The brutal honesty of India.
No pussy-footing around. No gentle questions. No polite remarks.
“Madame, how old are you?” asked the young man who stopped me while I was out running in the Aravali Biodiversity Park this hot July morning.
“Er, why do you want to know my age?” I replied, though knowing it was a pointless delaying tactic.
“Because you look…(and he looked me up and down in an uncreepy way, appraising me, possibly trying to be polite)…you look…fit, but…”
What the heck, I’d be stuck there all day at this rate.
“I am 62”, I replied. (Actually, I’m not quite there yet, but what’s three months amongst strangers?)
“64?” he said, looking taken aback. “64?”.
To my shame I snapped, “No, not 64. 62.” Might mean nothing to a youngster, but those are two extra years, buddy. Two whole years.
“How long have you been running?” he asked, still looking a bit shaken.
“I started when I turned 60” I replied.
“But why? Why did you start running at that age? Why do you run at your age?”
Ah India. Land of the totally politically incorrect question.
Then he smiled and said, “But you run so fast, and your are so fit.” (Fit was his only English word. Everything else was in in Hindi.)
“I want to run like you. How do I become a runner like you?”
Oh, the temptation to say some thing like “First, young man, put that T shirt back on whilst talking to a senior citizen…” But since he wouldn’t stop talking I never got a word in edge ways…
You run so fast, how do you do it?
how much do you run every day? How much should I run?
What is that in your hand? (Er, a water bottle.) Oh, should I run with water?
Should I drink water while running?
Should I run on my heels or on my toes? (This last question accompanied by a demonstration.)
Should I look down or look up?
Blimey, the questions didn’t stop, and there was old auntie-ji (as my young running-group-girls call me) answering questions as though she knew the answers.
Still, it was cute to be perceived to be a runner, whilst I still describe myself to everyone else as a total and utter newbie.
Each time I tried to excuse myself and continue with my own run, he would have another question – and, let me say within the context of the dubious reputation Delhi has for women’s safety, he was not in the least creepy or threatening. Plus it was broad daylight. Plus I knew I could outrun him!!
It was just that he had an endless string of questions – how long, how fast, breathing – and once he’d established how ancient I am, he kept saying, every few minutes, “aap itni fit hai.”
Eventually I extricated myself, restarted my mapmyrun timer, reswitched my music on and ran off, feeling quite the runner.
Feeling quite old, too, but at least an old runner.