A regular Thursday evening. Rumi is visiting her grandparents so the house is unusually quiet. I am in my usual Salwar-T-shirt avatar watching something on Romedy Now. I am casually checking my WhatsApp and my eyes fall on some messages exchanged with Isha. Isha is one of the coolest, most inspirational youngsters I know. This exceptionally talented girl dons many hats. She is the lens behind the Humans of Pune page and she is now the Head of Social Media Marketing for the Pinkathon, known mostly as that Milind Soman running event. I first met Isha through my husband who taught her at MMB and both of us have been following all the cool, fun stuff she does with awe and admiration. Isha called me a few weeks back to invite me to the Pune Pinkathon. Now frankly, I had zero motivation and interest in joining other women, running several kilometers at the crack of dawn. The only reason I agreed to do it is Milind Soman. Oh My God, the Hotness, sigh! I was dying to meet him and get one picture with him. I knew that my fitness levels are so abysmally low that I would be walking – not running – and I chose the smallest distance of 3 km.
“You can train” laughed Isha and even offered to come with me but I politely declined because I was so, so embarrassed at my own stamina and I did not want her to see me huffing and puffing after 50 meters. Then, the festive season cast its net upon us with all its overeating and obviously no time to ‘just go for a run’. I messaged her in a rush of panic. “I haven’t trained, I can’t do it.” “You will be able to do it. Just come” she said. Again that tempting image of Mr. Milind Soman came to my mind. “Oooh yes, uske liye kuch bhi” I thought, remembering the days I had danced to “Jaanam Samjha Karo” and swooned. Heck, I had even watched 16 December in the theater for him. The song “Made in India” made me feel like he and I had a ‘special connection’ obviously because the song is sung by an Alisha.
As the event came closer, I became curious about the Pinkathon. What had prompted Milind to start this only-for-women running event? I asked Isha about it and she said maybe I could ask him myself. My heartbeats went up. Talk to Mr. Hotness for a few minutes? Wow, better than expected.
And so it happened that on that fateful Thursday I messaged Isha asking her whether I would really have time to meet him. I wanted to have a few questions ready so that I didn’t appear like a stuttering fool in front of him on Sunday. “You can come now” she said. I blinked and stared at that message for a few seconds. “Now? Where?” “At the O Hotel. Come fast.” My heart sank. “It’ll take me at least an hour” I said, confident that Milind Soman would have left by then. “Leave immediately.” I flew into the bedroom. “Abhi” I screamed and my husband popped his head out of the bathroom. “Move it, I might get to meet Mi….So…” I was already stuttering. Luckily, the husband understood. Never before have clothes been changed so fast. We ran for the door. We kept saying to each other, “It’s OK even if he leaves, it’s fine”. I was constantly messaging Isha. “We are at Deccan. Now Sancheti. Now Ruby Hall.” Every single time I expected, “Oh he’s leaving” as the reply. Bless the husband for driving as well as he did and we drove into the driveway of the O hotel 45 minutes later. “Come to your right” instructed Isha and I saw her waving to us.
And there he was, looking exactly like he does in all those pictures (obviously, how else is he going to look?) “Oh My God” were the first words I uttered, and then some 5 times again. I believe I also muttered “Jaanam Samjha Karo” twice. (Thank you God for preventing the words “our connection” and “Made in India” from leaving my mouth). He shook my hand. “Lovely to meet you”. In a daze, I offered my hand again (Please, dear God, please don’t let him think I needed an excuse to touch him again!) Luckily, he got busy on a call for a few minutes and I got time to regain my composure.
My eyes fell on his glass and I exclaimed before I could control it “Cold Coffee?”! “It’s a peanut butter banana milkshake” he said. (I was a tad bit disappointed that we don’t share our favorite drink after all)
“I was interested in knowing what prompted you to start this whole movement” I said. “Because I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Women are notorious for ignoring their own health and I think it’s a brilliant idea to make them run with their Aai, sisters-in-law, maids etc.” At this point my husband pushed his phone forward and started recording our conversation. He knows me so well that he could tell from the way my eyes were glazing over that I would not remember details of the conversation later. Milind realized he’s being recorded and did an evil laugh for our benefit (Listen to the audio snippet of Milind’s evil laugh here: I’m swooning).
“No, it wasn’t actually that deep” he smiled. “Having been an endurance runner for about 14 years now, I, like all runners, want to see other people run, because I know how amazing it is and the impact that it can have. I had noticed that although running had become very popular all over the country, the participation of women was very low, less than 10%. So I thought of creating a space for women. There was only one other run for women and it wasn’t doing so well. It actually was for women who were already running, whereas our concept is for women who don’t exercise and don’t run. This includes providing a space where they can wear what they like so that they don’t feel self-conscious. So they can even run in their saris. It is not a performance based run, it is more of a community run. The idea is to take away as many excuses as possible. You can pick from 3 km to the half-marathon and do a distance that you’re comfortable with.”
“The Pinkathon is made for women like me!” I thought to myself. I watched Milind intently, listening to his words and getting inspired, and also trying to determine the exact shade of brown of his eyes.
“The response has been fantastic” he continued. “The first Pinkathon saw 2000 women which was a decent number for Mumbai, but the third Mumbai Pinkathon had 10,000 women. That’s how quickly it grew.”
He went on to explain the numbers that the Pinkathon team watches out for. Among other things, an important figure is the number of women that sign up for the 10k marathon because although that is an achievable distance, women don’t tend to think so. So the number of women signing up for the 10k run is actually an indication of their increasing confidence and changing mindsets.
“The first Pinkathon had 230 women for the 10k run whereas the third Pinkathon had 2000 women. This shows us how their minds are opening up. Earlier there were women who said ‘No, I won’t be able to do 3k who are now doing the 10k run”.
“She keeps telling me that she won’t be able to do 3k” Isha told Milind about me, and I was yet again reminded of not just how much I ignore my health but also how much I tend to put myself down and underestimate myself.
Milind went on to talk about the growth of the Pinkathon. 8 cities and 65,000 women running, which is massive! They now have smaller towns coming to them and asking for guidance to hold the event in their town. These smaller towns can also operate on the Franchise Model and run it like a business so that it is sustainable for them. Kathmandu is now the first outside city to become a part of this movement.
When I ask Milind about his plans for the future he laughed and said that he never bothers about planning things. He talked about women eventually not needing the Pinkathon anymore, once there is a change in their mindset and they have gained the confidence to be a part of other events. He called the Pinkathon “a stepping stone, a transition phase”. The Pinkathon is thus, now moving into performance-based runs as the next step.
“We are just creating opportunities and people who respond to these opportunites are the ones taking it forward” said Milind and I am so impressed by his humility and groundedness. I had come to meet him for his looks and his charm, but now I am filled with respect at his conviction and the value he is creating for women everywhere. The Pinkathon, for instance, has a fantastic ambassador program, where about 400 people promote and spread awareness about it. Their community outreach program conducts events with babywearing Moms or visually impaired women too.
(At this point, the fact that his eye color is Caramel stopped mattering and I was just so impressed and inspired).
The talk moved on to how we, as a society, perceive women. Milind talked of urban myths like ‘Women don’t know how to read maps’. Everywhere, we see these myths being perpetuated. We talked of an Ad with Farhan Akhtar in it (And… Farhan Akhtar is another man that I absolutely dig.) In this advertisement, he is teaching ‘his wife’ how to wash an apple. He is teaching a woman the best way to wash an apple for God’s sake! Even women that are CEOs of companies aren’t buying their own phone. The husband or brother comes along to “choose it”.
“Men are choosing the best washing machine, even the best mixers! Apparently the only thing they think women can choose is intimate hygiene products and cosmetics! Where is the empowerment?” exclaimed Milind.
I couldn’t wait to ask him how he convinced his Aai to run (That adorable video of Milind running with his sari-clad Mom). “She didn’t need to be convinced” he said. “Oh so everybody in your family is into fitness?” I asked, and what Milind said next has really stayed with me. “I’m not into fitness” he said. “I just like this lifestyle. Taking care of your body is a given. It is something so basic and so natural.”
I told him again that I lack the confidence to even run 3 km. “Don’t you think it’s ridiculous?” he asked matter-of-factly and I agreed with him. Health is so low on my priority list, it is ridiculous. I told him of my lifestyle disorders like PCOD and as I was talking I realized how abysmal my health actually was.
I wonder why I need ‘Milind Soman’ as a trigger to really wake up in the morning and make time for a run. Why do women need an external motivator for them to do something for their own health? No matter how exhausted I am, I find time to take Rumi to the park / for a swim. But the minute she’s with her grandparents, I lie on the couch like a sloth and binge on TV shows and RomComs. I insist on making fresh food for her but I end up finishing the leftovers for lunch, simply because I don’t want to be wasteful. This is exactly what my Mum and probably all generations of women before her used to do. I like to think I am a very different parent than what Mummy was but we are absolutely alike as far as health is concerned. Even as I’m writing this, I have forgotten all about breakfast and my Cold Coffee is next to me, untouched. Unless the doctor tells us, “You need to do it or you’ll die!” we absolutely refuse to take our health seriously.
Milind said to me “If you run like you talk, you will be able to do 10 k” and I laughed but that is what I’m seriously aiming for next year. Milind, I’m grateful to you for providing this food for thought. I don’t have the answer to why we don’t take our health more seriously. I think it has a lot to do with deep-rooted self-esteem issues. Like feeling guilty when you take some “me-time”. Feeling guilty to throw out the leftovers and cooking something healthy just for yourself, and so on. I don’t want to wait for a serious red flag to start doing something about my health. As I usher in the thirties, I promise myself that I will usher in a whole new year of fitness.
Thanks Milind, for opening my mind, and that of thousands of other women. The word ‘inspirational’ does not say enough. Thank You for an hour of your life that has served as a life-changer for me.
I’m so excited about the Pinkathon tomorrow, can’t wait to start running!