Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sports Day '89

Within just a few days of the end of the Peace Run, August Celebrations (1989) was underway. Back in the day, Guru held a Sports Day every August. It was an Olympic-style track and field meet for the disciples. Guru no doubt got the idea for Sports Day from his years growing up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where a similar event was held and Guru was its champion some years running (see photos here).

At our Sports Day, Guru was like a field martial marching around directing the various events. For example, at a previous year's event, one of the events I ran was the 400 meters. There were, perhaps, 40 or 50 other guys who presented themselves to the starting area for the race and Guru quickly began putting people in heats.

Amongst the men in the Center, the 400 really was the most exciting race. The two fastest runners -- year in, year out -- were Shakshat and Bhaswar, who also challenged each other for the overall Sports Day championship. On the women's side, the competition was no less intense, but the perennial overall champion was Ranjana. Long legged and lean, she was a fierce competitor who excelled not only on the track, but in the field events as well (here's a classic shot of her taken by Shraddha at the beginning of Sports Day with Guru).

When it came to the women's sprints, however, I was partial to Ranjana's erstwhile competitor: Karabi. Karabi is Bhaswar's sister. From the first Sports Day I witnessed (in August 1982), watching Karabi run reminded me of one of my old track and field heroines: Evelyn Ashford. With a short, compact frame, Karabi would burn up the track. She was fun to watch.

Not all of us disciples, however, were as gifted as Karabi, Ranjana, Bhaswar, and Shakshat. Over the previous few years, though, Databir had organized an unofficial sub-category of contestants (I dare not refer to them as "athletes") who would compete for their own prize. Originally, these guys -- Databir, Pulak, Sanatan, and a host of other older and in most cases non-athletic guys -- had competed against Guru. For the previous couple of years, though, they competed amongst themselves and Guru watched with keen interest.

As it happened, just after I got back from the Peace Run and as Sports Day approached, Databir asked me if I'd like to compete in his group. "Are you kidding," I asked with a laugh.

"What, you think you're better than us," Databir retorted with a grin. He was serious. He did want me to join his group.

It wouldn't be fair, though, and I told Databir so. Fresh off three months on the Peace Run, I was in good shape and I was 24 years old. While I certainly wasn't among the best athletes in the Center at the time, I was above average.

Databir persisted, however. After more prodding, I gave in and embraced the idea. While it didn't occur to me at the time, as I look back on it now, I suspect that Guru might have been involved in getting me to participate with Databir's group. It seemed that Guru was worried about my motivation now that I was back in the city (and for good reason).

Just after Sports Day -- on the eve of Guru's birthday (August 27) -- the Center put on the other tradition of August Celebrations: the 47-mile race. It was conducted on a course of a little more than a mile that travelled the perimeter of Jamaica High School and then circled the school's track, where an aid station and lap counters were located. By 1989, I had run it four or five times and I don't remember what inspired me to run it again, but I did.

The run started at midnight and it took me just over eight hours to complete. The next morning, as I shuffled over to the tennis court, Ketan told me that Guru was pleasantly surprised to hear that I had run (Ketan -- surprised himself -- had told Guru).

Not much was expected of me anymore.

The photo above shows Guru giving me a trophy after I had taken care of business and dispatched Databir and his cohorts at Sports Day. I like the photo because it reminds me that I had already begun getting comfortable being around Guru despite the lack of any psychic hunger for the Divine.

No comments: