Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 1 - Kolkata to Jessore - (Of Action Movie Heroes and Paradox)

If I were to inflate our two heroes to cinematic proportions, I would say that they fought off Maoist rebels all the way from Kolkata to the border. And they managed this with their amazing karate skills. But cinematic heroism has already been lambasted in the previous post, so I'll give you the less sensational truth: Well-intentioned relatives of Chris and Sheila were worried in light of the recent kidnapping of Italian tourists by Maoists in West Bengal, so a well-connected relative arranged for a special escort to the border. The runners would, in this way, have a hassle-free passage all the way to Bangladesh. Except for one small hassle: they were not allowed to run until about five kilometers from the border. Despite this minor setback, the escort, five members of the West Bengal Olympic Committee, did stop so some appreciative village school children could adorn our heroes with garlands of flowers; they did help our heroes get through passport control; and,in the end, the Maoists simply didn't stand a chance. They were too cowardly to even show up. As for the karate? Well, that came as the "dialogue of the day":

 "Where do you live?"
"Your job?"
-Sport teacher.
"You teach karate?"
-No, just water karate.
"I like karate very much...You teach karate?"
-No, just water karate.
Contemplative pause, then direct eye contact:
"You are looking very beautiful."

 Indeed. They were looking very beautiful. Authentically--unlike movie heroes. And that's where paradox comes in: real heroes are usually very normal people...

Bangladesh is full of paradoxical scenes too. We saw one on the way to meet Marc and Chris at the border. Beneath the flaming red beauty of a newly blooming flamboyant tree, a three-wheeled minibus had somehow toppled over onto an elderly bicyclist. Several passengers frantically leapt out of the upturned side. They rushed around to try to lift the small vehicle back upright. I could see the feet of the trapped man just sticking out. As the ghastly scene faded in the rear-view mirror, I saw the minibus back on its wheels, the old man lying on the asphalt holding his head, and the beautiful red-blossomed tree above it all.

So as Marc and Chris ran today (and they did well in the heat, verdant countryside, and intermittent chaos), they were trying to rectify another paradox: that amidst the simple and beautiful contentment represented in the faces of Bangladeshi children, there is an unsettling need for quality education that, as they grow up, could save them from a life of poverty.

At one point, a group of boys, shirtless and shoeless, began to run behind Marc. They kept it up for nearly a kilometer--for the pure joy of it. I reached out the window of the van and squeezed the shoulder of the nearest boy. "Wow, you're strong," I said. You should have seen how he straightened up, puffed out his chest, and tightened his technique, making his hands rigid to cut through the hot breeze with each stride... It's for boys and girls like him that Chris and Marc are running.

(Please visit the facebook page for full photo album of Day 1)

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