A white seagull whisked by, swerving to its right and missing my white-capped head.It was no ordinary seagull, though!
It was a seagull of the spectacular Sydney Harbour. A harbour to see which tourists like me throng to, after spending thousands of dollars and serving a self-imposed sentence of 15-h (from LAX) of captivity, with reduced mobility among several hundred fellow offenders, some carrying potentially contagious viruses, and all going to marvel at, after reaching their destination, what natural resources and good governance had done to a massive island, dominated by an inhabitable desert land interior to the coastal periphery; and what used to be a very far-away prison for the British citizens committing crimes, ranging from petty theft to serial killing, in their own country. A harbour whose water the seagull uses more for bathing than for food, which it gets from the plates left by tourists on the benches along the harbour-front restaurants, whose food is mediocre and service is sometimes like 'like it or leave it', as tips are already included in the minimum wage that is 2-2.5 times higher than that in Canada or the USA.
It has to be that high. Everything there is that many times more expensive.
Tourists are transients; they come and leave. But seagulls are a constant by the harbour; their constancy only terminated by their life expectancy of 10-15 years, but their overall population is steady and even growing, aided by inherently protective seagull parenting and availability of plenty of food left by tourists.
To a seagull at Sydney Harbour, bad food for guests means more food for it. It knows which eatery cooks what and does it well by eying the left-over portions from above, and later confirming its visual observation with on-the-bench tasting. Services, indifferent for paid human customers, for the seagulls are hostile with fast-swinging arms telling them to leave and then plates rudely snatched away for cleaning.
My seagull swooped, squawked, but did not do the third, fortunately. Others do all three, so much so that their behaviour is likened to that by some managers in the business world, earning them an unflattering label of 'Seagull Managers'. The word for a seagull's harsh vocal sound is 'squawk', which is also the title of a recent Travis Bradberry book about a 'Seagull Manager'. That is a manager who comes to a subordinate's office unannounced like a seagull, squawks like a seagull, and dumps like a seagull unnecessary, unexplained work (a mess) for the confused staff to clear (clean), and then leaves in a hurry like a seagull. No wonder those managers are also beach lovers. They go there often to retool, regroup, and get retrained by their mentors-the seagulls.
And then they come back to work and mess up more, pushing some of their talented, hard-working subordinates to switch company or take up activities like marathons to express themselves or achieve something satisfying.
It occurred to me that seagull-like behaviour of humans was one of the main reasons that made me run the first time and continue running. It took a seagull flying over my head to make the discovery.
'Seagulldipidity' is the word to describe the nature of my discovery, in a way 'serendipity' was the word used by Horace Walpole to describe the nature of his discovery (not known) in a letter to a friend. Like I was inspired by a seagull while running, Walpole was inspired by a fairy tale 'Three Princesses of Serendip (Sri Lanka)', the princesses in which, while travelling, were making discoveries by accidents combined with their sagacity.
A white edifice was getting closer with each stride, appearing from a distance like a cluster of white half-boats arranged one above the other, making the clever arrangement look like huge sea shells, as if pushed out of the sea by a tsunami and left ashore after the energy-depleted water had retreated.
That was no ordinary edifice, though!
It was the edifice that makes the Sydney harbour front what it is. A place to stroll, dine, enjoy opera, ballet, or a piano recital like the one we did two nights earlier, sitting in the front row and looking at the unpainted wood frame underneath the grand massive black instrument that was reflecting every head and neck movement of a female violinist to our right. Wife MC and I had views only of the trouser-clad legs of the pianist, Stephen Hough, playing Dvorak; the headless but clothed body parts of other instrument specialists behind the piano and to our left; the backside of the head and shoulder of the conductor who with his baton was making all kinds of swirling movements, his head going up and down, his shoulder squeezing and expanding, his looking to the left, to the right, and then suddenly dropping his baton-hand toward the group in the middle, rather angrily, as if to wake them up. I felt like a tiny rat sitting on the floor and waiting for the pianist to finish, so it could get back to its bed in a hidden pocket inside the piano.
But a tiny rat I was not. I was a runner to whom looking up non-stop for an hour meant a stiff neck, and which meant potential disappointment for my supporters from Sydney, Melbourne, Calgary, Dhaka, and many cities in the USA.
The edifice getting closer to me was the Sydney Opera House (SOH). A cash cow for the city of Sydney, it is a text-book example of what all city planners and mayors should do-borrow and build something spectacular. It is an investment with a high rate of return-forever.
As I got closer to the SOH, a motor boat was passing by to my left, drawing my eyes to the bridge above.
That was no ordinary bridge, though!
It was the Harbour Bridge that is synonymous with Sydney. To me, at first sight, it looked like an ordinary bridge draped in a lunch-time haze. It was an arch of brown grey steel, with nothing to stimulate the pleasure points in the brain, in broad daylight.
But at night, it is a spectacle to behold.
Not by itself, though. As the moon needs the sun to be striking, the Sydney Harbour Bridge needs the SOH to be exciting and vice versa, perhaps in a 2:1 ratio for the former. They look like an inseparable glamour couple in a showbiz, like Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in Bengali movies of my younger days. A couple that complements rather than competing with each other. There is a synergy of some sort, meaning one plus one equal more than two.
The curvilinear form of the bridge matches with the shell-shaped half-boats of the SOH. The glittering wavy water connects the two pieces in an engineering-architectural matrimony, creating an adoring couple-also like a rhyming couplet in a Tagore poem-that looks simply charming at night. In night's darkness, which takes away the distracting colours from around the bridge and in its background, and when artificial lighting accentuates its form, it becomes magical. The synergy between the bridge and the SOH gets amplified. The result is a made-for-heaven romantic combination that, in conjunction with a warm salty breeze, evokes a yearning for closeness to even a couple that has been together for 30 plus years of human matrimony.
The beautiful sight made me reach out for the camera to capture the moment to enjoy it later or share with others through YouTube.
Sans the SOH, sans the Harbour Bridge, and sans the harbour front, Sydney becomes Melbourne, or any other cookie-cutter type of city in the modern world.
A salty breeze from the left caressed my forehead.
Not any ordinary breeze, though!
It was from the peaceful Pacific, a messenger of peace reminding me of one of the purposes of my run in the final and seventh continent of Oceania: promote friendship and family feeling among BUET (BD, Dhaka) alumni.
I dedicated-like six other marathons dedicated to BUET alumni and some of their spouses, and one to an IIT, Kharagpur, India, Bangalee alumnus and his spouse-the Sydney Marathon to Dr Jamilur Reza Choudhury (VC, UAP, Dhaka, and BD). A distinguished BUET alumnus, and a life-long enthusiast of sports and athletics, both as a competitive participant and as an organizer, he is one of my most ardent supporters and cheerleaders. To promote friendship, he had contacted the Sydney BUET alumni to come and cheer for one of their own. I was heartened to see an announcement in Sydney BUET Alumni Association's website about the run on Sept 21, 2014. Used to read other people's names in such announcements, I was humbled and felt a run of goose bumps.
'I must not disappoint them.'
Tapan Chakrabarty, First Bangladeshi to complete marathons in all continents, writes from Calgary, Canada. The next installment will appear tomorrow