Friday 13 April 2012

Walk in the park

I was staying with a friend in GK 2 and went for my usual morning walk. Nestled among groups of homes, GK2 has small parks where people come to walk, jog, do yoga and enjoy the nature. The path is narrow, can hold barely two people walking together leaving no room for anyone else to pass. I went there early enough that there weren’t too many people.  There was a tall, bearded man walking in front of me and a couple of ladies far behind. The man and I were walking at almost the same pace. With him a few steps ahead of me, we had a comfortable  distance between us making it easy for us to share the same path. In the next round, I saw this man who was walking at a fast pace earlier, walk at a very slow pace giving company to an old sardar man. In a pair of beige shorts, stripe shirt, pagdi and a walking stick, the old man was frail and yet fit. Somehow, there was a dignity in his slightly hunched back and strength in his shuffling feet. They were so slow that I had to ask them to excuse me to pass them.  As there was no room to pass, both men stepped aside letting me pass and I touched the old man gently on his hand apologizing.

That slight touch on the wrinkled skin and the grin on the man’s face as he said “it’s ok” suddenly transported me back in time to when my dad visited me in Portland, Oregon. I was training for the Portland Marathon and had to run at least for an hour each day as part of training. My dad was visiting me and wanted to come on the morning runs with me.  He would walk slowly … much like the older gentleman in the park for a while and retrace his steps back to the car and would wait in the car reading the morning paper or writing his diary. I had a tight schedule and had only that limited time in the morning to run and I had to cram as much into it as possible. It was this kind of focus that got me through the training, a tough work schedule and prepared me for the marathon. I would often feel bad that he had to sit in the car for so long till I got back. I would ask him to walk close by to our home so that he could relax at home till I got back. He said that he did not mind it and I did not push it too much either. 

As I passed the older gentleman and the younger man who is walking at a much slower pace now, I thought of my father and wondered if I should have slowed down a bit and walked with him. I always knew but did not want to acknowledge  - that my father accompanied me at every opportunity often at great lengths of discomfort to him just to maximize his time with me.   So, was it OK for me to speed or should I have been more like this young man who was sacrificing his own cardio vascular workout to walk with an older man?

In India, most often, the children adjust to the adult’s pace. I see youngsters choosing careers they hate because their parents asked them to do so, marrying partners they do not even know because they trust their parents’ choice, giving up on the privacy as they choose to be part of joint families. And in U.S, we were taught to be totally self reliant, make choices and bear the consequences. We expected out parents to keep their own pace while we kept ours.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
And in each case, the pay offs are huge in their own way. It is because of that focus that I had, I could train for a marathon, succeed at a very demanding job and spend some time with my dad. That focus allowed me to have the monetary flexibility to have my father come to America, travel around the country seeing places that he always wanted to see and enjoy being with me. It allowed me to grow and learn in ways I never imagined.  It allowed me to take risks, fail, get up again and succeed through my failures.

In India, because of the family support that is available in a joint family, one does not have to worry about child rearing, house hold work etc.,  I have seen people who have set aside their personal passion and followed the family business to grow it bigger and then return to pursue their passion later in life.  In each case, the rules are clear and the consequences are well mapped.

It is when we try to translate each culture from the lens of the other culture that the meaning goes awry. And I have a curious split personality that can demonstrate this point.

If I see myself speeding around while letting my dad saunter slowly, I feel terrible.  I feel as though I was a heartless person. But then, I had to earn money to support myself, drive, cook, clean, shop for groceries, do the laundry, take the clothes for dry cleaning, take the car for a wash, oil change, maintenance and keep some time for my personal passions, be it running or rock climbing or river rafting or reading. Since athletics did not come naturally to me, I had to give it a lot more time than an average American colleague of mine .. just to keep pace, let alone win any race. And that WAS the right thing to at that time. And my father knew this. Since he went to school in America, he knew the pace, the demands and he adjusted to my pace allowing me to succeed.

When I see the young man in the park walking slowly with the old man, I could get irritated with the slow pace, of the hindrance to others who may be walking faster; I could feel sorry for the young man because the effect of his cardiovascular exercise has considerably reduced because he had to walk with the old man. And IF I did not see the fast pace of the young man earlier, there is even a danger of me assuming that all Indians are slow, young or old.  If I did not understand that this was a choice that the young man was making out of his own will, I could even assume that this is a repressive country, which makes people do things that they don’t really want to do.   

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to experience both cultures so that I organized my life to fit a marathon and yet spent time with my dad when he was in the hospital, when he needed me most. I learnt how to keep personal priorities aside to achieve goals at hand and I also learnt how to slow down while. And most importantly, I learnt not to judge from my own personal lens but make the best of both cultures who have a great deal to offer. One of the parting advices my dad gave was never to be guilty of any past actions. He said that no matter what I did, he always knew that I loved him. Even when I left him behind on the trail, he was always with me and he knew it.


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