He was running up along the narrow-tarred road strewn with fallen brown leaves. Nobody is supposed to take that path, which runs uphill flanked by forests on both sides. A locked gate at the entrance of the path with a notice clearly states it is Defence Land and entry is prohibited. My cousin and I cast a glance at each other realizing that we had a partner in crime here. All this while we thought we were the only adventurous ones violating rules on a cloudy Saturday morning. The sight of a man running up that path in a blue jersey sharply contrasting with the surrounding greenery was however splendid. “Wish I could shoot a video!” I exclaimed. “Go ahead,” said my cousin. “Oh! I can’t do that without seeking permission.” I retorted.
It was just another day in Shillong and I was out on my usual morning walks with my cousin. On this day, we could not control our urge to walk the narrow-paved road that ran uphill through the jungle. The fact that entry to the road was prohibited had always intrigued us. With heavy rains the day before, the pathway was wet and almost completely carpeted by brown leaves, only alluring us even more. When we saw a small opening in the fence on one side of the locked iron gate, we just had to crawl right in. It was bliss as there was nobody other than the two of us. Not until we sighted our runner.
As the runner reached the top, he paused to drink water and that was my opportunity for introducing myself and seeking permission for shooting a video. It turned out that he was an ultra marathoner and his name was Banajit. I was mighty impressed to know that he had several famous marathons under his belt, including the world’s highest ultra marathon – the 72 Km. Khardungla Challenge. Also known as Ladakh Marathon, it is one of the toughest marathons that tests the limits of human endurance.
It was an astonishing moment for me as I never knew that we had such accomplished runners in Shillong. I got introduced to marathons in Bangalore and somehow never connected it with Shillong even though I was aware of the Sohra Marathon, an annual event held in Meghalaya.
Describing himself as an ordinary runner, Banajit appeared completely oblivious of his incredible achievements. His passion for running was anybody’s guess as he casually talked about his running experiences. Banajit’s humility stood out and I found myself wondering what a lucky day it was to just randomly meet someone like this. We talked for a while and exchanged phone numbers. I shot a video with my phone and we went our way.
During the course of our interactions, Banajit mentioned about a fellow runner from Meghalaya, called Asif, who had also run the Khardungla Challenge. Asif stays in Bangalore and Banajit insisted I connect with Asif when in Bangalore. I did not pay any heed to it as I knew once in Bangalore none of that will happen. There’s no time, you see!
Afterward, Banajit shared Asif’s blog post on his Khardungla Challenge with me. It was a fascinating read and I had left behind a comment. That was way back in the month of May and I had forgotten about it altogether. Sometime towards the end of July, I received a message in Instagram from Asif thanking me for reading his post. Asif visited my blog and found me in Instagram. Our common Shillong upbringing resulted in an instant connect.
Subsequently, one fine morning Asif and I, along with another friend, met up over a cup of coffee in Bangalore. It was an instant connect like we’ve known each other for a very long time. Not surprising, that’s how it is when you meet someone from your hometown in another city. The genuineness and warmth of Asif’s personality touched my heart. His modesty and humility matched perfectly with that of his friend, Banajit. Besides his IT job here in Bangalore, Asif coaches aspiring long distance runners. Every weekend he himself runs 30-35 Km or more. He talks about these long-distance weekend runs so casually that it just leaves you wondering – where does he get the motivation to do this every single weekend and that too after having a fulltime demanding corporate job.
I wish I could be an Asif or a Banajit, but that’s wishful thinking, maybe for another life.
My meeting and connecting with Asif and Banajit seems like an act of providence. I feel totally blessed to have connected with such inspirational people. Asif and Banajit belong to that group of people who are high achievers, in their own right. Yet nobody knows them and not like they care.
People like Asif and Banajit are stories to be told. Do visit the links below to read their experiences of the tough Khardungla Challenge.
Asif Ahmed: http://asiforyou.blogspot.com/2017/09/my-tryst-with-khardungla-challenge-2017.html Banajit Barman: http://theshillongtimes.com/2018/11/11/local-runners-need-recognition/