The long shadows of evening slowly swallowed the green turf as a lonely figure continued to jog along the ropes of the boundary He was breathing heavily, sweat flowing freely like a river in spate and the muscles breaking under the unforgiving pain. But he continued in his strides till someone came and stopped him telling him he had completed 21 laps of the Eden Gardens.
There was still fire in his eyes as he bent over hands on hips panting. He was angry, insulted and in pain after being dropped from the side despite scoring runs at ease.
The man sat today on the podium sharing that experience drenched in satisfaction of a chequered career so well deserved. He talked about the healing power of running—how it acted as a catharsis venting out the pain and sorrow and rebuilding him from inside.
Meet Sourav Ganguly, face of Tata Steel Kolkata 25K. The occasion was to announce the evolution of the TSK 25K into an international run with world’s leading athletes landing on Kolkata on December 17 and vying for a purse of USD 10000.
Maharaj, as he is fondly addressed, lighted up the occasion with anecdotes and little pearls from memory bank that left the audience in awe and splits at the same time. Sometimes he would pull a fast one on Tim Hutchins, the commentator for the run, stating: “You are from England. Oh! You guys are pretty close to Australia. But remember when you play the ashes there you will need much more than just skills.” He was hinting at the now famous wait of Steve Waugh and the shirt job at Lord’s.
He then quickly went on to add how impressed he was with the system the English had in place in developing talents in sports, be it athletics or cricket. He then went on to add: “I have been a TATA employee from 1993 and I know what they give back to the society. Words honesty and trust are deeply ingrained in their work ethics. I urge them to take up the cause of athletics and do something revolutionary. This event once a year is the crown jewel, but there has to be a sustained effort throughout the year.”
Ganguly in confession mode is a rare tale. “When I was playing Ranji Trophy as a 17 year old, I had never been to the gym. A little bit of limbering up, a lap or two of the ground and that was that. I was ready to put my pads on and go to bat. To think that I later passed the YoYo test and parachute training to keep myself fit shows the transition and importance fitness and running had become in my life. I had embraced it and even today do a fair bit of running to keep myself fit. Kapil Dev had never entered a gym, but he was the fittest player with no major injuries throughout his career. All he did was run. He would run the entire course around India gate. That is the secret to healthy living.”
To mark the occasion of truly turning this event into an international sporting extravaganza, Procam International, promoters of the event, announced the name of Mike Powell as the international ambassador for the event. Mike, who still holds the record in long jump he set in 1991, is a living legend and one of the true-blue track and field specialists to walk this planet.
“It is absolutely exciting for me to be the first event ambassador for the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K.I think, when communities come together and run as one there is a sense of belonging that is inculcated in each of those runners, and that feeling is often the best runner’s high that there is! To be able to go out there and run a 5K, 10k or a 25K, is very difficult and to have that kind of determination is just amazing. India is a beautiful country filled with warm affable people. I had the good luck of visiting the country thrice, but to come to Kolkata, the cultural capital of the country and the city of Mother Teresa, is special. I hope my presence is an added motivation to all the participants and would like to wish everyone good luck,” Mike said in his message.
Ganguly added in good measure: “We need running in the city. You will realise it as you cast a cursory glance around you and see the sizes. Its mostly because of our love for food and sweets and misti doi. But all that can be forgiven if we run.”
As the evening drew to an end, one could not but remember the sprint of Ganguly after cleaning up Kevin Peterson at the very ground he grew up on. I went home filled with expectations of seeing thousands converging on the starting line on Red Road turning the cultural capital into a truly healthy city of joy.