’s release. The story describes the various people of the village and how the visit captures each one’s imagination. My rating: 5/5

Lingering thoughts:

  • It is a sad sign of the times that in a book of Indian railway stories, I kept reading POW, which was supposed to stand for Palace on Wheels, as Prisoners of War. Sigh.
  • “The blue-eyed, brown-haired and pale-skinned Anglo-Indian engine driver who had rolled the ‘Choo-Choo’ into town, was whisked away by hordes of admirers, laced with rice wine that had fermented for weeks in diurnal anticipation of the arrival of the train and, in the morning, was discovered dead in the local brothel where, introduced as an Apollo from Calcutta, he succumbed to an endless striving to uphold his standard.”
  • “‘An old buddy?’ ‘No,’ murmured Bridges with a slight smile, ‘Half-devil and half-child, but by the living God that made him, he was a better man than I. A funny story; a wonderful memory.'”
  • Two books added to my to-read list from here: Around The World In Eighty days by Jules Verne and 20 Stories by Satyajit Ray.
  • Must read more stuff by Manojit Mitra.
  • I think I’m done with short stories for now. Need to read a novel which will sustain my interest over a longer period of time.

Image courtesy: www.flipkart.com

Read more about ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Amazon.in, Flipkart or for your Kindle.

Book Review – “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book: The Lowland

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Publisher: Random House India

Publication Year: 2013

Number of Pages (Kindle): 352

Price: Rs. 329 (Flipkart) / Rs. 240 (Amazon) / Rs. 190 (Kindle)

My rating: 5/5

“I think I’ll be gutted and emotionally drained by the time I’m finished with this book,” I messaged my friend who had insisted that I read The Lowland immediately. I gather that she’d recently read it herself and wished to discuss it with someone while the memories of the book were still fresh in her mind. “Yeah. You’ll take a few days to get over it,” she replied.

It’s been a few days since I finished reading the book. I’m still not over it.

The Lowland begins with the tale of two little boys, Subhash and Udayan. They live with their parents in a humble house in the Tollygunge area of Calcutta.  Close to their house is a low lying patch of land where water accumulates during the monsoon.

Subhash is the ‘boring’ of the two brothers. Although both of them are equally gifted at academics, Subhash looks to take the safer and more conventional route in life; he pursues his studies to get himself to Rhode Island in America. Udayan, however, has a different path ahead of him.

This is the late 1960s. The word ‘revolution’ is casually bandied about the streets of Calcutta. Naxalbari is a flashpoint to gather all the students who are disillusioned with the way India is governing herself. Udayan gets caught up in the heady swirl of the Naxalite movement and becomes actively involved in it and soon, tragedy and violence catches up with him.

But by now, another life is inolved. Nay, two lives. Gauri, the girl whom Udayan secretly marries, and Bela, the  daughter who grows up in a distant land, unaware of who her biological father is and painfully aware of her mother’s absence.

The story spans the lives of these main characters and their attempts to make best of the circumstances that the incident on the lowland throws them all into. Subhash tries to unravel what happened to his brother and then attempts to cobble together what he thinks will be as good a life as that of an Indian expat in America could be. Udayan, the risk-taker and doer by nature, mind filled and committed with the ideologies of Mao does what he thinks is right. Gauri, a keen student of philosophy, eloping to marry a charismatic, rogue-like figure, and then left to deal with a life full of remorse and a nagging sense of guilt. And finally Bela, a child without a mother and later a strong, independent woman.

Jhumpa Lahiri makes this book so damn personal! As a resident of this city and one who grew up in the Calcutta of the 80s and 90s, I could really identify with a lot of this book. Both, College Street and Tollygunge come alive. Not that you need to have lived here for this book to resonate within you (the friend who recommended this book to me is from Delhi and has herself never lived here). The very idea that life has various shades of grey rather than the distinct black and white is this book’s universal appeal.

A must read. Especially for the beautiful, if imperfect, end.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘The Lowland’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart, Amazon.in or for your Kindle.