Run for Rocks

Sundays are meant to be slow, sluggish and slumberous. After a week of hard work at office, and a Saturday filled with never ending household chores, it is only the Sunday that provides respite to the common man. Most love to laze on the bed for a few more hours on a Sunday morning to recharge, rejuvenate and refresh for the onslaught of life in the new week. But there are some crazy folks who do not agree to the above philosophy. Their idea of rejuvenation is to wake up at 4:00 AM on Sunday mornings, get ready in a jiffy and hit the road running.  They love to work out a sweat instead of lazing around. They are the Hyderabad Runners group. This is a group of people who are dedicated to the sport of running.

Then there are some other even crazier people, whose idea of rejuvenation is to look at, love, pamper and save Rocks. Yes, you heard it right - Rocks. They are the folks at Society to Save Rocks. They identify different rock sites in and around Hyderabad. They organize rock-walks and awareness programs among the general public and help preserve the beautiful huge rocks from destruction.

Now, what happens when both the groups, the Hyderabad Runners and Society to Save Rocks join hands? An event called "Run for Rocks" is born! The Society to Save Rocks which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year decided to organize a Run for Rocks on the 28th of June, 2015.  With help of Hyderabad Runners they organized the event.

The run was organized at Fakhruddingutta near Lanco hills. This is a Rocky hill, with huge boulders and rock plates on the top of the hill. This was the start point of the 5K and 21K run. When you on the Lanco Hills road from DPS, there is a non-descript small road going towards the right. This road again turns left and meets an un-tarred road that climbs up a hill. The ride here is bumpy and rocky. From the below, no one could ever guess what one would find just 300 meters ahead. While going on that, I felt as if I was in a Himalayan rally. But my old trusted vehicle could take me safely up to the top where I could see a piece of plain land, a la plateau. Scores of cars and bikes were parked. I parked on to a side and got out to survey the landscape.

It was around 5:15AM in the morning and the sun had not still come out. The dawn was breaking and there was some visibility around. I could see large boulders about 50 feet away. There were shrubs and a huge rock face in front. Turning around, I could see many other rocks. Some of them were as high as a 2 storey building. In some cases, there were rocks upon rock and again rocks upon them making beautiful formations and shapes.

Slowly more and more people trickled in their cars and bikes. The organizers had put up a Shamiana under which they started distributing the T-shirts and breakfast coupons for people who had registered. I went to one of the distribution desk where they asked my name. Hearing it, they told me to go to another desk which was for people with names starting from A to N. I went to the other desk and enquired. They checked their list but still my name was not there in it. I was surprised, but kept waiting there. After some time, one person came with another list where my name was available. Thus I got the breakfast coupon and the T-shirt. They gave me a medium size T-shirt first. I checked it but found that it was too small. Changed it for a Large size which fitted me quite well.

Wearing the white Tee, I went to the start point. There were the serious runners who were doing stretches and warm-up exercises. They were in groups. Some were chatting with each other and others were taking selfies and group pictures. Many were adjusting their gears and gadgets, getting ready to run. PV Sindhu, the badminton player was there. She flagged off to inaugurate the run and the 21K folks started. Then Sindhu gave some sound bytes to the waiting media folks.

At 6:30, the second run (meant for 5k) was flagged off by Sindhu. This was a bigger group. In this there were many people who were hobby and recreational runners. There were children and ladies who came to support their fathers or daughters. Some folks like me were there who wanted to run more than 5K but not a 21K.

I switched on my endomondo and ambled along. The initial run was downhill. Some people had started running. Some others were taking selfies. I ran slowly with the crowd taking care not to run over the small stones and slippery ground. After about 300 m, I was almost on the base of the hill and got the tarred road. Soon, I crossed the Lanco hills road and took the main road leading towards Nanakramguda junction. I ran slowly, soaking in the morning sun which had come out. The other runners had spread out by now. In the distance I could see the water station. There were boys and girls handing out Gatorade and water. I ran past them and checked my phone. I had covered almost than 2.5k. I was not thirsty or tired yet. So I kept running. From Nanakramguda junction, I took the service road towards Airport. Few others were running too. I caught up with a lady and had small chat with her. She said she was training for the AHM along with Hyderabad Runners. That day, she was not doing a long run as she was not feeling well. Even I said I will do a 12K and not a half. Then I went past her.

It was when I had covered almost 4K that I started feeling a bit thirsty. Looking ahead, I could not see any water station. Some of the runners were coming back. I asked them and they said it is down the road. With renewed hope, I kept running. But even after 1 more km, the water station was not to be seen. By that time, I was pretty exhausted and running low on my energy stores. I regretted why I did not pick up something in the first water station. I started taking a walking break. Some cyclists from Hyderabad Bike Club rode passed me. Returning runners encouraged me to keep pushing. Again I started ambling. Sometime later I reached the water station. I took a bottle of Gatorade and gulped it bottoms up. I took mini break there and checked my distance. I had covered bit more than 6k. So, decided to turn back.

The run back was difficult. I had to take frequent walk breaks. Mustering more will power than muscle power I pushed along. I started counting my steps and decided that I will take a break every 500 steps. 1 , 2, 3, ..500 steps went past, and I was still pushing. Set my next target to 1000 steps. Then I crossed that and set target as 1500. By 1500 steps I was really tired. Had to take a walk break. Luckily I saw a water station ahead. A father and a son were standing beside a swift with water and Gatorade. I picked a bottle of Gatorade and kept running. Soon I came over to a rock cut small artificial cliff on the road. I took some pictures there and again moved on.

After sometime, I reached the Nanakramguda junction. The water station that was set up there during my onward run was not there. I saw it before the DPS where I had to take a right turn to go onto the Lanco Hills road. I took another Gatorade bottle and started walking. Then I saw some real runners overtaking me. They were the Hyderabad Runner regulars. I could see them still fresh, energetic and jovial. They kept their bodies straight and took long and strong leaps. They did not show any hint of tiredness even after doing 19K. And I was struggling after doing 10K. Some of them came encouraged me to keep running. I started again, very slowly now. Somehow I reached the foot hills. Then the real challenge- the last 300 meters or so of hill climb - started. I could run for about 70-80 meters and then gave up running. It was difficult. Finally I reached the finish point covering 12K. It was few minutes past 8AM.

Breakfast was available by that time. I had idli, vada and a cup of tea. Looking around I saw the stalls from Society to Save Rocks. They were having a membership drive. They help preserve the rocks in and around Hyderabad. They conduct rock walks every third Sunday of the month. Other than that they do various awareness programs. Then it was announced that there will be a rock walk at 8:45. It being a Sunday morning and since I did not have any other plan, I thought it would be a good idea to join them. This was my first rock walk.

Ravi Setlam, who is also active in Hyderabad Runners and an active member in Save the Rocks, became our guide. We were a group of about 20 people. He led us on the opposite direction from where we came, though shrubs and a hilly path. There were large rocks all around. Rajesh Vetcha, the founder of HR was also in the group. We went in a single file hiking along the trail. Ravi was explaining all about the rocks, how and when they were formed and how they are being destructed. He said that these rocks were more than 2500 million years old, being part of the Deccan plateau. The Himalayas which were 40 million years old, are infact babies in comparison to the Deccan rocks.

In about 5-6 minutes we reached a place from which there was an awesome view of the Hyderabad - Gachibowli IT zone. The group gathered there. On the other side, there were huge rocks, one perched on another. Someone asked if these rocks ever fell down. Ravi said that over the millions of years, the rocks weighing hundreds of tonnes sit on each other and there is some fusing that happens between two rocks. This lends them much stability and they typically do not fall down. Rajesh added that these rocks have withstood earthquakes also without toppling.


 Then Ravi said we will go inside. I was wondering where we will go and he pointed to a crevice between two rocks. It was very narrow. Surely an adult would find it difficult to get in. Ravi asked people who may be claustrophobic (fear of enclosed small space) or chiroptophobic (fear of bats) not to proceed. I sensed excitement. Few people started going in. I followed them. We had to walk sideways through the narrow crevice. Even then the rocks were touching my chest and back. Few meters like that we reached a small opening where there were different pathways. The one to the left looked dark and I could smell the horrific odor of the bats over there. There was one to the right through which some light was coming in. We went in the one straight ahead. Straddling up and down the big stones and small rocks, we reached another opening. There were 3 rocky pillars that supported a big rock on the top as a roof. I took some pictures there. Again the group moved forward and we reached a huge rocky plain surface. There were rocky walls on 2 sides and it was open on two other sides. The group sat down to rest there. The view was awesome. Just below, there were large green fields. I could see farmers tilling their land using a pair of bullocks. On the right was the large expressway to Airport with vehicles moving at top speed. Further right was the IT corridor of Gachibowli.

The wind was blowing very fast. The atmosphere was serene. All of us settled down on the rock bed and people got lost in their thoughts, either enjoying the nature or busy with their phones taking pictures. I felt like meditating. It was so peaceful and serene. There is a dargah of Fakhruddin, a muslim saint in one of the nearby rocks. He was supposed to be living 650 years ago and was spritual teacher of the ruler of deccan at that time. People pray at that dargah even to this day. Due to the work of Society to save rocks, these rocky hills of Fakhruddingutta have been preserved from being blasted and converted into office or housing complexes.

 Two small girls were also there. I guess they were daughters of one of the Hyderabad Runners. Someone asked one of them why we should save rocks. The girl's answer was really stunned me. All of 6-7 years, she said, rocks cannot grow again once broken. So we should save them. I pondered on the little girl's answer for some time. Yes, Rocks are like little hearts. Once broken, they cannot be fixed again. Unlike trees, rocks do not grow. Once broken, they are broken for ever. We cannot create new rocks. It is thus very imperative for us to save these beautiful rocks. By saving the rocks, we not only save these sites, but also save the fragile ecosystem that these rocky hills support. I had spotted chameleons around. Snakes and bats also lived there. There were different predatory birds around that place as well. Even the shrubs and grass there looked different that the ones that we find on the plain. It is really a very fragile nature that ought to be handled with care if we want our future generations to enjoy this natural beauty.

After a break, Ravi announced that we will move even further up. But he said that only 6-8 people can go as it is a difficult climb. All kids were forbidden to go. I joined the first batch. We went back to the dark pathway and went to a mount of a cave. In front of the cave, the pathway took us to another opening. One had to climb a steep rock and there was space for just one person to climb.  There was another rock piece jutting above that steep rock and there were no grip as such. Also, I could not see what was there above it. But whatever was there, I imagined it must be very difficult to scale. Standing just below the steep rock, I felt extremely claustrophobic. Some folks in front of me were having a bit of struggle to go up. Looking at them I felt I would not be able to climb. Gripped with fear, various thoughts crossed my mind. What would happen if I slip? What would happen if I faint? What would happen if I fail? I knew I was giving up. I took a deep breath, turned around and retraced my path back to the rest of the group.

I sat there for some time and calmed myself. After about 15 minutes the first group returned. They were very happy. Some of them were saying that the climb is difficult, but worth it. I was tempted to go again. I told myself this was my only chance. If I did not go now, no one knows if I can go up there ever again or not. And in all likelihood, I will not. Mustering up courage, I started again with the second group. Crossing the mouth of the cave, I reached the same point from where I had turned back. Ravi had climbed up and when he saw me holding my phone, he told me to keep it on the ground. I kept it there. Using all my hands and legs, I scrambled up the steep rock, crawling on all fours, reached the opening. There was little place to stand. With Ravi standing there and myself, may be just one more person could fit in. On the left were more boulders. On the right, there was nothing. There was an opening between the rock which fell straight down to about 30 feet or so. I had to somehow climb a rock just above the opening to move to another rock from which we could go to one of the tops. Looking down was not an option. With guidance from Ravi on where to have a hand grip and where to have a footing, I slowly climbed up. Then there were some friendly hands from above who pulled me up. The view was awesome. It was a conquest of courage over cowardice. It was a victory of tenacity over timidity. I was thrilled. I had not climbed a rock, I climbed over my fears.

But there were even higher rocks. Some of the folks were raring to climb up. Aprameya, one young lad of 16 was climbing them like a mountain goat. I restrained myself. Unless I train myself well in this art, be physically even fitter, it was not advisable to go up. We spent some time clicking snaps. Then we climbed down. The climb down was in fact more difficult that climbing up. Again, with the help and guidance of Ravi and other folks, I managed to come down safely.
Then we hiked our way back through the trail to the place where we had all started from. I had some water. Bid good bye and left.

Thanks to Hyderabad Runners and Society to Save Rocks, that was one of the best Sundays I had. In the long run in the morning and the refreshing a rock walk, I saw a lot, I pondered a lot and I learnt a lot. Fear is a little voice inside our head. It is an obstacle that stops us even before the actual obstacle comes. And the only way to overcome fear is to just face it. For me, it was a day to remember!

Learning, Leisure

In today's world of Google, memory as a function has been relegated only to the confines of servers and computers. No one really wants to remember the fact, data and dates. However anachronistic it may seem, I think, a good memory and a good method to memorize is a key to become a lifelong learner. If you are unable to remember the key take away from the lecture, if you are unable to state the exact clause in the policy under consideration or if you are unable to recollect the punch line in a joke, all that you have studied, learnt and imbibed is of no use.

I have a list of poems that are my favorite. Leisure by W H Davies, Even this shall pass away by Theodore Tilton, If by Rudyard Kipling and many more. These poems somehow speak to me. I love the philosophy that they propound. I love what the poet wants to say with those lines. So, as one of my long term goals, I plan to memorize the poems, so that they become a part of me.

Over the last couple of days, I have memorized the poem, Leisure. There are certain techniques that I used to memorize the poem.

1.            The first step was to read the poem and understand some basic background about it. Understand who the author is, in which context the poem was written, in which time period was it composed etc. This background information helps to create a unique place in our memory for the new poem. The poem, Leisure was written by William Henry Davies, a welsh poet, which was first published in 1911. The poem is written as a set of seven rhyming couplets. It talks about the business of life. It says that we need to slow down, connect with nature and enjoy it.

2.            How do you eat an elephant? - One bite at a time. How do you memorize a poem? One line at a time. Take a print out of the poem. Read the first couplet. "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare". Memorize it. By its very nature, couplets rhyme and are easy to remember. Take each couplet as a chunk and remember it by repeating it again and again. Once you have mastered the first couplet, move on to the second couplet and memorize it. Then, repeat both the first and second couplet together.  You may want to look at the book and read it once again.  Then go for the third couplet and repeat the first, second and third couplet together. Then look at the book and read it several times. You have to follow this method till you reach the last couple.  It is like one memory chunk, getting attached to another chunk to create a larger memory chunk. Slowly, you will be able to recall one couplet after another and the complete poem in one go.

3.            Recollect the poem at various times.  Recall is a form of mini testing. It helps us to learn better. When you are shaving in the morning, or when you are exercising in the gym or when you are driving to office, try to recall the poem. Recalling something at a different place and time that it was learnt, helps to negate the influence of environmental cues and deeply ingrain the material to memory.

4.            If you get bored by one poem, you can interleave your learning by trying to memorize another poem. I tried memorizing ‘Even this shall pass away’, along with Leisure. This helps in even better access to the stored memory in your brain.

5.            Perform spaced repetition. Do not repeat the same poem over and over again throughout the day (You can do that! But it may not be effective). Rather, repeat the poem over several days. Say, first on every day of the first week, then every alternate day in the next week, then every 3 days in the third week and so on. Spaced repetition helps jog the memory. It has an effect of bringing the poem from our memory warehouse to our working memory. Moving the chunks of memory from long term to working memory helps in consolidating and committing the material in our brain forever.

Friends, the internet and Google can bring all information to your finger tips.  But unless you are able to hold large amount of ideas and concepts in your mind, cross pollinate them with your experience and rinse them with the wisdom from your long term memory, you will not be able to create something new, something astounding and something amazing!

Well, this may not be something new, astounding or amazing, but it is the final outcome of committing the poem to memory. I promise that I did not read this out from a book, but I have recited and recorded it from my memory. Click Here.

And here is another, much better rendition with music.

Sleep Well, Learn More

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,  
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.

American poet Robert Frost, in his poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", had penned these immortal lines. These lines provided the much needed inspiration to the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. In fact, as the story goes, these were the lines that were found on a scrap of paper on his desk when he died - presumably the last words he saw.

While these lines are prized for their figurative meaning, Robert Frost and Jawaharlal Nehru, could have been a bit more aware of the importance of sleep.


It was a night I will never forget. The next day was the dreaded POM - I (Production & Operations Management) final exam. It was the last day of the term exams and in spite of whiling away my time throughout the term, I wanted to ace it. So, I was studying hard. In fact, I was running from pillar to post - from one room to another, in search of a knight in shining armor, one who could resolve my doubts, explain few of the problems how they were solved and identify some more that I could practice for the exam.

POM I was taught by Professor Sahu, a young man, who had returned from the US with a doctorate under his belt. He had a reputation of posing really tough questions in the final exams. He had a penchant for problems. And problems were something I was afraid of. Ask me the theory, and somehow, I could wing something closer to an answer in the text book. But with numbers, I was always numb!

My friend Ajay dropped in to check how I was doing. Ajay was the cool, unruffled guy. With a devil-may-care attitude, he was like the Buddha. He saw the fear in my eyes. "Don’t worry Dude. Everything shall pass away!” he said. "Yes, everything shall pass away, but will I pass this POM-I?” I wondered. Ajay patted my back, nodded in assurance, pointed me to Rajiv, and strolled away.

Rajiv, my meticulous corpo type roommate was stretching himself on his study chair. He had just finished his revision. "Rajiv, are you done?" I asked. "Yes!", he said emphatically. "Can you help me with some important problems?" I asked hesitantly. Rajiv was somehow gracious enough that night. He outlined 30 problems for me from 8 chapters and even gave me his notebook where he had solved them. Yes, Got IT!! I said to myself. I will now ace the exam!

It was 11 PM. The test was at 9 AM. So, I had 10 hours with me. 10 hours, 30 problems so, 20 minutes for each, I deduced.  I decided to go for a night out and smash the POM-I exam.

When Rajiv woke up at 8:00 AM in the morning, I was still poring over the solution. I have had several cups of coffee and solved most of the problems. I had got a hang of the different type of problems. I was fairly confident of cracking the test.

As I walked to the class that morning, my eyes hurt. I felt that the 9 AM sun was somewhat brighter than other days. Effect of the night out, I thought. I will finish the test, come back and crash throughout the day.

There was a tense air hanging in the exam hall. I felt everyone was busy on their own. Like a robot, I greeted few people and responded back to them. I took my place at the right hand corner of the room, waiting anxiously for the question paper to be distributed. Soon, I got the papers. I glanced through it quickly, mentally marking out the easy, theoretical ones that I would tackle first. I realized that there were 3 subjective and 3 problem-solving based question. I started working on the subjective questions. They were supposed to be easy for me. But I had to strain myself. Somehow, the words were not flowing out smoothly from me. I had to stop, think hard and focus on it. I lost my train of thought and re-gathered them several times. I was wondering why this was happening. But with a firm focus on finishing the task at hand, I answered them.

Then I moved on to the problems. I read the first question. I grappled with the numbers, my nemesis. I could figure out that they were from the 3rd chapter. But I was not able to crack it. I decided to skip it and move to the next one. That one was easy. I started solving it. But towards the end, I could not figure out the next step. I was almost close, but not yet. So, I moved on to the last problem. Again, it was very frustrating as I knew which chapter it was from. I knew the overall concept. But somehow my mind was not clear. I attempted it based on my conceptual knowledge and gave it my best shot, which I somehow felt was not good enough.

The rest of the day, I was moving like a zombie. I had not done well in the exam and it was not allowing me to sleep. Later in the day, I slept like a log. I woke up only on the next morning. That morning, when I looked at the question paper, it seemed like a piece of cake. I was amazed.

Have you ever felt like that? A good night's sleep and then things falling in place.

Modern research proves that sleep is an essential factor in learning. When we are awake, some toxic products are created in our brain. But, when we sleep, these toxic products are washed away from our brain. This helps us to think clearly when we are awake. Thus, if you take an exam after a night out, you have bits of poison and toxins running around in your head which make your thinking hazy. Too little sleep creates more problems in life. We may have stress, high blood pressure and anxiety. If we are sleep deprived for days together, we will have problem learning and remembering different things.

During sleep, our brain consolidates our learning and memory. It goes over and over difficult concepts that we are grappling with. Sleep after learning allows brain cells to connect with other brain cells, there by strengthening the learning and moving the ideas learnt from short term memory to long term memory. Dreaming, on the things that you have learnt, in your sleep, makes the learning permanent. In fact, experts recommend using forced dreaming technique. In it, you grapple with a difficult problem or concept just before you go to sleep, then think about it while falling asleep. There is a high chance that you will dream about it in your sleep. And you may even understand the concept clearly or solve the problem that you were grappling with in your sleep. In fact, modern research has shown that when people imagine practicing a skill or sport in their dream, their performance in that activity improves in real life.

Even after I have understood the importance of sleep in learning and memory, some habits are hard to go by. One such habit is doing a night out before the exams. We all feel that unless we put in a night out, we have not put in the required effort and hours to get a good grade. For all of us who have the difficulty of shedding this habit, the celebrated American poet Robert Frost penned these lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Try something different before the next exam. Don’t go for a night outer. Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep well. Trust me, you will do well!