Last Sunday I got up at 6 to take part in the Rotary Club Fun Run which was due to start at 6.45. (Stay with me, hopefully this'll get better) The flyer promised a goody bag worth 4000 rupees for all participants of the 8km race - carrot enough for me!
Mick had been up half the night watching rugby but was still up before me (now watching cricket) when I shuffled past to put the kettle on at 6.15. He is always ready before me - a source of great irritation to us both. I know what time it is, I know what time we have to leave and I cannot and will not be chivvied along.
We arrived at the meeting point at Lokhandwala at 6.40 to find a few hundred people milling about looking lost; a DJ blasting out 'Hotel California' to the point of distortion and the President of the Rotary Club urging everyone to form an orderly queue to register.
Both of us, tightly wound as we are, became instantly bad tempered at the lack of organisation. Why didn't people register earlier in the week as we had? Why do they always play 'Hotel California'?
The Rotary guy delivered the standard 'Women's Day' platitudes ("Womans is very important because without womans we would not be here!") and, rather scarily, warned runners to watch out for the traffic because "your life is more important than winning the race." (Hmm, I'll bear it in mind) Thanks for those pearls of wisdom but it's 7.15, can we start the race now?
No, we cannot. We must first warm up with some Zumba dancing led by a trio of exuberant teens who danced their legwarmers off in spite of the ear-splitting feedback from the sound system. I plonked myself down next to some elderly ladies in saris and trainers and took in the scene before me. There were girls from an orphanage in matching caps shaking their booties to the salsa beat. A man who must have been knocking on for 100 was waving his arms about and having a ball. It was 7.30 by this time and even though it was hotting up weather-wise and otherwise, Mick and I started to calm down a bit. So what if the race hadn't started yet? These people were having a blast. It was all very good-natured so why on earth were we getting so het up?
In true Indian style, just as it looked as though the race would never start, a steward came out of nowhere, released some balloons and we were off!
I guess a couple of hundred people took part in the 8km race with a couple of hundred more taking part in the 5km and 2.5km races which were for women only. As we ran head on into the early morning traffic, dodging rickshaws and buses, I watched several male runners slip off to relieve themselves at the side of the road (so long had we all waited for the race to start). Curious, I thought, especially as this was a race organised to celebrate 'Women's Day' that there should be no toilets for women (or anybody) en route. What was all that blather about respecting "womans" earlier on? Real change will only happen when details like this are not routinely overlooked.
Twenty-five minutes into the race, just as I was beginning to regret the cup of tea I'd had before I left the house, I saw the finish line and Mick sitting on the kerb rifling through his goody bag.
"What? Is it finished? No way was that 8km!"
"Yeah, I know, they got it wrong, it was actually 4.7km," he laughed.
The 4000 roop goody bag contained a packet of broken biscuits, some noodles and two multi-vitamin pills, along with money-off coupons for products and services I would never use. I started to explain to the official at the finish line that the course was not 8km as advertised but she just smiled and said "well-done, dear!" As far as she was concerned we were raising money and having fun and I guess that's all that matters.
An expat friend who left last year always used to say: "halve your expectations and then halve them again and you will never be disappointed." She was only here for a short time and, now I think about it, I don't actually agree with her. It's not a question of raising or lowering expectations, it's about realizing that everyone's expectations are so very different. What seems like chaos to us as foreigners, is often just good-natured fun to Indians. It's a question of acceptance and learning to go with the flow.
When I worked in West Africa years ago, a local man told me that you could always tell how long a foreigner had been in the country by how fast he was walking. Newbies fresh from the airport were practically sprinting everywhere but those who'd had time to drink in some of the local atmosphere were moving at a far more chilled pace. The trick is to adapt to your new environment and the sooner you do that, the more you will get from the experience.
So, for those of you who remember the Cadbury's Caramel ad, "Hey Mr Rabbit, why are you so twitchy? You just need to take everything really easy..."
P.S Thanks to Bombay Jules for the blog lessons this week. At last I can write in a font that you can't see from space!