While running in Sydney, it occurred to me that I have been living in Canada for 39 years, much longer than I had lived in my own country of birth, where I had 16 years of education and a year and a half of a professional career. I had lived in US for 3.5 years. I had lived six months in France. I also lived in India for nine months as a refugee in 1971. Later, I got married in India. My mother moved to India; passed away in India. My brother worked in India; passed away in India. India helped create Bangladesh, for sure, by military intervention, allowing me to return to BD and finish my degree from BUET, which allowed me to come to Waterloo and then get a job with Imperial Oil (ExxonMobil), where I have been working since 1980.
But my dreams these days do not have a single frame from Canada or US or France or India. They are all from Matlab and Bishnupur, the two villages where I grew up in BD. It was there where the bond was established. It was there where I roamed around in the forest, watching flowers and fiddleheads bloom; listened to the birds sing; walked on village streets lit by full moon and maddened by fragrances of flowers; caught fish from ponds and a canal; climbed trees and studied there sitting on tree branches, swayed by a southerly breeze; ate ripe mangos standing on a mango tree branch; played hide and seek in a wind-swept jute field; punted boats in monsoon; ate now-extinct fruits from the village bushes; and enjoyed 13 Hindu festivals in 12 months of a calendar year.
To me then, a tree was just not a trunk with branches and leaves and fruits. It was a friend with feelings. I loved it when I saw it even when I went to other villages to visit acquaintances and relatives. I thought of missing it the day before I was to leave the village. I said a silent good-bye to it when I left. I could see and feel emptiness and sadness around when I was leaving.
When walking on a village path, I paid attention to the little things, like the grasses on the edge; the tiny flowers on the side; the small bees hovering around for nectar; and the small birds jumping from one shrub to the other, rather whimsically.
BD was where I got inspired by nature, like so many poets and literary giants that this intellectually fertile land of undivided Bengal had produced and continues to produce. She may be poor materialistically-like my own biological mother-but very rich intellectually. One Nobel Laureate was born and raised in BD (Dr Muhammad Yunus), another went to schools in BD (Dr Amartya Sen), and yet another spent a significant amount of his productive time (Rabindranath Tagore) in what is now BD-all three speaking Bengali, the language of once undivided Bengal which included what is now BD and the West Bengal state of India.
Many cheering for me for marathons, over the past few years, are from BUET and BD. I dedicated some of my marathons to BUET alumni. One of them (Dr Mushfiq Rahman) and his gracious wife (Mrs Tora Rahman) threw a welcome dinner party in Melbourne for us, inviting a few other alumni from BUET, including our relatives from Melbourne. I was given the opportunity to sing at the party, thereby reviving an almost-forgotten interest. To me, knowing Bengali, appreciating and singing Tagore's Bengali songs is a privilege and blessing that I came to appreciate more, after reading recently that many fans from around the world in Tagore's time wanted to appreciate the work of this great genius, but could not fully because of what was lost in translation from Bengali to other languages.
I was also happy to be cheered by the same two Melbourne friends in the morning of the marathon. It took the pre-run pressure off me. One wish by one of them will stay with me for a long time. 'Go break a leg!' wished she, explaining it was an Aussie way of wishing good luck. That's the last thing a runner nursing a sore left knee and a cramp-prone calf would want to hear, especially a few minutes before the race. But we laughed it out, and I then left to join the other runners waiting at the starting corral, some looking like sacrificial goats-wet and afraid.
'Been there, done that-28 times,' I tried to reassure myself.
After crossing the finish line, I was overcome with emotions. I stood in one corner to recollect. A volunteer came and directed me to his colleagues who were giving away medals for the Sydney Marathon, a few yards away.
With a smile, I proudly raised two Seven Continents Medals (when one shipped by regular mail was late coming, a second one was couriered) for the official photographer.
The talismans for good health from high school days had been forsaken long time ago. These days, I have ribbons, 30 of them, each holding a full marathon finisher's medal, showing the name of the marathon, its logo, and the year I ran.
Each medal is a symbol of success, achieved through tenacity of purpose. For each, I set a goal, I worked hard, and I achieved. I did because was in control. 'Seagull Managers' were in the beaches.
'Where are they?'
The search for my wife, friends from Melbourne and Sydney started, and ended unsuccessfully after an hour or so, putting a damper on what would have been a marvelous post-marathon celebration around the ground of the SOH.
But that's how life and marathon are alike-exaltation in one moment, anxiety in the next.
It turned out that the Sydney group was there with a BUET alumni banner one hour before my finish, and wife MC with Melbourne friends from the Meriton Hotel (2.6km from the SOH) arrived several minutes after I had finished. And each group was separately looking for me, as I was for them. It did not help that I did not have a cell phone.
Not seeing anybody I was looking for, made me panic and think of the unthinkable-someone was seriously ill, injured, or even worse.
Back at the hotel, I was reading Dr JRC's announcement to BUET alumni that I had finished successfully and that he had been monitoring my time of crossing each check point on the internet, from Dhaka-some 9,000 km away.
9,000 km was insignificant to Dr. JRC on internet. But 2.6 km was a long distance to MC and our Melbourne friends on foot.
Without any recovery food for close to 2 h, my body and brain felt like they belonged to a zombie. I needed replenishing food (carbohydrates and proteins) to have all faculties functioning properly again.
Later in the day, Jen Ryder of the Seven Continents Club, Boston, was given the news of my Sydney finish with a reminder of a request I made of her.
A dinner in Home Thai Restaurant on Sussex Street with my Melbourne friends and MC that night was a happy ending to a remarkable journey that started in December, 1999, with a goal of running my first marathon in Vancouver, Canada, on May 7, 2000, and ended with completing the goal of running marathons in seven continents.
'Ended' meaning for the time being. Running for me must continue until the legs quit or the heart stops.
In the early morning of Sept 23, 2014, sitting in Room 3802 A in Meriton Serviced Apartment on downtown Sydney's Kent Street, I opened the Seven Continents Club's List of Full Marathon Finishers and scrolled down to the last entry:
Tapantosh Chakrabarty, Canada and Bangladesh
Scanning through the first four words, I landed on the last.
'Bangladesh' lit up the pleasure points in my brain-instantly.
It was official! A runner of Bangladeshi origin had made the list-for the first time.
It was a fulfilling feeling. In a very small way, I was able to pay a tribute to the land and the country, where I was born and brought up, which nurtured me, which my ancestors called home for generations, and of which I dream almost every night.
I remembered Dr M Yunus from ICDDR'B, BD, while hosting me as a visiting scholar in 2010, referring to me as a Bhumiputra, meaning the son of the land.
'Bhumiputra!' I sounded the word out loud again. The musicality in the Bengali word resonated in the corner of the 38th floor living room, overlooking Darling Harbour.
My mind flew 9000 km away to village Bishnupur in BD. There, on a dew-drenched grassy path between a forest to my left and an open pond to my right, I was strolling like I did as a kid. A southerly post-monsoon autumn breeze gently brushed against my face on its way to the pond lilies: some white, some pink, making them sway gently. A white BD Bok (a small heron or an egret) flew in from the south and landed stealthily on a small tree branch hanging over the edge of the pond. Everything seemed tranquil for a few moments.
Then, suddenly a small fish jumped into the air above the water and dropped back immediately, creating a circular ripple that kept on advancing toward the white predator, as though carrying at aunt: 'Catch me if you can!'
'The train leaves in an hour,' a portentous announcement came from the kitchen, bringing me back to the sealed apartment, surrounded by a jungle of concrete. A whistling sound from a tea kettle reverberated in the living room, after failing to find an exit.r (Concluded)
Tapan Chakrabarty, first Bangladeshi to complete marathons in all continents, writes from Calgary, Canada