Thursday, May 30, 2013


Sshhsshhhhh!” Silence, as thick as the heat of the night settled in as we followed in single file. Runner soled shoes walked along silently ahead of and behind me. But I walked with my eyes peeled to the ground for my feet clad in sandals were vulnerable to the attentions of the. Sawscaled viper. “Hemotoxic venom... If it bites your feet, the pain would be so bad you’d want to hack your foot off... But worse than that is the hideous disfigurement and you will definitely lose more than a half your toes..”, Mithun had said, “so remember to follow in my footsteps... Literally”

Ten of us picked our way along the brambles, streams and loose rock, each foot competing with nineteen others to see which would fall the lightest. I was with a group of wildlife enthusiasts who dedicated a fair share of their days to rescue wild animals that stray into human habitation. Like scalps hanging from the belt of a brave, these lads would trade tales of rescues with a hint of pride mixed with the satisfaction that only saving lives can bring. We were out hunting by the light of a full moon… hunting for a glimpse of a predator.

I had spent a long hot May afternoon looking for signs of life in the Sariska Tiger Reserve and as expected, I didn’t see too much. It was just too hot for anything to be about. Which is why common sense begs the question… why would the forest department insist on safari jeeps entering the park before four and exiting before six even in the white heat of summer? Anyway, what’s the point in charging at windmills, and so I set off on a foot safari with the wildlife rescuers I met in a canteen in the forest department’s office. Mithun Sharma, one of the lieutenants of the group joined me in my car, regaling me with his adventures with pythons, crocodiles and hyenas, as we headed off for a rivulet about 25 kilometres away that they said was famous for muggers, marsh crocodiles. Suddenly, the quiet group grew even quieter as our leader, a wildlifer and an old acquaintance, Chinmaya Macmaseey, raised his hand and strained to catch a sound. And then he pointed in the direction of a large body of still water… and then we all heard it. It sounded like a cricket’s drumming mixed with a frog’s croak.. “remember this sound… it is the sound of new life… baby crocodiles!”, whispered Mithun with a smile.

The croaks seemed to have stirred something deep within. We stood there listening for a fair while, trying to figure out how many of them there might be and then, as if on a silent command, five flashlights came out in unison. Powerful beams chased the sound and little halos lit up the lake. On cue, like new stars on the night sky, bright orange dots twinkled back at us from the surface of the lake… crocs. Excited, we all shuffled forward for a better look and tried to gauge the size of the reptiles from the gap between the eyes. “Th at one’s about nine feet at least” said one. “Sub-adult, six feet long I think”, said another. “Th at’s a big one…not an inch less than 12 feet”, said Chinmaya, pointing his flashlight at a pair of eyes gliding towards us. We moved back a few respectful feet and the eyes slowed to a stop. A slow restrained collective sigh escaped from our lips. Our hearts too slowed down with our breaths and that’s when Chinmaya said “I smell something…” He sniffed around like a hound on a hunt and Mithun followed… My nostrils were still full of the smell of slow water, algae and fish. I could see little fish fry wriggling between the beams of light. I switched off the light and tried to focus my energies on the odours floating around me. My senses dulled by smoke-filled cities seemed to be letting me down.

And then the wind changed. Like a pungent spear, the smell of death flooded my being. I turned and followed the stench. Chinmaya and Mithun were walking ahead of me. Their noses and their lights led us to a large bush where bluebottle flies were swirling like revelers at a rave. There was a big hole under the bush. Mithun and Chinmaya jumped in. The stench was overpowering my senses. But I was curious and if it wouldn’t kill Chinmaya and Mithun, it wouldn’t kill me either, I reasoned. The others stayed back but I jumped in after the duo. The wind changed and we lost the aroma for a while and then it came right back, with greater force… The light bounced off something black and caught our eye. We moved in towards the object, three streams of light trying to wrest the size and shape of death from the darkness. And then we saw it…. A large blue bull carcass! “Must be the 12 footer’s kill”, said Mithun. But then he examined the nilgai’s legs and realized it didn’t have the tell-tale bitemarks. I saw the carcass’ flanks and saw the skin lying like a flap over the ribs. All the organs and flesh had been eaten from the back. Th is looked like a big cat’s kill and I said so. The others nodded. The city slicker had earned the respect of the wild ones. Mithun and Chinmaya examined the neck and mouth. “A leopard!” they both concurred. Almost on cue, the sawing call of a leopard rent through the quiet of the night.

We clambered out of the hole and continued our walk along the banks of the stream, flashlights tucked away and just the warm glow of a full moon guiding our path. “Th is place is wild!” I exclaimed. Mithun fished out his phone and flicked the screen with his fingers till he came upon the picture folder. Close ups of large crocodiles basking in the sun; magnificent specimens clambering out of the water; large gaping jaws glinting in the sun; water birds, egrets, wooly necked storks, pied kingfishers…. Th is place was full of birdlife and crocs. “If you come here at dawn, you’ll see them all”, said Mithun. “I go and do my puja at dawn in a temple nearby and then I often come and sit here… It is beautiful”. And so much of wildlife, all right here… “Is this place protected?” I asked. Mithun smiled a wry smile and shook his head. “The authorities seem to be in denial. Th is place has more crocodiles than either the sanctuary or the much more well known Siliserh lake. But until now, no one has acknowledged or recognized the wealth in this buffer forest. We are right behind Silserh’s Lake Palace, and ideally this should be a protected zone but if you come here in the morning you will see empty beer cans, bottles of alcohol and plastic bags strewn around the place. People take their bikes and ride them right up to the banks.” But don’t the crocs attack encroachers, I wondered aloud. “Our crocs are like cows. They are as timid as our leopards are aggressive… such is the nature of Sariska”, said Chinmay. “Usually they just slink away at the slightest disturbance.”

“We have given a proposal for a reptile park in this area” added Mithun. “A venom bank and a tourist interpretation centre would help us sustain the facility. Most importantly, it will help enrich the area as we have been rescued animals in this zone. Sound biodiversity and protection from human encroachment will ensure the wildlife stays here and doesn’t wander into neighbouring villages and towns. More importantly, it will allow wildlife to breed and grow, for most species here are red lined on the endangered species list. But the authorities are worried about the fact that if they acknowledge the wealth of this are they will have to invest resources in protecting the area. They will have to be responsible and accountable. Going by past records, everyone in Sariska understandably enough shies away from extra responsibilities”.

“There’s a new management in place and we are very hopeful..”, added Chinmay. For the sake of these crusaders, for the sake of the snakes and those bitten by them, for the sake of the crocodiles and leopards and hyenas and all the bright and beautiful things they hunt and eat, I hope this ‘new management’ sees the light and looks at this little eden as an opportunity to redeem themselves instead of running away from an opportunity to wash away the past and build a new tomorrow. Sariska and the forests around it are blessed with riches that are still being unearthed. Every few years, a new species, considered extinct locally or never seen before announces itself to the world from the shadows of this forest. Who knows what other jewels lie hidden in this precious habitat. Chinmay, Mithun, Sariska’s wild ones and the beleaguered forest department… we need you all to put your shoulders together for this one and keep our natural heritage from slipping through our eager fingers. So more power and synergy to you...


Thursday, May 23, 2013


Imagine.. A ledge, high, very high, more than three miles high above the waters of the nearest sea... High above the clouds, where shards of ice fly like witches on brooms in winds that howl like banshees and where snowy glaciers still carve out morraines like they have since time began... Looking down on all of creation, from the roof of the world sits that ledge...

And on that frozen ledge sits a man.. the high winds and the sun have carved their own story on his craggy features. He sits with his eyes closed and his long dark hair piled into an untidy mop on his head. Now imagine that on in those frigid and giddy heights, he sits naked in the snow, wrapped in a coarse blanket. But that blanket does not keep him warm for it has been dunked in the icy waters of nearby river. To wrap that blanket around one’s body is to feel the cold congeal into a blade that seems to saw through bone... through every bone. But if you are there already and can see him there on that cliff then you must also see the steam rising from the blanket that covers the man’s body... You stare in amazement as the steam rises like mist from a river. You wonder what fire burns in this man’s core that can dry a blanket like it was wrapped around not flesh and blood but an industrial oven.

Most of us would have died of hypothermia while the frost bit through our extremities. But here this man sat on his seat on the crag, calm and serene while ice turned to smoke all around him. Is that a miracle, you ask. And answer is it is not, for there are many monks that wander in the frigid wastes of the Himalayas, both in India and in Tibet, who are adepts at the art of raising a fiery storm through their yogic powers that would keep them warm on the coldest nights. This drying of a wet cold blanket is almost a rite of passage for yogis and monks across many orders. The Tibetans call it ‘tumo breathing’ and some Western explorers have learnt this art too.

It is said that Alexandra David-Neel, one of the first Western women to travel to Tibet in the early 1900s, learnt this ancient technique of generating internal heat from the monks. During her 12 years in Tibet, Alexandra found many opportunities to be grateful to those from whom she had learnt this art for without it, she too might have perished in cold vastness of Tibet’s passes where many explorers, unable to meet the harsh demands of this beautiful yet unforgiving landscape, have given up and left to meet their maker. Alexandra David-Neel’s accounts of her journeys to the roof of the world are replete with accounts of yogic masters performing miracles every day. I came across these accounts while digging up stories to validate the claims made by the subject from last week’s column – The five Tibetan rites of rejuvenation.

Another miraculous feat that these monks from the mountains seem to have mastered is the art of ‘lum-gom’ trance walking. Trance walkers have trained their bodies to cover long distances in effortless leaps. Explorers to the Tibetan plateau, even Western scientific research teams have claimed that they have seen these yogis bounding across the rugged mountains in long leaps in a manner that seemed to suggest that they were floating through the air. Both ‘tumo’ and ‘lum gom’ are techniques that are taught in monasteries on the high passes. They involve special breathing and visualization techniques. And unlike stories of masters from other cultures, these miracles aren’t restricted to a few individuals and are relatively common across different sects.

Perhaps the most popular legends that have floated out of these secretive mountains that kept Tibet secluded from the rest of the world have been tales of amazing longevity. At a 100, it is said these masters have merely entered their youth. Early explorers to Tibet have claimed that they have met masters who been around for more than 200 years. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many gerontologists who have studied these yogis but if you were to look to go to places like Dharamshala and meet the oldest lamas who have made India their home, you will see 80 year olds walking up the steep mountain trails with the kind of vigour that would do men half their age proud. They may not live well beyond the ‘usual 100s’ but these Tibetan yogis definitely live their years well. I don’t know if it’s the mountain air, their Spartan lifestyle or their yogic practices that give them this youthful constitution, but whatever it is, it really works.

But these are miracles I have only read about or heard. Except for the rather fit octogenarian lamas I came across in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj, there isn’t much I can personally vouch for. But there is one miracle that this Tibetan meditative life path has given ample evidence of to all who chose to ask and it is this…

When the Chinese army invaded Tibet in 1949, it did what invading armies do. Resistance was crushed. Defenseless monks were tortured and killed and a cultural and religious purge was followed by attempts at Hanification of Tibet. More than a million people lost their lives, perhaps brutally. Every Tibetan home would have lost a loved one or more. Tibet should be a country seething with anger.

And yet, every Tibetan I have met in my travels has spoken of the Chinese invaders with a degree of compassion. Some have said that they hold no ill feelings towards the Chinese even though they suffered at the hands of the invaders. Some lost loved ones, others lost homes and livelihoods. And yet they feel that they had earned this suffering through their actions in another life. The Chinese were mere puppets in the hands of their own karmic fruits. In a film about the yogis of Tibet, I saw a young monk admit that he felt a degree of anger and resentment towards the Chinese. His family had suffered unspeakable atrocities and had seen libraries and monasteries destroyed. But then, the monk added that (unlike his elders) he perhaps felt this anger because he hadn’t progressed enough in his practice.

In an interview in the same film, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, recounts this story about a monk who had been jailed and tortured by the Chinese. After his release, the monk escaped into India where he met His Holiness. One day, the Dalai Lama asked him about his time in prison and the monk replied that there were times when he felt that ‘he was indeed in danger…’. And when His Holiness asked about the nature of this danger’, the monk replied that at times while he was being tortured, he was indeed in danger of losing compassion for the Chinese

I had met the Dalai Lama for an interview about two years ago. And the words that I still remember from that day were in response to a question about what should one’s response be to an oppressor, be it a nation or an individual like let’s say, an Osama or a Hitler? The Dalai Lama had just smiled and said we should remember that it is the oppressor who needs compassion far more than the oppressed because while the latter has already endured a karmic cycle, the former has only begun to sow the seeds of his sins.

And this approach of treating one’s enemy like a teacher and forgiving him or her all his sins is perhaps the greatest miracle that has emerged from those passes in the mountains. Heat that vaporizes ice, leaping across miles or living a very long life might all be miracles worth chasing.

But can anything compare with the power of resolute compassion when it comes to making this world a better place? Imagine how much more beautiful the world could have been if every individual or community that today feels oppressed or persecuted, instead of picking up arms or hurling bombs had instead chosen to practice heartfelt compassion instead. And also imagine how much more hellish our world would have become if even the Tibetans had chosen the path of sustained and indiscriminate violence to hit back against those that have persecuted them.

I have tried this path and it seems infinitely more challenging than it might be to try and learn how to dry wet blankets. My compassion is fickle but it grows a little stronger every day, and I believe I become a little better every day. On our own on this path, we may stumble and fall, but if those we know and love share this quest and are with us when we get tripped by pain and ego, maybe they’ll hold our hands and help us find our feet… and then indeed, a miracle may not be beyond us.


Thursday, May 16, 2013


Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth! With a title like that, Peter Keldar’s little treatise was bound to find success on the publishing charts, over and over again. Written in 1939, Keldar’s little gem has since spawned hundreds of editions, translations, versions, workshops in spas and health centres, discussion forums and YouTube videos. But a question still lingers… Does this fountain really quench one’s thirst for everlasting youth?

Peter Keldar’s book was based on the adventures of Colonel Bradford, a retired British army officer. Apparently, Bradford’s constitution had been ravaged by the excesses of his demanding profession. Old before his time, the balding, stooping grey haired colonel chanced upon Keldar on a park bench. The colonel and Keldar strike up a conversation and thus began an enduring friendship.

On one of their afternoons together, Bradford mentions that during his time in India, he had heard of a monastery in the Himalayas where bubbles the fountain of youth. Keldar had dismissed it then as one amongst many legends that the colonel had picked up during his travels in distant lands. But one day the colonel returns with a map and an invitation – Would Keldar want to accompany him on his search for this fountain of youth? He has a map that he believes could take him there…

Though tempted, Keldar refuses, citing professional engagements that wouldn’t allow him to run off on what could well be a long and fruitless wild goose chase.

Years pass until Keldar receives a missive from the colonel claiming success in his mission. When they meet , Keldar finds it nearly impossible to believe that the tall and robust young man with a head full of thick dark hair standing in front of him is indeed the once old colonel.

Gradually, the colonel reveals that the fountain he found was in fact a set of five exercises practiced by monks in a monastery hidden in the high passes along the Indo-Tibet border.

I first came across these exercises, now called the Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation, or simply the Five Tibetans in a book by Christopher Kilham. I tried them out, and even wrote a column about them. A few years later, I met Manfred Miethe in Interlaken, Switzerland. Manfred is a Tibetan yoga teacher and he was kind enough to teach me the finer points of the rites and the breath work associated with these techniques. Before meeting Manfred, I had practiced these moves with enormous amounts of optimism but had little evidence of the miraculous benefits of age reversal promised by Keldar and hinted at by Kilham in their books. But Manfred was amongst the fittest and happiest 60 year olds you could ever hope to find. So I assumed that there was bound to be some truth to all the enthusiastic reviews that Keldar’s book had generated.

But I still wondered… If these five rites were so effective, where was Colonel Bradford now? And what about Peter Keldar? Is he still around? Has the fountain of youth drenched his mortal form with its elixir too? What about all those people who have been practicing these five rites? Where are their testimonials?

And at times I would wonder… are the five rites an imaginative hoax? But then I would push the thought aside and continue to practice. I have been reasonably fit for years now because of a consistent yoga and martial arts practice and when I added the five rites to my regimen, I couldn’t really tell if they helped me feel even better. And I’m in my thirties now, so I believed it was too early to be celebrating the reversal of the ageing process. Time would tell, I thought. Anyway, these rites only took about 15 minutes to complete and they couldn’t possibly do me any harm. At the very least, they were a good warm up for my yoga workouts.

But last week, in a little book shop in Delhi, I happened to spy a spine that said ‘Ancient Fountain of Youth – Book 2’. And in those pages I found my answers and a reassurance that indeed these rites were truly potent movements that could turn back the clock.

On two occasions, I have used this platform to encourage readers to start practicing the five rites. I had held back my doubts from leaking into print then because I am a great believer in the potential of possibilities. But with this book, I can safely urge you to banish your doubts as I have banished mine. Reader after reader has written back to the publishers about how these five rites have firmed up sagging muscles, energized tired and ageing bodies, brushed away wrinkles and restored hairlines to their original glory. The list of age defying miracles goes on… some claim it has improved dimming vision, while others have found relief from debilitating arthritic pain. Memories and life spans have been lengthened and a general sense of youthfulness and well being has touched nearly every body that has tinkered with the Five Tibetans.

So if the fruits are all you care about go on to YouTube and check out the five rites. They are simple to understand, easy to learn and take very little time. And if you want to understand why this extremely efficient system works as well as it does - the energy vortexes called chakras and how each rite optimizes their vibrations, the dietary principles that enhance the rejuvenating effect of these rites and the historical and cultural traditions which aided the evolution of the Five Tibetans, then all you need to do is pick up the book from a local or online bookstore.

But whatever you do, don’t let a day go by without the Five Tibetans doing their bit to keep you soaked in the fountain of youth.


Thursday, May 9, 2013


I don’t know how Hussey is faring right now. Baba won our little battle, and so I’m twiddling my thumbs while I watch “Maa”. But the mind wanders and wonders how Mr. Cricket’s holding up against Steyn. Am I missing out on the best battle this IPL, or is the Dale versus Gayle battle better? Or is it Sunil Narine who poses the greatest challenge for the batting behemoth from Jamaica?

A quick look at the scores during commercial breaks suggests that for a change, a visiting team has run away with the initiative in the early overs. In the Sunrisers dugout sits the legendary Waqar Younis who’d be wishing he could have run in and had a bit of a bowl himself . One thinks he could have had the guys in yellow looking paler than their shirts when on song. Or would these modern giants have taken him on and apart in this new format?

While I waited for the soap to burst its bubbles, an engaging idea kept me entertained – What if you were an IPL team owner and could put together the best ever T20 team that your fantasies could buy? Don’t worry about the money or the era. Just the best eleven to have ever played the game to take on the Indian Premier League…

So here it is, my dream team…

Who should I pick to give the innings an explosive start? Should it be the swashbuckling Victor Trumper or the destructive Gordon Greenidge? The great Arthur Morris or bludgeoners like Mathew Hayden, Virender Sehwag or Sanath Jayasuriya? Tempting names all, but how does one get around the colossal figure of Christopher Henry Gayle? This man tees off on the pitch like a golfer practicing with the ‘big dog’. For sheer entertainment value and the ability to smash the new ball out of the park almost at will, this man reigns supreme in the history of the game. It’s only fair that he gets picked first.

To partner Gayle, and give the innings a sense of solidity on seaming wickets, the team needs an orthodox opener who can play his strokes against the best in the business. Mike Hussey has just played a blinder against Steyn and co. But is he even a contender? No, not with names like the great Barry Richards and Brian Lara being available for that position. And while most experts would say that it is sacrilegious to look past the man who hit 300 runs in a day against an attack that included Dennis Lillee and ‘Garth’ Mckenzie, how can you not pick the greatest batsman of our times, the one and only Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

On the odd occasion that a bowler does get past one of the two openers, can there be a more demoralizing sight for the opposition than to see the greatest batsman to ever walk on a cricket field? Sir Donald Bradman wasn’t much of a six hitter but you can count on his bat peppering the boundary boards with laser like precision strokes, slicing the field-setting to bits like a paper shredder with a mission.

The man to follow in the wake of The Don, the greatest Test batsman in the history of the game according to the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac, would have to be the greatest One Day batsman of all time according to Wisden – the imperious Vivian Richards. I can imagine the opposition quaking in their boots as they see the gum chewing original ‘Master Blaster’ walk out to bat after the havoc wrought by his predecessors.

And in the last few overs of the game, we need a man who can hit sixes, preferably six of them in an over. There are three names that come to mind. It would be nice if this cricketer could also hold his own as a bowler, left arm orthodox, would be nice, just to mix it up and add variety to the attack. Again, the same three names come to mind. Come on, who are we kidding. Great though they be, neither Yuvraj Singh and Ravi Shastri, nor any other cricketer in flannels can hold a candle to the greatest of them all, the phenomenal Sir Garfield St Auburn Sobers.

Spare a thought for the cheerleaders here. The dizzying mayhem that this team will unleash will have them calling out the medics more often than the players on the field.

The above few names have been no contests really. But the next category, that of a bowling all-rounder is being hotly contested between some of the greatest names in history. Here, we have the aristocratic presence of Imran Khan competing with the astute intelligence of that Bradman amongst bowlers, the impeccable Sir Richard Hadlee. And then there is the left arm wizard, the great Wasim Akram. But they all will have to make way for the man they called ‘Nugget - the golden boy of cricket’. Keith Ross Miller, the man who the crowds loved to watch, and whose name would sell more tickets than even the great Don’s, was an allrounder who could destroy the opposition singlehandedly, with bat or ball. He would bat like a knight at a joust and bowl fiendishly fast, medium or ridiculously slow, but always chasing wickets. Statistically, as an all-rounder, Miller edges out all the others except for Imran Khan with whom he is neck and neck in the cricketing as well as the good looks stakes. But for his sheer explosiveness with the bat, ingenious use of ‘change of pace’ - a concept way ahead of its time in the 1940s and sheer flamboyance and gallant bravado on the field – a quality worth its weight in gold in the era of franchise cricket, it is Miller who makes the cut.

It’s between Adam Gilchrist and Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the wicketkeeper’s spot and the latter wins it with a much better batting average in ODI cricket.

At number eight, the incredibly accurate medium-paced finger spinner Derek Underwood makes a strong case for himself but with a proven track record in the IPL, and as the man who bowled the ‘ball of the century’, Shane Warne’s magical variety and cricketing acumen would have to hold sway.

The next one’s perhaps the toughest pick of them all. Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshall, Ray Lindwall, Harold Larwood and Freddie Trueman… they all are masters of the art of hurling the wrecking ball. The battering ram of the team would need to be fast, and a master of swing and seam and subtle changes of pace. All these past masters have it all but the one man who is an acknowledged all time great in the middle of his playing career, the man who is respected so much by batsmen, that even on a flat wicket against a team that scored 223 runs in 20 overs, he started with a maiden and gave away just three runs in three overs and was unlucky not have gotten a wicket – take a bow Dale Steyn. With the best strike rate in the history of the game, and with more than 300 Test wickets already in the bag, Dale Steyn is the best there’s ever been.

And who should partner Dale? Should it be Lasith Malinga with his toe crushing yorkers? Or would the metronomic Glenn McGrath or Joel Garner be a better bet. Well, since the only way to restrict the opposition in T20 cricket is to take wickets, you’ve got to go with strike rates. And here, Dale is in a league of his own with only his Sunrisers coach, the original sultan of swing, Waqar Younis Maitla for company. Behold the beads of cold sweat, as the opposition batsmen shudder in their dugout.

And if a batsmen or two were to survive the hissing spitting vipers conjured up by Warne, or the magical motley from Sobers and Miller, and howsoever unlikely, but even survived the red-hot scorchers from Steyn and Waqar, then there’s the mysterious Sunil Narine and the spell of subtle variations he casts on his victims. Admittedly, Narine’s international career has only just begun but with two astounding seasons in the League, he has proven his claim in this all time IPL list ahead of others like Jim Laker, Lance Gibbs and Muttiah Muralitharan.

Don Bradman, who captained ‘The Invincibles’, will also be saddled with the responsibility of captaining this dream team. Sir Frank Worrell, the man who galvanized a bunch of talented cricketers from different island-nations into one team and was himself a great ambassador for the game, would be appointed coach. And who else but the inimitable Jonty Rhodes for twelft h man.

Next time the remote is too remote, let me see you come up with a dream team that can go up against this one without getting its donkeys whipped to various shades of black and blue.


Thursday, May 2, 2013


He sat by the tracks and felt the line come to life. The rail road quivered, excitedly. And in his little toes, he felt the same excitement as the distant rumble rolled closer. He put down the diary in which he was giving words to his angry tears and got to his feet. The ballast poked and pricked at his bare feet but he couldn’t feel any of it.

The green engine loomed into view, and charged towards the boy like a ravenous monster gobbling up the horizon. The boy, turned and looked at the train, and from the fire in his eyes, you could tell he had been waiting… for this day, and for this train.

The train too seemed to know its nemesis. As it came closer, it picked up speed, as if sure of victory. The boy though was tired… tired of being picked on… picked on for being too scared, too fat, too slow, too dull and for being too black. He swore it would all end today.

The train drew near and was nearly upon the boy when those bare feet struggled against the ballast and propelled his tiny form forward. The diary, the stubby pencil and all that remained of his inhibitions were flung into the bluebells by the tracks as his arms carved the air like a buccaneer waving twin cutlasses. The train thundered past the boy as he turned his head from side to side in a desperate attempt to pick up speed. Blur against blur tore through the country side. The train was crashing towards the opposite horizon but the boy had an old oak standing in his path. As the oak drew near, the boy calves beat down on the dirt like pistons, his nostrils flared and eyes narrowed as he drew level with the train. For a frozen moment, engine and boy were locked in a frame, and then the boy inched ahead. The boy’s head turned as he pulled away and the fierce eyes took in the victory. In that moment, the boy returned to those eyes and as he sprinted past the oak, he broke into a wide grin. It was his fi rst victory but it wouldn’t be his last.

The train would lose many more times, and years later, still fuelled by the hurt and anger that burnt up a childhood, Herschel Walker would trample down defensive line-men like a rogue bull-elephant crashing through a brittle bamboo fence. As a shy and timid child in racially charged Georgia of the 70s, he was often beaten up by white kids. He had a speech impediment and was ridiculed for it by both students and teachers. He was too fat and slow to be any good at sports.

Then one day, he started racing the train. He raced and raced till his legs hurt and his lungs burned and the day he won, he refused to ever feel fear again. While watching television, he started doing pushups during commercials. And he ended up doing thousands of them. Pushups, sit-ups, dips, hundreds even a thousand, each day. And he ran. He even tied a rope to a tyre and pulled it as he ran. Young Herschel came from a poor family, and his school had no gymnasium to speak of. He was un-athletic and weak. But he let none of it get in his way. Within a couple of years, Herschel had become one of the quickest and strongest boys in school. No one picked on him now. But they did pick him for the football team. And college football in the United States, just so you know, is perhaps the pinnacle of amateur sports. The stands are always full and the best players are the biggest celebrities in the state.

Years later Herschel had said that he did not hold anything against the white boys who had heckled him, nor for the racist slurs or the constant taunting, for he said he realized that they are the ones who had problems. And they just took out their problems on weak and meek little Herschel. But it is they who fuelled the fire that forged Herschel Walker as we know him today. When he talks about them now, Herschel almost sounds grateful.

But those days in school, Herschel took out all that repressed anger in the football field. He was just too fast and too strong for the opposition. Colleges queued up for him and at the University of Georgia, Herschel found immortality. He became the biggest name in college football history and broke records and bones each year to win the Sugar Bowl for his college and the Heisman trophy for himself. And while playing football like a pro, the ‘stupid black kid’ had also studied hard and smart to become a valedictorian.

The freight trains he raced as a child had come back to haunt those who stood in his way, for Walker would charge through line ups like his old racing partner.

Though a Hall of Famer Herschel didn’t quite win the same honours in the senior NFL (National Football League). That wasn’t because of Herschel’s lack of trying though. He still continued to break records as a running back. But the teams he played for just weren’t good enough those years to make good on Walker’s enormous talents. In 1997, Herschel Walker retired from football. Some would say his career did not attain the stratospheric heights his talent and power truly deserved. But Herschel would tell you that he soared further and higher than he or anybody else ever thought that timid little kid would go.

But why am I wasting your time over a retired football player? And that too the kind of football we neither play nor watch. Well, that’s because a few days ago, while preparing for a local martial arts tournament, I went to YouTube looking for videos of Fedor Emelianenko (for the sacrilegious few who don’t know who that is, Fedor is the Muhammad Ali of mixed martial arts -MMA) for inspiration. And there I ran into videos of a 50 year old Walker who had now started competing in MMA, fighting fighters half his age and winning.

Look around you. That man is in mindboggling shape at 50, far ahead of where most of us have ever been or will be, and therein simmers the purpose of this tale.

Herschel Walker doesn’t go to a gym. He doesn’t eat any fancy foods. In fact he just eats once a day. While in college he was too busy working, playing, studying and training to think about eating, and so the habit stuck. He might have a fruit or some water through the day but at night, around 8 or 9 pm, he has soup and salads and a little something to eat, but not very much. And no red meat… in fact not much meat at all. Incidentally, even our ancient yogis recommend eating just once a day.

And as for exercise, Herschel still cranks out 1500 to 5000 push ups and sit ups every day. And some handstand push ups to wrap things up. Then he runs, sometimes with a tyre, like he used to all those years ago. And he wraps it all up in the wee hours of the morning.

Herschel doesn’t just look young. He fights like a young man too. Herschel’s cardiovascular fitness would rank higher than most athletes half his age, or for that matter, any age. That man seems to have the fountain of youth burbling inside him and all you just read seems to be all you need to do.

Strength, especially in the upper body, usually is the last to go. Which is why most of us who have gently crept past our mid 30s and are living out our lives doing little more than swiveling in a chair never find out how unfit we have become till we have to run a few paces in an emergency. Panting for breath, we resolve to renew that gym membership, but unfortunately that’s all we do – renew the membership, not our lives.

But Herschel’s life tells you that you have no excuses. That no matter how ugly the start today, there’s a gorgeous swan flapping its wings inside us, waiting to soar... All we need to do is build a little will and take off from our perch.

You could be old or fat, slow and dull, poor or rich and you could be busy as a bee. But if you can watch television, you can exercise. Just keep cranking out the numbers while the commercials are on, and don’t you dare cheat or take it easy.

And if you can afford just one meal a day, you can still be in Tshape and strong. Just don’t make space for excuses, because if tough little Herschel didn’t make any, neither should you. (And no, not having a train to run with doesn’t count. You have a watch.. so race the clock…)