File photo of young women jogging at the Racecourse
It just got over, but I love the summer. Always have. It's the season for nostalgia. Summer holidays in college, spent watching films at Regal, idling down Colaba Causeway, a kid fillet roll at Paradise, a Ralph Lauren knockoff on Fashion Street (outside the museum in those days), a swim at the Bombay Gym, capped with French fries (finger chips) and chicken tikka at Mondi's. And always, the Mahalakshmi Racecourse for a long, leisurely run. At noon. When it is deserted, save for the kites circling overhead, waiting for me to collapse and die. And brunch.
Thirty years later, everything's changed, barring the pool at the gym, and the racecourse. This year, post my third knee surgery (rugby players have arthroscopies, like actors have cosmetic surgeries, two on an average), I have been doing my rehab on the Bombay Gym grounds, and interspersing that with training at the Racecourse.
I get to the Racecourse at 5.30pm after my physio, and spend a couple of hours training. But that's not what this piece is about; it's to do with women there. Largely, it is the usual suspects: two salwar kameez-clad, young Gujarati women cackling away as they mangle their bodies forward in a flailing speed walk; a hunched Parsi dowager from the Willingdon Club walking her Labrador; two overweight Marwari housewives in sarees, socks and sneakers, pallu tucked in, determinedly sweating it out on their phones.
One evening, I see a woman in a burkha. On an empty stretch, she breaks out into a run and then abruptly starts walking on passing anyone. It is this last image that now runs like a leitmotif through every session of mine. Last Thursday, it was a woman who wasn't well-off, running gamely in her slippers and saree, and then slowing down when she passed anyone, as if feudal India would never allow her to express herself fully. Or the two stonewashed jeans-kurti clad girls from the basti behind the Racecourse, squealing with laughter as they compete and then hushing up as men approach.
These moments seem to perfectly capture in an instant that for an Indian woman to be physically uninhibited, or heaven forbid, physically confident in any way, is still unthinkable among large parts of our population.
As I looked for more women surreptitiously on the run, I found them. There were two housewives (different from the earlier ones) very seriously walking. Suddenly, one would break into a run and stop a hundred metres ahead while the other would run and 'catch up'. Two women in kaftans and sandals running only when they reached the farthest, most desolate point on the course. Some with their heads down, others looking sideways, some in a group, laughing, others alone and self conscious. But all of them running when the world wasn't looking their way. And you could feel the freedom on their faces. The simple act of unshackling their bodies into something dynamic, self propelling, independent.
Thirty summers later, this is the difference at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse. Women are running. One day, I will run alongside one of them and quietly urge her to run, not stop, run as fast as she likes, run till she feels the warm, wet wind of Bombay against her body. Run, unfurl, announce, and the rest of the world be damned. Run, run out, away, and above. That'll give the kites something else to think about.
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