Saturday, November 20, 2010

Running as a hobby; my journey so far…

I remember when I was in the 5th grade I won the first prize in 100 meters running. It was a proud moment for me and my parents. However, as with most middle-class families in the 80s, my parents (especially my dad) thought that such sports are not for girls and I should just focus on my studies. I never really showed interest in sports after that, and hence my interest in running faded away…

Fast forward 2010, I am standing in Coral 9 with my dear friend Gina to run the San Antonio Rock ‘N’ Roll half-marathon on Nov 14th – my first, and definitely many more to come. I trained to run the 2009 half-marathon but had to drop out at the last minute due to a persisting lower back problem. I trained harder after that and finally ran this one – finished it in 2:50. Never during the race did I once think about the pain or why I was doing it, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the run. I guess that is what happens when you find your calling…

Well, the journey so far has been a truly exhilarating experience, and here I am to share it with people who want to experience the joy of running but for some reason never actually get there. Read on…

The Comeback!

My comeback to running was, is and will always be wholly attributed to Mr.G. When I first met him at our Chennai office, I remember him always leaving office in the evening to run and then come back and work late into the nights. No matter how busy he was or what kind of weather it was, he would go running. Considering he came from an army family background, I thought it was something he grew up doing and he was an exception. I completely brushed aside the idea of me getting back to running, conveniently assuming it’s too late to start. I guess it was my luck that I happened to be in the US at the same time as Mr.G, because even in the US he continued to follow his regime of running. A chance tagging along with him on one of his runs at the medical center was my first comeback to running after years. I was so unfit at that time that I could barely run 400m at a stretch; I remember taking 2 breaks during the 400m run, and finishing the 800m length with great difficulty. But I loved it. I started doing those short runs and they really helped me shed off a few kilos. That was in year 2004, when I was in my mid 20’s.

A fresh Start…

Back in India after that trip, I stopped running for 2 years. Yes. I got lazy again and the interest died. However, towards the end of 2006 (November) when I was pursuing my MBA, I decided to start running again. I started with short 1 Km runs slowly taking it up to 3 Km. I would run every single day – rain or shine – how much I ran did not matter, the aim was to discipline myself to run everyday. That’s the first thing anybody wanting to make running a hobby has to focus on – Discipline. Running is something one needs to pursue it long enough for it to grow on you (well, that’s true with any other activity as well!). However, with running/any sport, since it is physically challenging, the first thought that comes to us is to give up, mind dictates our body and we get tired quickly. As with my own example; before 2006, I never pursued it long enough to start loving it. But this time, I was going to make sure I did everything right. I made a conscious effort to run regularly irrespective of the distance. That brought in discipline and I started organizing every other activity of mine around my running schedule.

From Nov 2006 to Oct 2007, I would run regularly – 1.5 to 2 Km runs everyday for 5 months, till I finished my MBA in April 2007. After that I started running 3 days a week but would run 3+ Kms everyday. It’s funny how great that 3 Km run seemed to me at that time, I was on top of the world! I guess I was more proud of my ability to stay disciplined and go for a run as frequently as I planned, than the length of the runs. Whenever my mind would start telling me to stop I would think why do I want to stop - are my legs/back aching, am I really tired or is it my mind that is weakening my spirits, and I would continue running. Running had more impact on my life than just help loose a weight, my outlook towards everything in life started becoming more positive, there was definite glow on my face and I was more alert and energetic in everything I did than before. I would feel terribly guilty if I missed a day’s run for some reason, and would struggle to sleep. Most importantly, running started dictating what I ate, as I now knew how difficult it was to burn off those calories, I started being more conscious of what I ate. I’ll discuss more about eating habits in a bit. But in general, for beginners, it is very important to eat in moderation, completely avoiding oily or fatty foods. When you first start running, the body is losing a lot of fat, craving for it to be restored, so anything that you eat immediately after your work out gets converted to fat if you are not conscious of what you eat. For the first 6 months when I started running, all I ate was 3 phulkas + 1 cup dal + 1 cup veggies for dinner. I used to run in the evening around 7 pm and eat my dinner at 9 pm. Lunch was my heaviest meal with a cup of rice added to the dinner menu I mentioned. Lastly, do not forget to drink a LOT of water!

From Nov 07 to Dec 07, I did not run much at all – that’s when I got married, and was busy preparing to relocate to the US. Also, those 2 months gave me enough time to successfully gain back almost 60% of the weight I had lost in those 10 months time – I had lost 7 Kilos and I successfully gained back 4 Kilos in those 2 months! LOL!

From now on, no looking back...

From Jan 07 to March 07, I was too lazy to start running again, remember I had let my body sink into a comfortable state by eating wrong! And then, there was a wake-up call. What was I doing? 10 months of hard work and I was letting it go down the drain! I decided to start running again. Not to forget that I was now with Mr.G and there was no way he would let me sit on my ass while he was running! Ha! I was back again at the medical center where Mr.G had helped me make a comeback in 2004. Somewhere in mid 2007 I started running and I haven’t stopped ever since, and I do not intend to ever stop unless god starts getting jealous of me and breaks my legs or something. I started with my regularly 800m continuous runs (suddenly I had to start counting everything in miles now!) which increased to 2 laps at a stretch and I reached a point when I could run 4 laps at a stretch (2 miles/ 3.2.Kms). After a while, I joined a gym as it was too cold to run outside. That opened my eyes to a different level of running.

Joining a gym was one of the best things to do after moving to the US. While running outside is fun and a lot tougher, running on a treadmill is great for endurance training/speed training. Also, I realized the importance of weight training and mixing other machine workouts with running. As much as one grows to love running, there will be days when you don’t feel like running and you need an alternative work out to keep you on your toes – elliptical/cross trainer/spinning/biking are all great alternatives.

I realized when I run on the treadmill I am able to run faster than on the outside track, simply because on a treadmill you can vary the speed and as you increase the speed you have no other choice but to keep up with that speed. Treadmill speed challenges you to run faster, while running outside you control the speed and tend to run slower. At least, that’s the case with me. As I started running regularly on the treadmill, my form and pace improved and that helped me run better and for a longer time outside. From July 07 to July 08 I had trained enough to reach a speed of 7.5 mph from 5 mph; truly, I have come a long way. In July 08, I ran 5 miles in 42 minutes at a stretch and that was the most fulfilling moment of my life. That’s when I truly understood the meaning of the words “runner’s high” and one has to experience it to wholly relate to it. Since then, there has been no looking back! I try to run 3-5 miles, 4 times a week; I sometimes try to do a long run of 7-8 miles once a week. When I do the long run, I try not to run more 2.5 miles on other days or I just do spinning/biking or even walking to loosen up the muscles.

From July 07 to Oct 07, I lot 8 kilos/17.6 lbs, going from 64 Kilos to 56 Kilos. I cannot tell you how great I feel! Ask my friends who have seen me when I was 69 Kilos (during 2002-2004 before I made a comeback to running) how different I look now. I was never obese but my short height definitely made me look fat. After last 3 years of efforts that have gone into my running and work out in general, I don’t think I can ever gain back that weight even if I tried hard. One unique gift of being in the US is you get inspired by the dedication people show towards fitness here. I see 80 year olds in my gym walking on the treadmill, doing weights and cannot but be inspired by them. Not to forget Mr.G’s dedication to sports is simply too great and infectious to not be inspired. People twice my age (ok, now I have to reveal my age! Sigh! Let’s say very early 30s) easily run a couple of miles in my gym, so there is no way I am doing anything less than them. The bottom-line is there is no age/background required to start building a workout regime, or running in specific. I started when I was in my late 20s, and I realized it was only my mental block towards running that was holding me back and nothing else. It surely helps to have company because that way you stay motivated, so try to find a running partner. After sometime when you start loving it, you will want to run alone, as it gives you a thrill to just be on your own, think, and just enjoy the run. I personally enjoy running alone, not that I hate company, but I will just fine if I have to run alone.

Eating healthy is important

I discussed about proper eating habits in the beginning of this post. This is something anyone who wants to pursue running for a long term should be extremely conscious of. I know some people mark-off some days as cheat days and eat their heart’s content. But I personally believe in eating whatever one feels like eating, but in moderation. So, if I feel like eating fries, I eat a few fries and fulfill my urge instead of waiting for the “cheat day” to eat a bag of large fries adding 1000 calories at once. Anything eaten in moderation can be burnt off easily in the next run and you are back to your routine. A single day’s wrong eating can screw up the schedule for weeks. Believe me. I have been through that. An interesting change that automatically occurs in our eating habits when we start working out regularly is – we hardly crave for unhealthy food, at least not too often that you feel like eating junk food. There are times when I crave for pastries, fries, sweets or ghee in food, but my mind automatically rejects this craving if starts repeating often. And the funny thing is when I eat these things, I don’t rest till I have burnt it off! Ha! That’s the stage one should try to reach wherein you no more let any fat stick on to your body, you just burn it off before it does.

The fact that I’m a vegetarian and I love to cook, solves half of my problem, but also leaves me protein deprived. I try to add as much sprouts/lentils as possible to my diet to make sure I get enough protein. I eat a lot of greens and fresh fruits. My only weakness is rice…but I have learnt to control the quantity, and make an effort to burn it off when I over eat.

Last but not the least…

Running can be a truly exhilarating experience if pursued correctly. For one to enjoy it for a long time, it is important to avoid injuries by overdoing or doing it wrong. A lot of us make the mistake of not giving the body enough time to warm up and cool down, which causes most of the injuries. Please do proper stretching and walking before and after the run to avoid cramps. I have had the opportunity to meet some great athletes here in the US, who are now in their late 50s & 60s but are still actively pursuing some intensive sports, – Tennis, Squash, biking and running, of course! Some of these guys have run more marathons than any youngsters I know of. Their secret to success is the time these guys have invested in training. Yes, Training. One cannot wake up one day and decided to run 5 miles, some might actually succeed but never be able to run again.

Running requires a lot of training to sustain it for a long time…running a mile in 10 minutes is different from running for 90 minutes. The body has to be trained to sustain the run for a certain time and/or a certain speed. So, beginners – please choose your own pace to train but make sure you are slowly adding speed/distance to reach your desired goal. Also, listen to your body, stop when you are hurting – really hurting, like I said in the earlier sections, our mind is very cunning and makes you believe you are tired even when you have barely started running, give it time, bear the pain for a while to see if it is real, else keep going till the time you control your mind to do the things the way you want it. You will be amazed at how much control your mind has over your body…the trick is to break that control and take charge of your mind. The more you do it, the faster you will get there. Sorry, but there are no short cuts- no pain, no gain! But let me tell you something, if someone like me who had absolutely no background of any sports can do it starting when I was in my late 20s then anyone can do it! Go for it!

Okay, I might not be a great example – how about Fauja Singh? – the oldest marathon runner in the world – an Indian born Sikh living in London who started running at the age of 89! His half & full-marathon timings are way better than a lot of people 1/4th of his age. His is a story that I doubt will fail to inspire anyone. Period.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Trip to the Rocky Mountains National Park

The much awaited July 4th weekend was fast nearing, but we had not made any great plans to make use of those holidays...driving down to Houston to see NASA was on the list, but for some reason we did not have enough enthusiasm to pursue it. You know how it is, when you stay close to an attraction you are not so motivated to go and see it, you always keep brushing the ideas aside saying -oh, it is nearby we can do it anytime...that anytime has not happened in the last 3 years! :) Finally, when we got down to thinking of places we could go - Yosemite National Park (NP), Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP phew...we thought Yellowstone might be a good idea - I started checking tickets on June 25th for travel on July 1st or 2nd...wah! How smart of me. What was I even thinking! One quick look at the ticket prices told us we had waited too long to check tickets, and then we started thinking of alternatives - how about flying down to Denver (relatively cheaper airfare) and then drive down to Yellowstone in Wyoming. Good thinking on my part! That's when I realized why not go to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, it is one among the many must-see national parks, and so began our trip to the RMNP, a choice we will never ever regret.

Air tickets booked to Denver, lodge reservations made at YMCA (thanks to my manager Mike's suggestion who lives in Denver and has been to RMNP many at times), car rental taken care of (thanks to hotwire - got an unbelievable deal from Hertz!) and last but not the least my shopping (how can I forget this? I'm going hiking - I need sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, summer wear and a zillion other things, ha!) done! Eagerly waiting to fly out of the super hot San Antonio!

We took a late evening flight to Denver via Phoenix. Flight delayed by 45 mins in SAT which means we will miss the connecting in Phoenix. The first minor screw-up of our trip, despite many more to occur during the trip, we got through it all easily and the trip was a success. I checked with the counter agent, and he assured me that they will hold the connecting in Phoenix. That's what they did - we made it to Denver on time. Next stop - Hertz car rental - quick in and out, trying to open the boot of the Nissan Versa, we are unable to open it. I call an assistant who tries to do the same and tells us this model does not have boot space. I'm telling you that was the dumbest thing I have heard - the boot is clearly seen, she cannot figure out how to open it and announces this model does not have a bootspace, whatever. She upgraded us to a mid-size car, a brand new Corolla! Wah, good for us. We drive out of the Hertz parking lot laughing at that girl but silently thanking her, and head to our hotel in Loveland to hit the sack for the night.

Day 1 - Nothing else can motivate Mr. Gandhi to wake up early other than Squash (or Sports/Gym in general) and food. He wakes me up at 8 am (!) to eat the hot continental breakfast at the hotel. Well, it was worth losing the sleep - hot waffles, eggs, fruits, bagel, bread, muffin and a choice of juices and coffee/tea. Glad we had that breakfast; we are all kicked up to hit the road to RMNP. We check-out of the hotel and start our journey towards Estes Park (The town is named after a Missouri native Joel Estes, who founded Estes Park in 1859), a cute little town at the foothills of RMNP.

Our first stop was at the YMCA office to confirm our lodging reservations. The campus is huge and offers everything one needs to explore the Rockies, and a ton of activities to enjoy as a family without having to leave the campus –Campfires, Hiking, Fishing, Mini Golf, Tennis, Horseshoe, Fly Fishing, Climbing Wall, Rafting, Horseback Rides, and Mountain biking are a few among the many other activities that YMCA offers. The location itself is in the midst of RMNP spread over 800+ acres of land at an elevation of 8,010 ft above sea level, presenting some spectacular views of the Rockies. One could just sit on the patio of the lodge and gaze at these mountains for days together. Btw, the YMCA campus also has a fully stocked library, a dining hall to seat 700+ people offering breakfast/lunch/dinner at reasonable rates (BF comes free with lodge reservations), and a nurses station to take care of you incase you fall ill!!. Truly impressive. I could spend an entire week here doing things without ever leaving the campus.

After ensuring our lodge reservations are still good (peak season attracts ample overbooking, did not want to take a chance with that) we start off on our scenic drive, a must-do thing here on 2 roads – Old Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road. Due to lack of time to do both of them we chose the former. Old Trail Ridge Road is the longest continues highway (34) in the US with a distance of 48 miles, and reaching an elevation of 12,183 ft. The road starts at Estes Park on the east and traverses the RMNP to Grand Lake in the west, and opens only from early summer due to heavy snowfall during winters. The drive offers breathtaking views of the Rockies – numerous streams in the midst of blissful greenery, the tundra region with low lying tiny wild flowers (called the alpine avens) between the rocks, and the snow packed glaciers, as we drive up the road going from tree line to subalpine to alpine region. There are many view points where one can park the car and enjoy the scenic beauty. Our first stop was at the Rainbow Curve- provides an excellent view of Horseshoe Park, Alluvial Fan and the Beaver Ponds. Elevation: 10,875 feet. Second stop - Forest Canyon, provides an excellent view of Forest Canyon and the Mountains that make up the Continental Divide. Elevation: 11,758 feet. Third stop - Rock Cut Overlook. Elevation: 12,178. There is a Tundra Communities Trailhead – a one mile hike (2-way) that provides some spectacular views of glaciers. The next stop Lava Cliffs (12,048 ft) was closed for construction and we went straight to the Alpine Visitor Center. Elevation: 11,796 feet. It took us 3.5 hours to do this stretch due to the many stops we made on our way. We had to return back from here as driving the whole length of the road till the Grand Lake entrance meant we would have to spend the night there and drive back the next morning. Well, we had already passed the highest elevation point of the road (Rock Cut -12,178 ft) and going the full length was mostly downhill to the other side. I’m sure we missed some great views, but for the sake of making the most of limited time we decided to drive back to YMCA at Estes Park.

The night at the YMCA Estes Park lodge after a delicious Mexican dinner was all that we needed to relax from the day long driving we did (or rather, Vikrant did). Before we knew, the cool air from the mountains had put us to a sound sleep. Oh, did I mention, none of the YMCA lodges have TV in them, except family cottages. I think this is a brilliant idea, since lying on the lodge bed and watching the TV is not the idea of a vacation. Also, the mobile signal is extremely spotty, giving us the much needed break from phone, Internet and TV!

Day 2 – We decided to take it easy on day 2 as the idea of this vacation was to relax. We woke up late, and went straight to feed us to a sumptuous lunch at YMCA, and drove down to check out the Estes Park Gondola ride (The Gondola ride was part of the earlier plan which was to drive down to Vail – a picturesque ski resort 3 hours drive from Estes Park on day 3; however, we changed plans as we realized how much more we could do at Estes Park). The Gondola ride took us to the top of Prospect Mountain that provides a great view of Lake Estes, Long’s Peak and the Continental divide. We spent a peaceful 2 hours on this mountain enjoying the scenic views and feeding Chipmunks! Yes, there are so many chipmunks here that one could spend an entire day going “nuts” running after them. It is such a sight to see them run to you, take the nut, run back and hide behind a rock and eat them – they have a very systematic way of eating nuts – first of all, they always take one nut at a time. They break the whole groundnut into 2 pieces, take one half of the pod, break the hard shell, remove the skin on the nut and keep it aside. They repeat this process for the 2nd pod and then start eating the nuts. Isn’t it impressive?

It was a well spent afternoon on the top of Prospect Mountain, but before we could call it a day, something had to happen. Our 3rd screw-up during the trip – while connecting the GPS to the car plug, there was a spark and I GPS stopped working. Without a GPS, we would be totally lost, so we drove back to YMCA to check where we could find a new GPS at Estes Park. Made a few phone calls and finally found a RadioShack outlet. The store keeper checked our GPS and told us to use the alternative connector in the car and it should work fine, thank god! So, GPS problem solved – we don’t need a new one! We thanked him and drove off to find a nice place for dinner. It seems to have been our lucky day – we found a Nepali restaurant serving delicious Indian food in the Estes Park downtown. It was right next to the Subway joint we were heading towards! We happily ordered a list of dishes for to go and drove back to YMCA as Mr. Gandhi wanted to go for a run before dinner. At YMCA, I sat at the administration building patio and read a book, while Mr. Gandhi went for a run in the chilly weather of Colorado at 10 PM, after which we enjoyed our absolutely delightful Indian meal in the YMCA lodge lobby on a rustic wood dining table in front of warm fireplace, a dinner that we will remember for life. Mr. G would not call it a night till he charted out a hiking plan for next day. He read about the strenuous rated 2.5 mile hike to the Emerald Lake overlook in one of the travel guide. That was to be our next day’s adventure.

Day 3: We started our day with a sumptuous breakfast at YMCA, and drove straight to the Bear Lake trailhead from where we were to begin our hiking adventure. At the trailhead, after making some enquiry I realized the hike to Flattop Mountain is 4.5 miles one-way (an estimated 6 hours to & fro for the hike) as against the 2.5 miles Mr. G had mentioned. I’m like what the heck, I can do it. I have been running for the past 2 years and do 5-mile runs frequently. Worst case, I’ll stop when I cannot walk anymore and wait for Vikrant to do the full length and comeback. This is a decision that I’ll never regret making. We start walking towards Bear Lake from where various trailheads diverge. We take the one saying Flattop Mountain. After hiking for nearly an hour, we reach Dream Lake overlook – our first milestone, we are still in the tree line zone, though. Another hour of hiking and we reach Emerald Lake overlook, the lake is named aptly after the beautiful green color of the lake. We are now above the tree line, sub-alpine region consisting of small shrub like trees, and I can feel the air getting thinner, but still much better than what we were about to experience in the next one hour.

The hike from Emerald lake overlook to the flattop mountain was a killer last leg of the journey. We started entering the alpine tundra region where there are no trees to protect you from the sun rays, and the air keeps getting thinner, the terrain is full of uneven rocks and the hike suddenly becomes very difficult. After 2.5 hours of hiking I wanted to give up. Just then, we met some people climbing down and asked they how far were we from the flattop and they said another 30 minutes. This knowledge motivated me and I started hiking again. Well, it actually took us one more hour to reach the flattop. Finally, after 3.5 hours of painstaking hiking we reached the flattop mountain to realize the pain was truly worth it. The first look of the Tyndall Glacier from the flattop is beyond what words can explain – simply mind blowing. We spotted a few marmots here that were curiously looking at us as we were invading their territory. We started our hike at 12.30 pm (not a great time to start the hike as the sun rays kill you to no end) and reach the top at 4 p.m. As we reached the flattop we could see clouds moving towards us and it was pretty scary – the thought of getting killed by a thunderstorm on a mountain was not encouraging. I started praying as Mr. G was not yet satisfied with the adventure and wanted to quickly do an extra length of the trail; he went till the Hallet’s Peak and Tonahutu trailhead (after reaching our hotel, we researched about this trail and discovered that this trail leads us to the Grand Lake entrance on the west side of the Rockies – so, one could start from Bear Lake in the east and reach Grand Lake on the west following this trail – it will however, take a good 16-20 hours to do the entire length, one-way!), while I waited at the Flattop Mountain summit. Finally, after 25 minutes he emerges out of the cloud, climbing down the slippery snow pile. I had to shout to him to keep him on track as the visibility was extremely limited.

As we started our climb down the trail away from the Flattop Mountain, I could not help but smile at the amazing journey we had undertaken – a sense of achievement gushed inside me and I forgot all about the heaviness in my legs. Mr. G is now in a hurry to get back as the clouds are so thick that we could barely see each other. We start walking fast biding goodbye to the marmot, the glacier, the tundra rocks, the beautiful wild flowers and the clouds…the climb downhill was relatively easy and quicker, though sometimes steep and slippery. As we climbed down the tundra region and entered the sub-alpine region to reach Emerald Lake overlook, we realized why the people whom we met while climbing up miscalculated the time taken to go from Emerald Lake to Flattop. The climb down from flattop to the lake overlook took us 30 minutes but the climb up took us close to an hour. Never mind, if not for that wrong guidance I probably would have stopped at Emerald Lake overlook. There were 2 other Russian couples other than us at the flattop and like us they were also trying to beat the clouds and quickly climb down the mountain.

It took us 2 hours to hike down the trail before we hit Bear Lake and spent a few minutes there. We started driving back from the Bear Lake, feeling fully charged, and reminiscing the beautiful views of the mountains we had seen in those 6 hours – an adventure we will cherish for life. As we were nearing YMCA we realized that our body energy reserves were slowly nearing zero depletion and we needed to refuel fast – our next stop, Nepal’s CafĂ©, yet again – the food totally captivated us! We ordered lots of food to go and drove back to YMCA.

On that night when we were relaxing in the YMCA lobby, we noticed an old man getting things ready for a presentation. Mr. G went to help him and found out that the chair were being arranged for a family reunion presentation. The man, who is the head of the family, had put together a video highlighting the achievements of the entire family – 3 sons, their wives, 8 grandchildren, and a message from his own 89-year old mother. We were so moved by this event that we could not help but sneak from the first floor lobby to get a glimpse of this family and their responses to the video presentation.

Day 4: The last morning of our trip at YMCA, we really don’t want to leave this place but all good things have to come to an end. We do not want to miss any fun and head straight to the dining hall to take advantage of the free breakfast at YMCA. After a brief stop at the gift shop we start our journey back to the airport. Well, we quickly detoured. Mr.G had been for the past 3 days wondering about a road he had seen on one of the mountains near YMCA and his curiosity as to where it leads to was killing him. So, here we go…we take a detour to check it out. It turns out the road leads to private residences on the hill top. We drove all the way up to the end of the road that provides some great views of the mountains, and a birds-eye view of the entire YMCA campus. Finally, with Mr.G’s curiosity satisfied we start driving towards the airport, btw, we drove through Roosevelt national forest while on highway 36, and it was pretty cool. As we neared the airport, we could still see the Rockies from far away, all I could think of then is – we will be back again!

As we checked-in at the curbside, our boarding passes indicated that we were on the stand-by list and this was to be last screw-up of the trip. Thankfully, after 2 hours of unpredictability, our seats got confirmed and we were on the plane to San Antonio. But, guess what? We got exit row seats allotted, giving us more leg room and a relaxing journey back to our home sweet home. Well, all’s well that ends well.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Back to Blogging!

Wow! I can't believe it has been 3 years since I wrote my last post. Time flies! Well, quite a few things have changed in my life since 07, I got married in Dec 07, moved to the US the same month and had to transition in my job and personal life in a new country. I had been to the US before making the move for good in 07, but setting up base here on a long-term basis took some time for me to settle down.

I now live in San Antonio, Texas and continue to work for the same consulting firm I used to while in Chennai - Frost &Sullivan.  I have thought about writing on my blog many a times under multiple instances, but something or the other pops and my thought fades away before I can get to writing.  This time, however, I guess the motivation was strong enough to make me sit down and write about my experience of a trip I took recently to the Rocky Mountains National Park. I guess I just love documenting things I love doing - travel is one among them.

In the past 3 years, I have been busy setting up our home, immersing myself in my job that has provided me with ample opportunity to travel and see new places and meet with some great people, and understand the American culture in a much more deeper sense than I had ever done in my previous short visits to this country. I'll write about all of these things in my future blogs...but for now let's get started with an interesting one - my travelogue on the trip to Rocky Mountains!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Visit to Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Adyar, Chennai

I visited Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple today in Adyar. My friend and I were roaming around shopping in that area when I mentioned to her that I have heard a lot about this temple, but had never been there. We decide to visit the temple.

The first feeling I got when I entered that temple is of total peace of mind. The Siddhivinayak idol on the right hand side of the entrance is such a beauty to the eyes - it personifies strength,comfort, power,solidarity, and what not...the sight of Lord Vinayak was so gripping that I was moved to tears...some powerful aura absorbed me. My friend and I had been discussing about how complex life can get, what kind of helpless situations we can get general about life. The sight of this god just took away all the mental strain and I was in eternal bliss...absolutely!

We lit Deepam in front of Siddivinayk and Navagraha, and then entered the main temple...that of Lord Padmanabha Swamy...Oh, what a sight it was...absolutely encaptivating..the same peaceful and blissful feeling, the feeling of fullness, the feeling of positive energy, the feeling of was like god telling me - "why do you unnecessarily worry yourself about so many things...I'm the wire puller..I will make everything alright"....

For some reason, I really liked this temple...I felt good being there...I generally do not like temples when there is too much crowd around, and I do not like some temples at all because of the way they are built or the kind of priest they have...whatever. However, this temple was different, even with lots of people around me...I could only feel one thing - an amazing aura, flow of positive energy around me...absolute faith of people in the god...this temple gave me a sense of fulfillment, an unexplainable feeling...a positive aura...I really loved the feeling! I know for sure I will keep going back to this temple...those of you who are religious and love visiting temples, should give this temple a visit.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Transitioning from being an elder sister to a is a tough journey

I used to feel jealous of her when my mom carried her in her arms, I used to throw tantrums and create a scene if my dad spent more time with her than me...I used to shy away from my parents and spend more time with my grandparents as I just used to desist her presence, we used fight all the time - I have pushed her from the stairs and she would go rolling down, only to be back crying aloud and my mom giving me a good spanking!

Till the time, life took a turn and I realized the responsibility I had as a elder fell ill and stayed that way for long...very very long, and I stepped in take care of my sister. From taking care of her in school, to bringing her back home, to help her finish homework, to feed her lunch & dinner, to help her at every step - be it a fancy dress competition or a painting competition or anything under this sky... I had a say in it. She would come running to me for every small thing...

Things do not remain the same, you see...One fine day, I realize during a casual conversation with my sister how much things have changed - Yes, she has grown up, she can take care of herself, make her own decisions, wants to be left to herself in whatever she does...she has become an independent individual, which all of us do at some point in time in life. I need to understand this, take this in my stride and let her there only to help if she falls...but this goddamn heart does not understand just refuses to accept the fact! I feel bad if she does not tell me even a small thing that happened, either something she bought or some place she went...They say its important for parents to be a friend to their kids when they grow up, I agree, but I can see how difficult it must be...if I, as a sister am finding it so difficult.

I know its gonna be a journey, a tough one, till I realize that all of us need that space to do our own things...The journey has just begun...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Importance of Building Self-trustworthiness...

This is a topic that I have wanted to write about for quite sometime now...the importance of this fact struck me very hard when I heard to a guest lecture at my college by Alok Sharma - India Head, Apple Computers

This guy, with his simple but absolutely dignified demeanor left me convinced about a thought that I have always believed it - the importance of having a clean conscience and building respect for oneself in one's own eyes. How does one build trustworthiness - with oneself and others? I believe, it is by defining one’s values, principles and rules in life and living by it, come what may. Honoring a promise made to oneself. A person who can do this will automatically build trust about himself/herself with people around.

Mr. Sharma spoke about the emphasis he lays on the importance of living by his beliefs and values in life - that of righteousness. He quoted an example where he put his job at stake to avoid paying bribe in a business deal - this incident irked questions from the audience about how one can survive in this bad world if we were to follow such rules or stick to such principles. In response to this, he quoted an incident where he happened to meet Azim Premji who gave a simple answer to this so called difficult question - Azimji's answer -"One does not get profitable by paying bribes to middlemen, in fact the returns get reduced - because, once a set-up is created using middlemen to get work done, the expectation increases at each level,and at the end, though the number of projects got is more, the returns definitely get diminished, as so many people need to be satisfied in between" - So true, but this is beyond understanding of 99 percent of the people.

But one thing is certain- I believe, the moment you make your principles clear to people and set their expectations right, how much ever they might bad mouth you in front of you as well as behind your back - they will dare not try any tricks with you. All the blabbering they do in front of you about how foolish you are to follow Gandhism - if I can say so- they do it only because they do not have the guts to be like you or follow the path of righteousness. Of course, there are many people who respect such values and principles in life - otherwise, there would not be a Infy or a Wipro or a MindTree sure there are many more, which do not come to my mind now...

Once we have all this defined, building a personal & organizational value system becomes easier - even if we cannot change much of organizational values, we can surely change the organization -but for that we need to define and prioritize our values in life.

Among many things that he spoke about, something that I remember very well is the leadership attributes one should develop - Beliefs,Values,Character,and Knowledge. To quote him -" As a good manager, hire people who can perform at least one function better that you can do"- In this world of insecurity, managers could probably take a cue from these lines.

Last but not the least, he spoke about how simple day-to-day things in our life can help us build self trustworthiness - something which I regularly follow - I could relate to it so much...I'm sure most of us can relate to it...take for example -practicing a fitness regime - it is so common for all of us to plan with great passion to run 5 km or go to gym for 30 mins daily or cut down on all our favorite food - only to end up doing 1/10th or none of what we planned and feeling terribly depressed about not being able to follow what we set out to do.

Believe me, these small promises made to oneself and not being able to fulfill them can bring one's morale down to a large extent. At least to me, fulfilling any commitment made by me to myself or to anyone is of utmost importance, else something inside my heart troubles me endlessly. Alok gave a simple suggestion of how it is better to set small goals and fulfill them, instead of making big plans only to see them fail. Taking the same fitness example - set short-term goals, probably going to gym 2 -3 times in a week or running 2 km daily or 3 days a week or whatever is comfortable for one -but, keep up the promise made and achieve those goals. This is what builds self-trustworthiness.

This thing about building self-trustworthiness is so satisfying, especially the act of following a short but regular fitness regime is so fulfilling to me...that I came back from my jog today and immediately decide to write this blog.

The run...the sweat...the satisfaction of doing what I promised myself...the pride of bettering myself everyday...its an amazing feeling!

There are so many instances which we can use to practice this and enrich our lives – be it at work (setting short internal deadlines for activities at work) or at home (following a well planned regime for day-to-day chores, cooking, cleaning etc…) or with our social life(control over spending or over indulging)…once we start doing it for one or two activities, automatically we search for fulfillment and meaning in everything that we do…I’m trying, failing at times, learning, nevertheless -getting back on my feet and trying harder…I want it to be a continuing journey, though it is tough and is better than quickly achieving something and losing it much before we realize what we achieved.