Life is a journey meant to be won, and that win is meant to be savoured – that is a thought on which each boy in our town is brought up. We spend our lives racing endlessly, and yet never really grasp the reason for it. But this year is different: We are in a ‘halt’ mode, just like the rest of the world. Our lives have found new definitions and values. Even as we struggle to survive amid a contagion, we do miss the normalcy that we, sometimes, considered monotonous earlier.

I remember the day of our last Payippad Boat Race – the sun beaming upon us, and a soft breeze blowing across the faces of thousands of spectators cheering their loved ones. I always wondered what it would be like to be on that snake boat, jostling with hundreds of others to reach the shore, even as so many watchers pinned their happiness and hopes on you through three days of rigour and celebrations. This wonderment made me go to the captain of one of the teams and urge him to select me.

After months of intensive practice and persistence, I got what I wanted (or needed rather) at that point in my life. I am quite a water person, so water bodies always made me calm. And then came the all-important day – the very first day of the month, the day of the festival. Having worked for it for so long, I could feel an adrenaline rush as the pressure to win built up. I knew my friends and family were there to cheer me on, but I could not see them among thousands of people. I now understand what a Kohli or Dhoni must feel when on the cricket field.

I was about to step on the boat, with roars of the crowd reverberating. I subconsciously blurred out the noise to hear my mind talk. It kept telling me: take a deep breath and drink a sip of the pious water of the river. And I did just that.

After three arduous days, we got what we had worked for. The sound of temple bells tolling and cheers of the audience echoing in the air exhilarated me. I felt what I had never felt before: the joy of winning, of living up to the hopes of everyone who reposed their faith in us. All I could think of was how our hard work had got us here.

But this year is different. As I lie down in my bed with very little to do, I do miss last year’s Payippad a lot. And, surprisingly, it is not just about the winning. What I miss more is the rush of adrenaline in my blood, the swing of the arms for a purpose bigger than me. I also miss the scorching sun and the sweet breeze, and the touch of droplets on the skin as ores sliced the water. But what I miss most of all is something I had not even given a thought to last year – that I, just ‘me’ when I joined the race, had become ‘we’ towards the end of the race. That is quite like life: winning does not matter so much as the people you won with. I hope the next year brings us all back together again – for another three-day camaraderie and ‘I’ becoming ‘we’ for a common cause.

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