Monday, March 30, 2009

the race

After 6 days of purging food poisoning by ingesting only water, bottled juice, soup, crackers, and bread, I felt OK enough to go running this morning in Jodhpur.  I started off at 8:30am.  It felt about 70F, which is cool enough to feel quite pleasant, especially as compared to the normal wilting heat here in the afternoon.  (And this is spring, not even summer where we're told it reaches a temperature in celsius that was off our internal celsius fahrenheit conversion chart.)

There weren't that many people out and the streets by our hotel were wider than in many places, so it also felt more open and relaxed than as usual in Indian cities.  The streets of Jodphur also feel much cleaner, possibly because there seemed to be fewer animals wandering around.  There were, however, still just enough cows, goats, and dogs to leave presents on the street in order to keep things interesting.  In India they don't need petting zoos for their children, which in some ways is very nice, except for the ever-present poop.

I ran by a big dusty open field where two impromptu cricket matches were being played simultaneously by rifle-thin men.  Despite the heat that was leaving me covered in sweat, they wore nice pants and collared shirts while batting and sprinting around in the dust.  

A little while later I was running on the dusty shoulder on the left, with traffic (Indians drive on the left), and I noticed that to my right (in the street) and slightly behind me I could hear the constant low throttle putter of a motorcycle.  It was staying with me, rather than passing.  It would be flattery to say I am fleet, and in any case I am obviously not fleet enough to really be faster than a motorcycle.  It was apparent that I had company.

This has been a fairly common occurrence in both India and China, usually with motorcycles and sometimes bicycles.  (I occasionally outrun the slower bicyclists, to my satisfaction.)  My interpretation is they simply want to either watch me out of curiosity, and possibly want to know how fast I am going.  There is probably also satisfaction in observing the amount of effort going into my running, while they coast along easily.  It affirms their superior choice of transportion over that of the crazy westerner.

In this instance, I decided to at least put on a good show for the motorcyclist.  Acting like I didn't know he was following me, I refused to look behind me to recognize him and increased my pace to a near sprint.  I coasted along for a couple minutes in the heat, building up a good rhythm of breathing, harmonized with the putter of his low cc engine.  Finally, satisified or bored, he throttled up the motorbike and jumped past me.  At this moment I looked up to glance at the driver.

Helmetless with black hair flowing backward in the wind, the driver was a 12 year old boy.  Although his posture on the motorcycle was convincingly adult and professional, he grinned at me with the wide malice-less, almond-eyed smile that all Indian children seem to have.  Smiles like that are impossible to resist so despite my effort at running I instantly grinned back.  Thankfully, he turned back to watch the road, but as the motorcycle finished passing alongside me I was doubly rewarded with the nearly identical, except for more babyfat, grin of his kid brother.  He was no more than 8 or 9 years old and was perched on the back of the motorcycle behind the juvenile driver.  The younger brother continued to smile as the motorcycle sped off down the street.

(We've seen a number of kids driving motorcycles here.  Our driver assures us it's illegal, but that if the police caught the kids they would at most only go yell at the parents.  There are at first many things on Indian roads that give us a double-take, but you quickly no longer even notice them unless you're paying close attention:  a woman in a beautiful sari walking along the road dragging a moping small child behind her in one hand and carrying a massive pickaxe in the other hand, a man rolling like a log along on the road surface to a temple out of devotion, the presence of large quantities of every variety of domesticated animal often directly on the road, carts carrying loads of straw that look impossibly 4 or 5 times the actual size of the cart, wagons hitched up to camels, cars nonchalantly going the wrong way down a multi-lane highway, etc.)

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