Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Carpe Diem

Our interview with Christopher is part of the series of interviews under InSync event as part of ABBF. 

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What are your likes, dislikes, hobbies, passions and hopes and dreams?

I am a typical Virgo who likes everything in its place. Being a Wealth Manager, I like routine, process, order, and steady progress at work (ask my colleagues!). Yet, when it comes to my adventures, I do everything impromptu, and I am quite the mad-hatter (ask my family & friends!) I enjoy the company of active, energised individuals and try to spread the same energy wherever I go. As for the dislikes, oops! There is quite the list! I guess I share the same dislikes as most others in this country – crazy traffic, pollution, lack of cleanliness and civic sense, and low value for punctuality. I basically cannot sit still. In my free time, I travel, participate in outdoor/adventure sports – I used to be a squash player for 30 years and even played at the national level. Presently, I run marathons, trek, and now I am cycling! I love nature, am an amateur but avid photographer, seek out the best food around and basically try to ‘carpe diem’!

My hopes and dreams are best captured by the one and only John Lennon when he sang “You may say I am a dreamer but I am not the only one…” The words of that song resonate within me and I buy into their ethos completely. I dream of a sustainable, environmentally conscious world which is inclusive along all axes – socio-economic, disability, gender, all of it. I hope there comes a day when people across countries are culturally enlightened, learn to embrace their differences, and peacefully agree to disagree. I guess you can say I hope for a gentler world.

On January 1st 2017, I made a commitment to myself. I would get started on everything I wanted to do, instead of waiting for the perfect moment to present itself. I got together with friends and organised a campaign for environmental sustainability, distributing cloth bags with socially relevant call-outs on them. I turned to social media to share and build awareness on issues that matter – what we are doing to our environment and how we can stop it, and now, inclusion and mainstreaming of Persons with Disabilities. Perhaps the seed to all of this was sown atop the Kilimanjaro, looking at the world from up above, being enveloped in the great migration on the plains of Kenya…I guess you could say I acquired a certain perspective on top of that mountain.

If I had to sum it all up, it would be these oft-quoted lines by Frost. “Two woods diverged in a wood and I/ I took the one less travelled by/And that has made all the difference.”

Tell us about your journey into cycling. Can you tell us a little about your training? What was your journey like? 

I was a squash player for thirty years. Somewhere along the way I needed to undergo an operation for my back and only returned to squash for a few years before I busted my knee and tore a ligament in my ankle. That is when I turned my attention to everything else – trekking, running, and cycling. A few shoulder dislocations and surgery following the fourth and I did not have a choice but to bid adieu to squash. Except by that time, I had really gotten bitten by the outdoors bug. Today, every day, you will find my buddies and I doing something outdoors – running, cycling, trail running, something. In the years that have followed, I’ve trekked both routes possible on the Kanchenjunga base camp trail and summited Kilimanjaro.

As for the specifics of cycling, it is everything that early morning exercise should be. It gets your heart pumping, gets the distance covered, and gives you a unique perspective to take in all the sights and sounds around you. Recently, I began a series on Facebook called ‘Cycling Diaries’ which captures the experiences that I have the luxury of noticing because I am pedalling along, things that we would otherwise never stop long enough to notice. Cycling lets me even catch a quick breakfast with buddies before getting home in time to be at work on time too! In the run-up to the expedition, every day involves at least thirty kilometres, with weekends offering the chance to be more rigorous and demanding heading out to the surrounding hills and forts. What good reason is there to not take full advantage of the beauty surrounding Pune!

The lens through which you see the world around you from a cycle is just something else. From the leafy lanes of posh Koregaon Park to the gullies of inner city Pune that would otherwise be impossible with the hustle bustle and rush of the rest of the day, the grand old bungalows in the cantonment area to Pune Race Course with galloping steeds – it is such a joy to observe it all! And it is such a privilege to be able to take it all in.

You're all set to do something amazing with the ride from Manali to Khardung Laa! How do you feel about it? What is your special training regimen like? 

I am really, really excited. Really. Having summited Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak at 18341 feet, I know that this expedition is not going to be a pedal in the park. It is going to be demanding at best, testing the physical and mental limits of me as an individual as well as that of us as a team. Yet, having said that, it promises to be a ride of a lifetime, both because of the grandeur of the Himalayas but also because of the experience of being a tandem captain. Cycling with Divyanshu, who lost his eyesight when he was 19, is an experience by itself and gives me insight into a whole new world. The cause of inclusive sport has now become a life-changing experience whose power I have personally understood and am now committed to. Couple all of this with the fact that the Himalayas are an amateur photographer’s dream come true, nothing could be better!

As for training for the expedition (it is called InSync #M2K2017), there has been a lot going on. Apart from the daily and weekly practice ride schedules, getting comfortable with a tandem cycle is a different ball game altogether. You need to handle a much longer, larger cycle frame. You need to handle the weight of your partner behind you. You need to learn navigation, especially on the turns. You need to perfect means of communication that work specifically for the both of you, especially since the captain on an inclusive expedition is responsible for talking through bumps and bad roads and uphills and slopes. Apart from all this, just the physical exertion was rather strenuous. My alarm has been constantly set at 4:30 AM to allow me to get ready and drive across town to Divyanshu’s place so we could practice. The day we did the 100-km stretch to Lavassa was especially gruelling thanks to rain spells followed by the sun beating down on us. Needless to say, apart from all this practice, work and every other commitment goes on and the rest of the day unfolds. Phew, it has been quite the ride (literally!)

Can you tell us a little about your family? What do they think about the new amazing thing you're about to do?

My immediate family includes my super-wife Nilakshi, and our two independent, talented, and gorgeous girls – Nicole (20) and Caitlyn (18). Nilakshi is also my partner at work and gives me the wings and support I need to set off on my crazy expeditions. My older daughter studies in the city and has the voice of an angel. My younger daughter is all set to fly off to the US to start college, and is spending her time before then helping out with the expedition behind the scenes as well! My family has been incredibly supportive of my participation in InSync #M2K2017. As Nicole said the other day, it is almost like they have been a part of the expedition every single step of the way because of how many experiences and stories I come home with every day. For Caitlyn, the experience has been so much deeper because of her direct involvement as well. It has opened her eyes to a world that she had no idea about until ABBF came around. It is showing us all how each one of us can make a difference, so I guess the right emotion would be a mixture of pride, excitement, and humility. Even my nine-year-old niece has found words like ‘inspiration’ to describe the expedition and what we are all trying to do!

What have your personal challenges been? How have / do you work to overcome them? What inspires you?

Rome was not built in a day and life is a journey. All too often we forget that we are fragile and only tenants of this beautiful planet. It is this knowledge, and the unwavering support of my family and friends, that gives me the strength, inspiration, and motivation to do what I do every single day.