Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Years ago, when I was in school, April-May was crucial.

In those months, depending on how efficient the government of the day was, tenth standard results got published in Kerala.

The top rank holders were prominently featured in the media. On the day of results, classmates were sieved to individuals. Marks asserted themselves as formidable sieve. The brilliant ones took science and math to be doctor or engineer, the near brilliant embraced commerce for eventual MBA or CA and the balance sought refuge in arts. It was a day or two of madness in which, academically brilliant teenagers were positioned as genius for eternity. They thanked their parents, grandparents and teachers – a neat little Oscar acceptance speech, which appeared in the media. The news reports were supposed to be ` inspiring.’ I was an average student. Tenth was for me, a pain. There was life before tenth and plenty of life after, yet the tenth-board exams were deemed decider of life. I was glad to get it over with, study arts and end up doing many things, among them – the occasional distance run. Unfortunately the long arm of our board exam-mindset, reaches out into running too. As we obsess with timing and performance for distinction, I sometimes wonder – how far should I run to escape the recurrent ghost of April-May? Then I realize it is my head that is the ghost’s home.

Here’s an edited abstract from Wikipedia on how the site describes running: Running is a method of terrestrial locomotion allowing humans and other animals to move rapidly on foot. Running is a type of gait characterized by an aerial phase in which all feet are above the ground (though there are exceptions). The term running can refer to any of a variety of speeds ranging from jogging to sprinting. It is assumed that the ancestors of mankind developed the ability to run for long distances about 2.6 million years ago, probably in order to hunt animals. Running has been described as the world’s most accessible sport. I chose Wikipedia because it was a mere click away. I am sure there are other sites and books that have explained it as well, perhaps better. They will all agree on a few things – most of us can run; running is very old in the history of our species. Over centuries of human evolution, it has also become a simple thing to do. Indeed the beauty of running is its simplicity. Even amid injury (as I am right now) and the realization that this seemingly simple activity has become a high impact sport thanks to contemporary lifestyle, one’s desire to get back to running is fueled by its perceived simplicity, not complexity. Running is widespread, simple, accessible and enjoyable. Unless that combination of our times – money, media and marketing – decides to keep it otherwise; a case of our own instincts and weaknesses packaged as industry, then returned to haunt the head.

Let’s not make a board exam of running.

Easier said than done?

I can hear the ghost laughing.

(The author Shyam G Menon is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)