You know the other day I did ten pushups and felt very proud of myself. Then I read Anywhere But Home. For those that don’t know Anu Vaidhyanathan she is the first Asian woman to have competed in Ultraman Canada. To be honest I hadn’t even heard of Ultraman and if I had I’d have thought it was a deodorant company. But I googled it and immediately became an admirer of Miss. Vaidhyanathan.
The ultraman is a very taxing endurance test of sorts. It involves a 10 KM swim, 425.6 KM bike course and an 84.4 KM run. I can’t even do a 100 metre swim so you can paint me sufficiently impressed. I heard about Anu Vaidhynathan first on twitter when people were talking about the Coimbatore race. I clicked on her profile and started learning about this impressive woman who is from a traditional Tamil Brahmin family. A while later I was given an opportunity to read and review Anywhere But Home and since the book was already in my amazon wishlist, I typed out YES in a frenzy and sat waiting. I wanted to know all about her, what made her who she is, how she went from a studious sports hating person in a curd rice eating body to someone who wanted to drop everything to go for a run on muscular limbs.
It follows Anu as she takes off every few weeks on a flight with her bike box to various locations, new Zealand, Philippines, China, Canada etc etc just to race and test her endurance. We watch her running down the streets of Bangalore with dogs (real) and dogs (local romeos) chasing after her. We watch as she visits a temple town and wakes up at 4 not to perform her prayers but to go for a run. And we watch some more as she moves to a whole other country just to have a better practice space.
The book is about her running. ONLY about her running. While you do get glimpses of the people surrounding her it’s usually the negatives and the positives, not the experiences. This reads more like an anthology of “Where, Why and When”. I ran here and I thought this. I ran there through this lane and I thought that. It really isn’t anything more. Of course it isn’t a bad thing! For those that are used to reading non fiction only this book will be an absolute pleasure. It’s just that for someone like me who is used to reading a lot more fiction, I wanted to get to know Anu as a person. I wanted to know the people who were her friends, how they affected her life and in more than one sentence.
For example, there’s a portion where she talks about having a fight with a German boyfriend because he couldn’t understand why a run was more fun than a movie. So she takes off on a run. At the same time a Hailstorm hits their area. I have no idea what happened next because she stops there. And now I’ll die unsatisfied. It’s the little things like this that made this a little less enjoyable than it could have been.
But there are other portions where her absolutely hilarious self peeks through and I wish we had seen more of that self. For instance where she talks about “The guy in the pink speedo” as a way to identify a character or when she insists that she isn’t lonely and has friends “Even the local vegetable vendors were becoming friends with me”. But what stays in mind is this:
“Client: so which anti balding cream sample did you like best? Lilac or morning flower?
Anu: sorry to disappoint you but I have not tried the samples you sent me.
Client: was the scent too strong? See, I could not decide….
Anu: oh no no, it smells fine. I am just not balding yet, so I might have to wait.”
Of course everyone goes through hardships and Anu isn’t any different. But she’s taken the nay sayers and the negative ninnies and turned their influence into fuel for her runs. I’ve learned a lot from that, particularly since I’m someone who lacks social skills and is easily affected by comments. I wish I could have taken them to heart but in a different way. And if there’s one thing you learn from her memoir it is how you never give up. No matter how much you struggle or fail, doesn’t matter if you forgot your electrolytes or if your crew are shouting something negative to you. You plod on till you reach the finish line. You can grab that IV drip after you are done with the run.
All in all, I was thoroughly impressed with her achievements. Her lack of satisfaction in life and people has led her to fall in love with something that is absolutely amazing. Yes, she may not be the first Asian Woman to place first in the Ultraman or the Ironman but she is the first to participate and that is a feat in itself.
I was given a review copy but opinions expressed here are my own.