There was a new message waiting for me on Linkedin. It said:
I had never met Mujtaba Kadri before. Other than our common Linkedin ancestry, there was no bond or overlap till this May in our lives. It was a day after I had posted a link to Abdul Mueed’s story and the Dalmia dreaming documentary on two forums. We had just done a private pre-screening for a select group of friends and supporters at the Nestio and the message was a pleasant surprise.
Two weeks later, 8:30 pm on a Saturday evening, Mujtaba Kadri made a short stop at our door. He had flown all the way from Canada for a family affair and he carried 4 pairs of response techfits and supernova glides for Mueed with him. Top of the line light weight Adidas trainers with superlative padding and continental tire treads for soles.
13,000 kilometers, two continents apart, a stranger I had never met before, heard my plea for help with a dream. He came by to prove that while distances exist there is a bond between believers in lost causes that transcends disbelief.
When we sat down for a sip of lemonade after the shoe transaction was done we found that there were quite a few common links.
Mujtaba had graduated a year after I stopped teaching at FAST in 1998. We had common friends including a few class mates and one of my favorite TA’s. We spoke about initiatives that we could explore to turn our dream of getting our kids in the finals of the next Asian games.
Of what it would really take to make that one dream come true.
Mujtaba’s was not the only surprise call that weekend. A few days later after I had responded to Mujtaba request for shoe sizes, there came another email. This time it wasn’t a total stranger.
Arifa Mashood had seen the video that Jehan had shared on her timeline. She came from a family of sprinters who first carried the flag for the common wealth before partition and then Pakistan, when the newly born state put together a team to represent the nation in its early days. Arifa didn’t just connect with the message we had shared in our documentary. She had carried the same flame for sending our athletes to the Olympics and the Asian games for decades. Her uncles had not just represented Pakistan but had put together the grand plan for infrastructure that we still use today for training. She had carried those memories and wanted to do right by them. In our work with Mueed and Sind Track and Field club she saw a mirror of her own.
What do you need, she asked, first in her email and then on the phone when we finally connected. I told her what we needed immediately and she said yes, without even blinking for a second.
My third surprise in June was a complete blindside. While Mujtaba was a total stranger, Arifa, someone I had met once with Jehan for a few minutes ten years ago, Sana Saleem had been a fellow instigator and trouble maker on the internet governance front for many years.
Sana’s coverage of our work with athletics on Global voices made my weekend on 4th June. It had been a long day, I had been driving like a crazed lunatic on a hair trigger for the last three hours and I literally stomped into the office with a dark cloud for a mood.
I open my laptop and see 39 notification on Facebook. That tends to catch my attention on a Saturday afternoon. And there was the story. I floated in the goodwill for the next few hours. Work, deadlines, rage, all forgotten.
A week later BBC picked up the Global voices story and we ended up recording our first interview at the Karachi studio, talking about why track matters and the lives it transforms.
Mujtaba, Arifa and Sana each gave us the best of all gifts. The gift of belief.
They dream the same dreams, see the same worlds, wish the same things for the kids. They want them to go where no one has gone before, push limits likes no one has pushed them. And they don’t expect anything in return.
But there is one gift that I haven’t mentioned, yet. Perhaps because it has been the most personal of the lot. The gift that I didn’t share, that I kept for myself.
Not a gift of belief but the gift of inspiration.
On August 18th 2015, I lost use of both my ankles.
I found out that morning that I am one of the 300,000 individuals who react strongly to an antibiotic that while clearing up infections, also attacks tendons as an added bonus. For the next forty days I was essentially bound to what I (now) lovingly called the four wheel drive mode – chairs with wheels. Hooked to pain killers, crawling on carpeted floor of hotel rooms in Nairobi and Tehran on my knees because while I couldn’t walk, there was still work needed doing that couldn’t wait.
So if you had asked me in October last about my opinions about life in general or my chances of ever walking again properly, let alone running, I would have given you the gloomy dim version. While I am not a stranger to dark periods, this time I had lost the ability to walk, the ability to think, to contribute, and to write. Not consolable, my middle name Black. (There is a gap on the timeline of posts on this site and elsewhere between July and February. You now know what happened.)
Yes, I was still the fastest cripple off the aircraft but I had no delusions about ever getting back on the tartan track.
On the morning of 5th June 2016, two days before the start of this Ramazan, I ran the 400m in 1:19 seconds. For an ordinary fit middle aged male, the time is shameful. Here is some context about the shame; my pre-teen daughter is faster than I am on the same field for the same distance.
But for someone who left running twenty years ago and is armed with two matching pairs of torn cartilages and damaged ankles, it represents a milestone. A milestone that would have never been possible without the gift of inspiration this group of children and coaches has given me.
There are no medals for over weight 45 years old who still think they are 17. So no I don’t run for medals. I run because for the fleeting moment on the curve, when the wind is behind me and my body is screaming at me to stop, I can feel again what it means to dream impossible dreams.