On the evening of January 15th, a person of medium height, athletic build and younger in appearance than his 60 years on the planet, got off a long distance train at Mumbai’s Kurla Terminus.
Hailing from a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he spent the night with village brethren staying in Sakinaka, a north Mumbai suburb. Next morning he made his way to South Mumbai where he collected his bib for the 2016 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). The following morning – early morning to be precise – SCMM’s full marathon was scheduled to commence from Azad Maidan near South Mumbai’s CST railway station. He had a title to defend and zero appetite for any potential vagaries in transport, should he attempt reaching the marathon venue from Sakinaka in the early hours of 17th. He asked around at the bib collection centre if there was some means to stay overnight at the venue or be accommodated close by. He was told there were no such arrangements for his category of runner. He returned to Sakinaka, picked up what he required and by evening, arrived at CST.
Sabhajeet Yadav then did what he had done before on some of his visits to Mumbai for SCMM – he slept at the railway station. On the night of 16th, as he spread out a bed sheet on the station floor he wasn’t the only runner doing so at CST. “ There were others,’’ he said. Most of them were like Sabhajeet, outstation runners finding hotel rooms an expensive proposition. Unlike those attempting sleep on its premises, a busy railway station never goes to sleep. “ I barely managed to sleep an hour. You are disturbed by people moving here and there. The police also kept waking us up,’’ he said. Early morning on the 17th, it was from CST that Sabhajeet reported for the SCMM full marathon. Three hours, 22 minutes and 30 seconds after he started his full marathon run, the farmer from Dabhiya finished first in his age category for a fifth time at SCMM (for more on Sabhajeet please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/a-farmers-dream/). He didn’t know right then that he had won. That was told him later in the afternoon by Bhasker Desai, the Mumbai-based businessman and runner who has helped Sabhajeet with event selection, registration and other details, for some years now.
Morning of January 19th; we were back at the cafeteria in Kurla Terminus. Sabhajeet’s return ticket on the Chhapra Express wasn’t confirmed yet and there were those passenger lists to check on the platform. But a chat on running couldn’t wait. Three cups of tea and a small snack quickly had, marked the minutes ticking by. “ This time the run went off smoothly. It was a very good run. I did not feel the distance at all. Only thing is I have been running a lot in the last few months. Perhaps if I had rested some more in between, my timing would have been better,’’ Sabhajeet said. As yet, his personal best was 3:15:38 at the 2014 Bengaluru (Bangalore) Marathon. All the same he was on the lookout for a couple of more races to run before the running calendar tapers off into the dead heat of the Indian summer. Then there was this brochure he was curious about – the Endurathon 54, due in February in Dadra & Nager Haveli. Sabhajeet had never run beyond a full marathon distance and 54 km was outside the marathon limit but not terribly so. It was eating his curiosity.
With a train to catch and a ticket to confirm before that, conversation had to be kept short. He rushed off to the platform while we rushed off for platform tickets. Minutes later, he phoned, “ S1, seat number 41.’’ It was a window seat; we found him there, in a crowded train with four people seated on most of the lower berths. “ I told the ticket examiner that I had come to Mumbai to run the marathon. He immediately marked me this seat,’’ Sabhajeet said. Some more conversation and then we took leave; until next time.
(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)