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Hi! I’m Justin Raj, a stock broker by profession, is also a freelance Journalist, an amateur Filmmaker and an enthusiastic Marathoner who possesses the ‘bad habit’ of writing too much. And as long as that ‘bad habit’ stays with me, I keep on posting to my blog.

A blogger is basically a tech-savvy writer. He is a keen observer with a sharing mind, not a silent spectator to all events which happen around him. If a reader is a person who loves to gain knowledge, a blogger or writer is one who loves to share his knowledge and dare to speak out his opinions and ideas. Like a singer expresses by singing, dancer by dancing, actor through acting, a blogger blogs his feelings and ideas out. Literally, Freedom of Expression is his shield and the blog is his Sword.

Here in my blog, write-ups are archived in 9 labels. In ‘Sweet and Bitter’ you can read about my diverse life experiences and valuable lessons I learnt from it. ‘Published Articles’ offers you my articles which have been published in Daily Newspapers. In ‘Random Brain Waves’ you can meet up with my random (or at times, weird) ideas. Poetry writing has eventually become a new hobby as well as a part of my blog. You can read my poems in ‘Verses’. In ‘Marathon’ label, you can read about my marathon experiences, challenges and how running a marathon can shape a man’s life.

‘Vlog’ is a recent addition to my blog as I realize the potential future of visual media. Sometimes, a 3-minute video can do the magic of expression than a 3000 word article. In this label you can watch the short films, documentaries, advertisements et al I have made. ‘Favorite Articles’ consists of articles which have influenced my outlook and attitude on life. Being a tireless traveler, ‘Travel’ label takes you to various travel experiences of mine. Conducting researches is a part of Journalism. In ‘Research Articles’ label you can get articles which throw light on various researches I have conducted.

Every life meets with various challenges, diverse experiences and at the end, all those teach us valuable lessons for our future. Wise men learn by other men's mistakes, fools by their own said H. G. Bohn. I learn more by my own mistakes than others. It doesn’t mean that I’m a fool! I learn from other’s lives too. My blog is a platform for sharing not only my life experiences but also the valuable lessons, ideas and poetry triggered by them.

To my mind, blog is a thinking man's tool. Blogging is more a passion than a hobby for me. It is as if talking something to someone somewhere in world. My words keep on talking to the visitors of my blog. I can feel the magic of words! And that’s the power of blogging!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Running on Roof of the World!

Travelling alone for around 3200 kilometers through surface for running in one of the “World’s 10 most Extreme Marathons” sounds like some crazy idea for you? If it is, yes, I’m crazy to a certain extent!

I came to know about the Great Tibetan Marathon (GTM) through a newspaper article written by one Mr. Ashok Nath who had participated in GTM 2008. Inspired by his experience, I decided to take part in this once in a lifetime running event. When I contacted, Mr. Ashok Nath was generous enough to provide me with all the information regarding GTM 2009. Then I contacted Mountain Adventures India (www.mountainindia.com) which was organizing the event and I became the first person to register for the GTM 2009. Gowher Rah and Nazir Rah, the persons behind Mountain Adventures India were very helpful in providing me with up to date details regarding GTM 2009.

After registering for the run, I became cautious about my running regime. Increasing my stamina was the priority. For that, I increased the distance I ran previously (just three kilometers) to 12 kilometers daily. Later I reduced the frequency to four days a week owing to my studies. So the whole confidence lay on my 48 kilometers per week running practice. Since GTM is a High Altitude Marathon, high altitude training was a prerequisite. But, unfortunately either my home town or Chennai, the place where I study were not hilly regions. Time constraint was another challenge. However, I stuck with my running regime. After few months of practice, I could really feel the confidence level was rising inside me.

Only person in this world supported me with a smile when I embarked onto this adventure was my Ammachi (‘mom’ in Malayalam) Her words were the most powerful inspiration which helped me to overcame my fears and guided me till the completion of the marathon. She took care of all the expenses I incurred.

Running Experience

Acclimatization period started from July 12th the day I landed in Leh. First few days I felt some difficulty in breathing but gradually I got adjusted to the new climatic conditions of dry cold and less oxygen. Though I got involved in lot of activities in Leh, my mind was restlessly waiting for the D-Day: July 18th.

Actually there was an event called Breakfast Run on July 17thmorning. However, my mind was made to believe that the real marathon on July 19th and Breakfast Run on July 18th. My doubts were over when I entered Hotel Singge Palace on July 17th evening to enquire about the Breakfast Run, the event which was really got over on that same day morning.

The objective behind the Breakfast Run is that to set ourselves ready for the real challenge next day. There will also be briefing about the real event. Route maps will be distributed and precautionary measures will be explained. But I missed it! But Lars, a Swedish who was the event coordinator, understood my plight and allowed me to run in the main event. He handed over to me the chest number, T-shirt and wished me all the best. I thanked him and left the hotel.

That night was really long. I couldn’t sleep well and the thoughts were entirely on the marathon which will be happening just after few hours. Somehow I managed.

Next day morning at 0530 hours pick up vehicle took me near from the hotel where I stayed. The journey was towards the Hemis Monastery which was around 50 kilometers away from Leh town. We reached there at around 0645 hours.

Hemis Monastery was spectacular in all aspects. I was like Alice in Wonderland. At 0700 hours Buddhist monks, both young and old, started chanting and praying. Though I couldn’t understand what they were chanting, I listened to them by my eyes closed. I gave strong affirmations to my mind that I can complete the marathon successfully. That is my way of praying!

After 20 minutes, the prayers ended with the blowing of horns those I had seen only in some Chinese movies. Buddhist monks blessed each one of the participants by putting soft, white shawls which was decorated with some prominent Buddhist symbols. My mind was prepared for the challenge of a lifetime ahead.

“Eight, seven, six” Lars started the countdown at 0730 hours. All the participants’ spirits were at its peak. Everyone shouted and hooted in excitement. I could see only smiling faces all around. Though my body was chilling, my heart was radiating with heat of thrill and excitement. Yes, I was ready for the first full marathon in my life and also one of the toughest marathons in the world!

The Marathon route stretched from Hemis Monastery to the foot of Spituk Monastery. Water stops were set up at every 4 kilometers. My objective was simple: successful completion of the Marathon. My strategy was simple too: a slow, constant momentum until the end of the race.

The run was at an altitude of approximately 3,700 meters Above Sea Level. For the first 6 kilometers there was a steep descend to approximately 3400 meters. That steep decline didn’t take much of my energy. I kept up my pace and also hydrated my body as well as possible.

With excitement I shouted ‘Jai Hind’ to the army men who were camping near to the Marathon route. They greeted back with a smile and thumbs up. Children who were passing by and also standing on the barley fields greeted me with traditional ‘Juley!’ I waved my hands at them in confidence. Their innocent smiles were really mind-blowing and encouraging. It all helped me to keeping up my momentum.

The route consists of paved roads which were washed out in some places. I passed through barley fields, pocket-sized streets, and riversides. I crossed 20 kilometer mark without much trouble in a slow steady pace. A foreigner who overtook me told “hey man, you got a good pace!” Those words were really an inspiration and I thanked him. Actually, that man got a great pace and within minutes he was out of the horizon!

Overtaking was not in my agenda. So, I enjoyed the run by cherishing the beautiful sceneries which welcomed me at every moment. On the way I saw a little boy who was sitting on a milestone and watching me running as if I’m an alien. I smiled at him and told ‘Juley!’ He didn’t respond. I stopped and gave him a banana which I kept for eating on the way. Then I greeted him ‘Juley!’ again. He smiled and greeted me back. That smile was really priceless!

At the 24 kilometer mark, an ambulance and a doctor was stationed. “Are you okay?” he asked me. “Absolutely!” I replied. “Let me check you…” he told me and clipped one of his medical gadgets on my finger and checked my pulse. “You are dead, man!” he told with a serious look. A lightning struck straight on my head and I stood wordless. He started laughing after seeing my perplexed and tensed look. “I’m just kidding. Your body is well saturated. Go ahead and all the best!” he said smiling. I thanked the doctor and got back on track.

When I made a general medical checkup in Chennai prior to the Marathon, the doctor whom I consulted warned me about my low Blood Pressure. I didn’t care about it. But that warning was always in the backyard of my mind during the run. That put me in tension when the marathon doctor made that funny comment.

I resumed running from the 24 kilometer mark refreshed. The face of the route changed to washed out roads in most parts. Till 37 kilometer mark, I managed but after that the ‘gateway to trouble’ opened up. ‘Gateway to trouble’ is my own terminology used to express the level which is out of my performance. Usually amateur runners like me meet with this ‘gateway’ during marathons. I don’t know how it is with professional runners.

It was hard to breath and my limbs were paining as well. I could really feel the dryness of the air passing through my nostrils. I changed my strategy: trekking through elevations and run through declining roads. That strategy worked only for around three kilometers. Two more kilometers to go. What to do? I couldn’t see anyone behind and ahead. The cruel sun is about to come out of the clouds. Till that time the climate was favorable for a good, tireless run. The sun was hiding behind the clouds as if he was shy seeing the enthusiasm of all the runners. I had no option other than trekking for remaining two kilometers.

I trekked through stones, grass, sand, dirt and wet areas. I crossed one wooden bridge over the Indus River on the way. When I reached the final one kilometer mark, Lars was standing there with his unique smile. “Welcome, Justin!” he told smiling. I greeted him back. “Take the loop and come back, I will see you in a while!” he told. I trekked faster to the loop. Loop is nothing other than a wooden bridge over the Indus River. It even misses planks at some places! So I needed to be very careful in crossing the bridge.

After crossing, I saw Gowher waiting for the runners. He handed over a wristband to me and told, “It will qualify you!” I thanked him and trekked back. While leaving I could hear him passing my chest number and name over his walky-talky. That was the final phase of my trekking. I saw Lars on the way back. “400 meters to go! See you at the finish line!” he told with a smile. I greeted him back with a smile. I didn’t spell out a word. Do you know why? I was conserving energy!

As I’m nearing the finish line, I could hear my name and chest number pouring through the speakers. A Ladakhi man came near to me, shook my hand and greeted me with a ‘Juley!’ I greeted him back with a smile. Then I saw some organizers waving at me and asking me to come to finish line soon because the time was running out. The allotted time was seven hours and I reached the finish line at six hours and 43 minutes. I ran and touched the finish line with a smile.

As soon as I finished, a Ladakhi woman came up and put a medal on my neck. I thanked her and gave thumbs up to Nazir Rah who was sitting there. He greeted me back with a smile. The organizers provided me with the lunch. All went fine. Only problem was that since my muscles were stiff, I couldn’t even sit! I did some muscle loosening workout but it didn’t work out! However after struggling for few minutes, I settled down and had lunch with a great feeling of achievement…

In the evening we had Ladakhi cultural show in Hotel Grand Dragon followed by Gala Dinner. Certificates were distributed in the function and after that the party hall became colorful with camera flashes and exchange of pleasantries. I made a bunch of good friends. After the party, I left the hotel bidding adieu to Gowher, Nazir and Lars. “See you in next year!” Lars told. “I’m not sure!” I replied with a smile.

That night I slept like a baby.

Lessons I learnt.

Running in a marathon is simply a mind game than a physical workout. If you think you can complete the 42 kilometer mark, you can and if you think you can’t, you will surely left behind the finish line. Make an efficient use of water stops they are like life-giving oases. Hydrate yourself (even though you feel no thirsty) well especially when you are into a High Altitude Marathon. Safety first and competition comes next. Just keep track on your momentum and don’t look on other person’s pace or stamina. Don’t keep on asking yourself the question: “Why I’m doing this?” during the running struggle. Concentrate on the run and set the mind only for the successful completion. After completion, other than asking, “Why I did that?” ask yourself “How I can do it better next time?” Happy running!


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Downfall of a Business Tycoon…



Once upon a time, in Thrissur, Kerala, there lived a boy named Justin. He was innocent, energetic, and enthusiastic with lot of dreams in his mind and tonnes of smile on his face. He was such a hyper who never stayed in the same place for long time. He roamed around with a ‘catch me if you can’ attitude. He was like an open book. Anyone can read him easily, comprehend him and get out of him at any point of time. He love friendship and do anything for his friends.

In the midst of games and childhood fantasies, one thing troubles him always. That disturbing problem is common among both boys and girls of his age. That troublesome trouble is the availability of pocket money. How much money he got from his parents was not enough for him. He needed more. He hated smoking and drinking. He never spent a single penny for clubbing or such kind of ‘bad’ activities. Most of the money was spent on burgers, milk shakes and ice creams and the rest is ‘invested’ in video game and music CDs.

Justin was a video game addict and always loved a king size life. But, since he is a good boy with a high moral sense, one day he took a tough decision. “Why should I bother my dad and mom for the pocket money?” he asked Sangeeth, his childhood friend and conscience keeper. Sangeeth nodded his head. “Let’s start some business and make money. Will you be with me?” he asked Sangeeth.

Sangeeth never tells no to Justin. “We can do fish farming” Sangeeth put out his suggestion. “My uncle is successfully doing fish farming and making lot of money” he told, “I can get complete information from him and we can start, okay?” he asked Justin and he nodded with his usual smile.

They didn’t have time to waste. Everything happened in thunder speed. They bought around 30 fishes and put them in an abandoned tank behind Sangeeth’s house. Sangeeth even named the fish tank as Rajaputra Fish Farm and also erected a board over the tank with the name writtenon it.

Rajaputras are referred to as the most Valiant Warriors of Indian Subcontinent. The name was Sangeeth’s late father’s favorite name. He planned to put this name to the businesses those he planned to start in India. But, unfortunately he passed away soon after he reached India from Gulf.

The proud owners of Rajaputra Fish Farm fed the fishes regularly with great satisfaction. Their idea was to feed the fishes for three months and sell them in the market. If everything goes as planned, the profit will be fivefold!

Capital was allocated by Justin and Sangeeth did most of the feeding and maintenance works. Nearly two months passed away. One more month to go for the much waited ‘fish harvest’. But, neither Sangeeth nor Justin ever knew a distressing fact: fishes were missing from the farm.

Who did this heinous act? Who did this to Rajaputra farm house? Who did this to those innocent boys who started it for a good cause? By the end of the second month the numbers of fishes were shrunk to just twelve. Sangeeth noticed it first and informed Justin.

The hunt for the culprit had begun. After days of constant lookout the culprits were brought to book! They were Tony & Co: cats fed by a goldsmith staying near to sangeeth’s house. Those cats were worse than local burglars. They enter any house silently, steal the food especially fish then shit and piss wherever they like. Most of the households nearby were fed up with Tony & Co.

Tony & Co’s days were counted. Like George Bush launched War on Terror, Justin and Sangeeth ruthlessly waged war against Tony & Co. Armed with hot water, stones and sticks; they banished Tony & Co from that locality. But it has nothing much to do with the losses incurred by Justin and Sangeeth.

Bad news spreads all over. All the friends joined with Justin and Sangeeth to share the bad time together. By seeing the care and support of their friends, Justin and Sangeeth got overwhelmed with happiness. Though the hard work they brought into the enterprise went futile, they never wanted to make their friends gloomy over their plight.

Justin and Sangeeth were generous enough to give a lunch party to their friends at Sangeeth’s house. And they did. The main dish was fish-fry made out of the remaining fishes in the Rajaputra Fish Farm! Sadly, that party was the final closure party of Rajaputra Fish Farm.

****

After Secondary schooling, the day had come for Justin to join a school in town for his Higher Secondary education. It is for the first time in his life he is getting out of his village for educational purposes. New classroom, new friends and new tutors. He had thrown out to an unknown and inexperienced environment. His mind was racing with excitement.

After few days, he adapted to the new environs. He made new friends and built rapport with tutors too. Those days he noticed a girl simply smiling at him in the classroom. “Is she mad?” thought Justin. Always a front seat sitter, he noticed her smile towards him whenever he turned around.

One day during interval she introduced herself to Justin “Hi! I’m Remya…” “Hi! I’m Justin...” Justin greeted her back with his usual smile. That was the beginning of a good friendship. They shared lunch, wore clothes with same color combinations, had burgers and ice creams together.

Gradually Justin became ‘jus’ for her and Remya became ‘Chakkie’ for him. ‘Chakka’ means jackfruit in Malayalam. Since Remya is fat in appearance, Justin aptly nicknamed her Chakkie! She loved that name too. And that name was reserved only for Justin.

One day during their conversations Justin told the sad story of Rajaputra Fish Farm and his money making philosophy to Chakkie. “Jus, why can’t you start another business?” she asked him. “I’m penniless!” he replied. “Borrow! That’s the only way. I can help you with some money too…agreed?” she told. “Okay, let me find out what business I can do…” he told her.

Mary aunty, one of Justin’s aunts was good at making grape wine. He had heard of her wine making skills. He had tasted her home made grape wine once and still had that unique taste lingering on his taste buds. Whenever he thinks about a new business, her face pops up in his mind. “That’s it!” an idea took birth in his mind.

Jus dialed Chakkie. “Wine business? Are you crazy? It needs license and stuff, do you know that?” Chakkie got upset with Jus’ awkward idea. “Hey, I got some good ideas…okay? I’ll let you know clearly later okay?” Jus ended up the call and dialed Sangeeth.

Justin’s idea was simple. Get the grape wine recipe from aunt; buy the accessories like jars, raw materials such as grape, sugar and other ingredients, make wine and sell. After hearing Justin’s idea, Sangeeth got excited and extended all his support. That’s all were enough for Justin to embark on an unknown and unpredictable business.

Telling lies after lies, Justin secured the wine recipe from Mary aunty. With the borrowed money from Chakkie and other friends Justin bought all the accessories required for his ‘distillery’. Sangeeth helped him to procure grapes and other ingredients.

Wine making venture kicked off in full swing. Justin’s ‘distillery’ is located nowhere other than at his own room! It had 6 big jars. It takes three weeks for grape to ferment and transform to wine. He filled two jars in each week to bring continuity in production. The production capacity was around 22 to 24 bottles per week.

A day in the week was dedicated to ‘bottling’. It was done under the cover of night’s darkness so no one in his house will know about Justin’s ‘black’ business. Chakkie and Sangeeth helped him to sell the product. Gradually, his wine became popular among his customers. The great business days begun. He sold wine in the school bus, outside the schoogate and even in classroom! But, the wine source remained mystery for all except Sangeeth and Chakkie.

Weeks and months passed. Justin’s pocket filled with enough money for all his needs. He became a successful entrepreneur too. Sadly, he couldn’t increase the capacity of his distillery since it will be dangerous for its safe running.

But, he earned more than he needed. As usual, most of the profits were spent on food and for friends. He bought new clothes, tried new milk shakes, ice creams, bought new music and Video Game CDs and modified his bike with his own money. Those were the best, happiest and prideful days of his life.

Little did Justin know that those groovy days were going to end soon. The news of his ‘underground’ business got leaked from the bottle supplier. He used to take bottles from a nearby Bar where his Dad got contacts. “Hey Rajan, your son is taking empty bottles from here for the past 5 to 6 months. I came to know about it only few days back. I saw him in the backyard yesterday” the manager of the bar told his Dad. “He is into something, better keep an eye on him” he added.

Justin’s Dad rushed to the house and opened his room for a thorough checking. When he opened his room, fresh aroma of grape wine seep into his nose. It didn’t take much time for him to understand that a ‘distillery’ was running parallel with his house. His face reddened with anger.

Justin’s Dad took all the jars and kept it out of the house and waited in front of the house for his ‘mischievous’ son. After a while, Justin reached his house on his bike. He smiled

at his Dad and turned back to enter the house. What he saw at the corner of the main door made his spine frozen. His distillery was ‘disbanded’! He didn’t know what to do. His mind got blocked.

“What is that, Justin?” Dad asked Justin angrily. “Wine” replied Justin. “For whom you are making it?” asked Dad rapidly. “For friends, Dad” replied Justin. “For friends or for sale?” Dad started the interrogation. “Only for friends, Dad” Justin told. “Justin, if you are lying again, I will break all the jars i

n front of you!” his Dad knew him well. He lies! He knew his dad well too. He will do the things he tells. “Dad, it’s for selling” Justin told the truth.

“Why you are doing this?” Dad asked softly. “For pocket money” Justin replied innocently. “Don’t I give you money? Are you ashamed to do this? Don’t you know its repercussions if anyone came to know about this?” Dad showered him with questions. Justin stood clueless. “Stop it! Okay?” Dad waited for Justin’s response. Justin nodded with deep disappointment.

“Okay. Whatever happened is happened? What is the price of these 6 jars of wine?” Dad asked smilingly. “Eh!” that question shocked Justin. “I can’t tell, Dad” actually Justin didn’t know what to tell. “Okay. I’m buying these wine jars now and you can collect the money from shop. Promise me that you won’t do this business again.” Dad told Justin. “Promise! I won’t do it again” Justin gave the word to his Dad.

“If I find you doing this again I won’t be responding like this, got it?” Dad warned Justin. “If you are in need for money, feel free to ask me, understood?” Dad added. Justin nodded.

From that day on, Justin never fell short of money. His Dad didn’t want his son go into ‘wrong’ ways for money and satisfied all his needs. Though the money needs were met, the joy of entrepreneurship and business got vanished from his life. He started to concentrate more on his studies with great business dreams in his heart. He still lives with those dreams and it is that dreams which keeps him going on.

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