Celebrating Cosmetic Diversity

The recent Super Bowl commercial of Coke received wide applause for celebrating the incredible cultural, ethnic, and sexual diversity of America. It features a multilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

This one subtly features a gay couple. While a majority of the people have lauded it for its boldness, there were a few dim-witted individuals who took to Twitter with tweets such as “Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language. Way to go coke. You can leave America.” But then again, there has never been a dearth of such intelligent remarks over the social media. Idiots. Period.

On the surface, there is little to be critiqued about this feel-good commercial. But if one looks carefully, the celebration of diversity is deceitful. In the US soft drink industry it’s a well established fact that 20 percent of the people will use 80 percent of the products. In the marketing parlance they are called “heavy users.” Unfortunately, these “heavy users” tend to guzzle gallons of Coke which eventually leads to diabetes, and a plethora of cardiovascular diseases. I don’t intend to delve into the details; there are umpteen studies which do a wonderful job highlighting the issue at hand.

What concerns me, however, is the deceitful manner of showing diversity. If you take a closer look, there is not even a single overweight individual in the video. Statistics show that more than 35 percent of Americans are overweight. There is a very high probability that Coke’s own “heavy users” fall into the overweight category. By a conservative estimate, 50 percent of Coke in US is consumed by overweight individuals. But not a single person is to be seen in the commercial. The characters are shown basking in bright outdoors, socializing with friends and family, and kids surfboarding. However, this is far from the reality. A video that shows an overweight teenager sitting on a couch, munching on chips, watching a reality show would be closer to the truth. The commercial, clearly doesn’t acknowledge the truth.

Change doesn’t happen by merely offering a low calorie alternative; it begins by accepting the reality. Before people start getting out their pitchforks, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not advocating everyone to stop drinking Coke, or ban the commercials. That would be preposterous. I enjoy drinking coke as much as everyone else. All I wish for is a world where commercials are made honestly.

1. Percentage of overweight individuals – http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db56.pdf
2. Coke “heavy users” – http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/26/172969363/how-the-food-industry-manipulates-taste-buds-with-salt-sugar-fat

Mumbai Marathon 2014

Before I get into the specifics of Mumbai Marathon, I’ll tell a bit about how I started running.

After I got into college, I started playing tennis. At the beginning of every session, I used to go for a run for the sake of warming up. After 2 years of putting in continual efforts, I figured I won’t be able to become a better player without a good coach. The coach in the institute seemed to have little interest in coaching beginners, and had better players to hone. I’ll probably get back to playing tennis when I can afford a good personal coach.

I remember watching an interview of Sidhartha Mallya in which he talks about how he ran a marathon. Thanks to Google, I figured that it equals 42.195 km. The fact that he could run it was all the inspiration I needed. I registered for the half marathon of Chennai Marathon 2012. It was scheduled to be on the 2nd December. I started training in October by running around 5 km everyday; finishing with a couple of 10 km runs. I finished my first half marathon in 2 hours 4 minutes. I ran my first full marathon at the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon 2013, finishing it in 6 hours 17 minutes followed by another full marathon at the Chennai Marathon 2013, finishing it in 5 hours 53 minutes. I didn’t train properly for the first 2 full marathons, partially owing to injuries and end-semester exams.

I registered for the Mumbai Marathon in July 2013. The Mumbai Marathon 2014 was scheduled to be on 19th January 2014. My winter break was from December 29th 2013 to January 14th 2014. I knew I had enough free time to train for it. I started training the week following the Chennai Marathon. I ran along 24 km along with the Hyderabad Runners on a chilly Sunday morning at a pace of 6 min/km. I did my next long run in the college campus on December 30th; ran 30 km in 3 hours 15 minutes. I went back home for a week before the semester started. Until now, I wasn’t resolute about going to Mumbai, not paying much attention to booking a hotel. Luckily, I found a place called Hotel KumKum on Airbnb.com that was close to the start point. I came back to the campus on the morning of 15th. After attending classes for 2 days, I boarded the Dadar Express on the Thursday morning. I met a few fellow runners in the train and exchanged wartime stories and pacing strategies.

The train reached Mumbai at 6 AM on Saturday; took a train from Dadar to CST along with a group of Chennai Runners. A cab ride brought me the hotel. The hotel had a small and eloquent cafe in the third floor which served delectable breakfast. The bib collection center was around 8 km from the hotel, and it opened at 12. I took a cab at 11, only to go at a snail’s pace for the first 3 km, thanks to Mumbai’s traffic. Once the cab reached the Marine drive, the traffic seemed non-existent. The sight of the Arabian Sea gave was invigorating as most part of run was going to be along the sea. The bib collection was at the World Trade Center in Cuffe Parade. I got my bib within 10 minutes. I met Preeti, and Rajesh. Rajesh was the 5 hour pacer. Though I had trained for a 4:30 finish, I wanted to go at a safer pace, and told Rajesh that I’ll be taking the 5 hour bus. He suggested me to run along with him and increase the pace later if I felt good. After a while, I met NJ and Adhokshaj, who were both running the half marathon. When I was done meeting everybody I knew, and started reading the race booklet, the bunch of Hyderabad Runners arrived. I waited for them to collect their bibs and then we left for lunch. Just when I was about to leave, I ran into PDF and gave him some gyaan on running a half marathon. We went to a place called Universal Cafe. The ambiance was pretty good, but the service kept us waiting for a long time.

I came back to the hotel room and decided to stay put in the bed without resorting to any kind of activity that might take a toll on my feet. I met another group of runners from Chennai: Durai, Suresh and Krishna. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant called Shagun. I came back to the room, only to torture myself with a dance reality show for an hour before getting to sleep. Fortunately, I woke up 3 in the morning, thanks to the multiple alarms on my phone, a call from my parents, and Krishnan’s knocking on my door. I got ready by 4 and we took a cab to Azad Maidan which was the start point. They opened the gates at around 5:20 and I was in a dilemma about my pacing strategy as the 5 hour bus started in the C category, while I was supposed to be in the B category. After a while, Balaji came along with Navin, and Sunil. Balaji said he’d be running a pace close to 6 min/km and told me to stick as long as I could. I knew I hadn’t trained for that pace, but for the fear of being left alone, I started running along with them. For the first 15 km, I was pretty comfortable running along with Balaji and Sunil. Sunil had a Garmin, and the pacing was pretty consistent. At the 15 km mark, the majestic Bandra-Worli Sea Link welcomed us. There was a steady wind with a hint of saltiness in the air. The sun was rising, and the view was breathtaking. We overtook the 4:15 bus on the Sea Link and my lace started giving me a hard time. I ended up doing some kind of an interval training there to catch up with Balaji. We reached the halfway mark in 2:03 which was in accord with Balaji’s finishing target of 4:07. At this point, I knew I was on a suicide mission at this pace.

After a kilometer or so, when I had to stop tie my lace, I didn’t try catching up with him. I wanted to take it slow and easy from that point. Just when I was looking for some kind of motivation, there were a whole lot of families lined up along the road giving chocolates. I was taking all kinds of chocolates along the way. I didn’t have a specific hydration strategy, but was taking Enerzal and Water at almost all the aid stations. After the 28 km mark, I caught up with a runner whom I’d met during the Hyderabad marathon, pacing along. The 30 km mark arrived, and I felt pretty good. At the 32 mark, there was slight uphill. Only later did I find out that it was the dreaded Peddar road which was supposedly the toughest part; the uphills in Hyderabad make every other slope look near flat. I started feeling a slight cramp in my right calf, but I wasn’t sure how long I could hold it. From my previous experience, a cramp hits me hard when I stop at an aid station or change my pace. So, I had just one mission in my mind: stick to the pace, and don’t stop. After the 37 km mark, the dreaded cramp came back. This time, I had no choice but to stop. At this moment, a constable who was standing along the road rushed to me and started massaging my right calf. Another gentleman came as a savior, and asked me to lie down resting both my legs. He gave a massage to both my legs and that seemed to make a whole lot of difference. I got up and started jogging at a slow pace. All along, I deliberately didn’t carry a watch as I wanted to enjoy the run rather than race against time. I had the energy to run a faster pace, but I didn’t risk another cramp. During the last 4 km, I could see the 7 km Dream Run participants walking on the other lane. It was more like a rally; there were 35000 people taking part in the Dream Run. The “Sunny Sunny” song from the movie Yaariyan was being played on most of the loudspeakers on the Marine Drive. I reached the last few meters, and was quite excited. I didn’t know the exact timing, but I knew that it’d be around 4:30; didn’t bother asking anyone along the way either. I sprinted the last few meters and Phew! I finished my 3rd full marathon in 4 hours 40 minutes. This was 1 hour 13 minutes lesser than my previous best, and most importantly I ran the entire marathon distance for the first time. It didn’t take me long to pick up the finisher medal and nibble on the post-run snack. After taking the customary photo with the medal, I went around congratulating others on their finish, and bragging my timing. I earned it.

The post-run shower in the hotel was rejuvenating, and the lunch that followed was delightful. After resting for a while, we went around savoring the delicacies that Mumbai’s streets had to offer. The checkout wasn’t a hassle and the ride back to the station didn’t take long. Boarding the Chennai Express on Platform No. 3 reminded me that it was time to bid adieu to Mumbai. Thank you Mumbai for all the memories. Till we meet again.

Lessons I’ve learnt

After listening to umpteen interviews, talks and podcasts; I’ve realized that the biggest takeaways of our life are the lesssons we have learnt. So here I am trying to put together the top 5 lessons I’ve learnt over the years.

Respect people
Respect people; not just in the conventional sense of displaying good etiquette in front of others, but valuing people for whatever they are. If someone is flipping burgers for a living, there is nothing wrong about that. You have no right to give that condescending smirk as if that person is a lesser mortal.
Value relationships
You might not realize the value of a relationship right now, but will come to know of its importance only when its broken or you are broke(pun unintended). When you are not doing well in some aspects of life and are looking for solace, it is your friends and family who will come to your rescue. So, take some time to spend with your friends and cherish those moments for the times to come.
Don’t give up
There will be a whole lot of instances in your life when things seem insurmountable and the obvious choice is to give up. Well, most people do give up and that is exactly the reason there are a very few successful people. The fact is that all great things in life come at a cost; be it riding that swanky BMW or running a marathon. Each of those take a whole of commitment and effort. While they seem too far fetched, the satisfaction of having accomplished them is unparalled and definitely way more than watching TV all day.
When you can’t get over it, just live with it
Life is full of trade-offs. You cannot be a billionaire playboy, industrialist, philantropist and save the city from criminals all at the same time. You are not Batman. Just live with it. You can’t spend all the time whining over lost opportunities and how bad luck is your best friend. Be passionate about whatever you are doing and focus on doing that right and you will eventually be successful. Once you are rich enough, you can get back to being a Batman.
Believe in magic
This is the most important lesson. To start with, this explains how all my guitar picks go missing. Believe that things will fall into the right place at the right time. If you have enough faith and work towards it, any dream of yours will come true.

Ramblings of a troubled mind

When was the last time you were happy? In the first place, what is happiness? Well, that is a stupid question. Let’s assume that we did arrive at an answer. After a hypothetical survey of half the world, the answer comes out to be “Watching sitcoms”. If that were the case, everyone will start watching sitcoms all day long. Duh! Who will make sitcoms then?

That being the case, we realize that there is not a single answer to that question. Back in the good ol days of kings and queens, what did they have? The king got nice meals, opulent palace and some other perks. But then, they didn’t have an TV or an air-conditioner back then. Now, we want a whole lot of things. We want the iPhone(x) where x is an exponential function of time. We want the car that can clock 100 mph. Phew! The list is quite endless. If a genie were to ask you what is the one thing you want, I bet it’ll take an eternity to decide on something.

Suppose you won a lottery, you will buy all the things you wished for and gain momentary happiness; but you will get back to your previous state in no time. Nothing solves your thirst unless you keep finding better ways to keep yourself happy. Trust me, one must work really hard to keep themselves happy all the time.