Arun Tejasvi Chaganty about articles blog thoughts research

Bright Shoes

These white shoes were a terrible idea; they didn’t stay white for long. Look, how mud encroaches from the sides, advancing its hidden campaign every day. Soon, I will be surrounded, and with no Russia in this young rubber to keep wear at bay, it’ll be an easy victory. But while they last, these shoes feel good. And they came cheap.

4 minutes into this run and I can already see the future. It happens as I caress the soft dirt below me, feeling the slightest undulations through my thin soles. Life is full of ups and downs, what matters is how you approach them. Am I tilted forward at the right angle, or are my priorities askew? I should have bent my knees there; it’s easier for me to land through the heel but ten years from now, I’ll regret taking the easy road. I am my harshest critic and most intimate confidante at once. With every step, the ground brushes against the crystal ball at my feet, and all that I will yet feel is laid bare before me.

Right now, I feel invincible. I could go on and on, without pause nor break. There’s a very clear phase transition when you run. When you start, your body refuses to cooperate. You push forward purely on sheer willpower. Don’t be fooled though; it’s simply a rite of passage because if you push on enough you’ll reach a state of zen. Once there, your legs will move forward of their own accord and leave your mind free to wander. It doesn’t last for ever, this zen, but each time your run, it stays for longer. I imagine that if you’ve run enough, the zen will never go away, and you’ll finally be able to catch the horizon.

When did I first get this spiritual about running? If I had to point at a time, it’d probably be when I ran my first marathon in Monterey. It was a beautiful, quaint town sprawled out upon the map, tanning in the Californian summer. There is an image captured in my head. It’s really a couple that have coalesced into one. In any case, while running, I stared out to my left where a sharp cliff overlooks the Pacific ocean. On the rocky shores below, a herd of dusky black seals form a demure face with velvety skin. The sparkling blue waters wrap this imaginary person in a blue evening gown, embroidered with bright white seagulls. Her arms are stretched out along the coast, laced with flowers of every which colour, yellows, whites, greens and a most curious purple. I was never the kind for love at first sight, least of all with figments of my imagination, but I can’t describe it otherwise. I’d fallen head over heels, all but literally.

Ah, the air, it is cool. The freshness should be satisfying, but however deeply I inhale, it’s not enough. There is a light drizzle now and that unique scent of wet mud, petrichor, wafts into the air. If no one screws up, sixty years from now, we’ll be in space. Sure, we’ll simulate rain, but replicating the complex ecosystem that leads to this smell just won’t be economically viable. Instead, we’ll all just sniff petrichor perfume like glue and get high on nostalgia.

Wait, now, I smell something different; equally fresh, but it stirs up different memories. There are delicate floral undertones; vaguely familiar but out of place. I’m instantly suspicious of this reality I perceive. Honestly, do we really sense reality? Or do we truly control our own actions? Isn’t it but the flow of chemicals, puppet strings a million years in the making? One day, we’ll have mastery over those strings. Can you ponder what we’ll ponder or imagine what we’ll imagine?

Let me tell you a secret. I’m not imagining what fascinating possibilities lie in computer-aided dreams; I’m trying to change the topic to avoid my emotions. The sweet fragrance of her hair; her hair, soft yet ticklish to the touch. It’s all product, she tells me; why can’t you take a compliment at face value? Her head rests on my shoulder and I feel… calmness. Time is unhinged. I don’t know whether it is passing slow or fast or even at all. I’d like to be frozen in time. Someone else told me that once.

I’ve a lot of memories. They collect like cups in a shelf. Sometimes you buy them, other times someone gives them to you. In either case, once you have them, you’re sunk. They’ll keep filling your shelves until something breaks. And then you’ll have to clean up the shattered remnants of a cup you may or may not have been responsible for.

Unfortunately, time and tide stop for no man. And here I am, running away from a filled cupboard. And honestly, I can’t stop now. For better or for worse, running is a drug. Once you’re high, your aches just fade away. Your back straightens, your breath deepens and you feel just lighter from your head to your toes, often through your bowels. Your mood perks up, and if you’ve snuffed enough, you’re guaranteed a religious experience™. It even comes with it’s own set of withdrawal symptoms. A few days without a fix, your legs stiffen, your once sumptuous behind bulges blobberously and your stomach feels forever forward of it’s rightful place. Is there anything we won’t get addicted to? It’s a part of human nature. We throw out chains to every single thing we do, to every single person we meet. Some chains are just stronger than others.

I’m getting closer to the shore. The tree cover is growing more sparse, but everything is two shades more vibrant a green than before the rain. A lot of birds are perched in the branches, taking shelter. Every now and then they chirp a sweet shrill song that reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The variety is amazing; I’m not used to the brilliant reds and blues where I grew up in a dusty, dirty Indian city. Chidiya is the Hindi word for birds, and just like in English, also a euphemism for pretty girls. Chi-di-ya, it has a nice ring to it. Sort of like A-li-ya. It’s very apt.

Oh dear, I’ve done it now. Aliyah, Aliyah, I can’t help but repeat her name, letting the syllables roll gently off my tongue, savouring the sound with a guilty pleasure. What can I say? I wanted to give in, to indulge myself with this warm feeling. It’s been a good run after all. But what foolish teenager-y. This is an infatuation gone rogue, taken flight upon wax wings towards the sun, impervious to the jagged rocks below.

Oh, this will not end well. Have you ever felt sure you would regret doing something but couldn’t help yourself? It’s like somewhere in our ancestry we crossed genes with lemmings with their crazy urge to throw themselves off cliffs. Here I am, young, filled with a boiling passion and unjustified optimism. I hardly know this woman, yet all my guards are down. I knot myself in all sorts of ways, tricking my better judgement through fragile arguments. “Yes, I’ve torn down my walls for her, but really, I’ve torn my walls down for just about everyone and I’m a new open person, see?” “On scout’s oath, I promise I’ll keep my self respect and be as equals, just you wait and watch”. How very cute, but I know, lurking in the depths is a desire to fold. A weak moment and I’ll give an arm and a leg. This is such a bad idea.

Still, Aliyah, what a pretty name.

Now that I’ve bluntly ignored my spider senses, self-doubt crawls up my back. “She doesn’t feel the same”, the tiny gnomes inside me whisper. It’s such a predictable story it’s probably a Bollywood movie. I go through the motions, taking a deep breath and reminding myself, I’m not that special; everyone feels like you do. In the interest of self-preservation, I think I should work out a repeatable cure to my emotional foibles. Maybe I’ll even have a cute acronym to remember in case of emergencies. The truth is, sometimes, you just need to accept these feelings, face them, and watch silently as they pass through, leaving only you behind. When I’m feeling ballsy, I even wave goodbye. Most of the time, I don’t know whether to smother them with reason or not.

It’s almost the end of the road. Cliffs line this last stretch. The waves smash applause into the rock-face; I don’t know if it’s for the running or for getting past this little emotional hiccup. In either case, I thank them. Peering over the cliff, I remember Monterey and am filled with a sense of déja vu. End in sight, something primordial is unleashed in me and I break into a full sprint. My mind, already reverted to that of a Neanderthal, caves in to the desire to voice those three magical syllables again. The sloshing of the waves echoes back to me with a roar. I am satisfied.