FINDING QUIETUDE AT AMARSONS GARDEN
WORDS BY SHIVANI SHAH AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
I’m a peculiar kind of lazy person who loves running. I discovered this by accident when, many years ago, my friend Shyamal (of The City Story fame) and I decided we needed some exercise. We were both too lazy to go for walks on our own, so we became each other’s gym buddy for morning walks in the park. There was no gym involved, but the philosophy was the same – stop being lazy and take care of your health.
Three times a week we would wake up at 6:30 a.m., hoping the other had missed their alarm. We surprised each other – and ourselves – at how often we actually stuck to our plan. We would make our way to Amarsons Garden together and part ways once inside. We were accountable to one another to get to the park but to ourselves for getting a workout.
People who exercise in the mornings are respectful of one another. I imagine it’s because they appreciate that only those who are serious about their health would be crazy enough to be dressed and out of their homes at 7 a.m. It was no different here. Despite the many people, the park didn’t feel crowded. The unspoken motto appeared to be “live and let live”. It was refreshing to have privacy and personal space that Mumbai doesn’t often afford you.
I always chose the outer mud track over the inner paved track, not only because paved surfaces are bad for your knees but also because the park (and so the outer track) is by the sea. Granted, I couldn’t hear the waves over my music, but I loved the sea and its cool breeze. It was peaceful before I had to face the chaos of the day.
The unspoken motto appeared to be “live and let live”. It was refreshing to have privacy and personal space that Mumbai doesn’t often afford you.
I didn’t start running right away. I waited a good 20 minutes on the first day before breaking into a jog that turned into a run. The next day I could barely move. My muscles had gotten unprecedented exercise and were making their disapproval evident. How dare you go from being a couch potato to making us work so hard, they seemed to be screaming. But I was hooked.
Each time I went back to the park I ran a little more. I deftly overtook walkers, zig-zagging my way across the broad track to avoid bumping into them. I got some relief from the sun where the trees provided shade, yet I never failed to be happy to see the sea when I turned around the corner. I counted the rounds in my head, pushing myself to just make it to my marker – a little bump in the track by the sea. I pushed myself even harder. Just one more corner until you reach the benches, I thought. Then I’d run past the benches, because you need to cool down before you can stop, obviously. As the weeks and months went by, I slowly got better at running. I ran more easily and for longer. But that wasn’t the best thing to come out of those morning runs.
Runners will tell you the act of running is not mindless exercise. They're right. You have to be completely focused on the job at hand to avoid the dreaded stitch, shin splints (a lesson I learned painfully) and tripping over stray rocks. That focus, I soon learned, was my favourite part of the day. I had to concentrate on running, so I couldn’t think about how I was going to tackle my day at work or any personal problems I might have been having. The music playing through my headphones also helped clear my mind. You can’t really think much when you’re running to Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People.
My mind would be free of clutter by the time I’d slow my pace to end my run. All I could do was catch my breath and enjoy the calmness around me. I’d put my iPod down on a bench and stretch while looking at the vast sea. Several elderly gentlemen would sit right on the ledge and do pranayama. I could hear the waves now, and little else.
The little park was my refuge from daily life. It was where I spent my hour of “alone time”, where nothing in the world mattered except me, my runs and the sea. Sometimes Shyamal would join me later; sometimes he had finished before me and I would join him. We would sit and stare at the horizon, neither of us speaking until we were ready to go back into the real world. Two days later, we would be back. I would be ready to clear my mind all over again.
The writer has traded the park for the treadmill these days. She still recommends the sea breeze over air-conditioning.
Amarsons Garden, Opp. Bomanji Petit Marg, Breach Candy, Mumbai 400 026