LAST LAUGH
Some quick thinking
Indrajit Hazra
Friday, August 31, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about Usain Bolt these days.

Not in any creepy way that involves taking a plane to Jamaica, waking up at the crack of dawn, waiting in the shadows in front of the athlete’s house and then following him in a hoodie when he comes out to take a morning jog with his super dog. Stalking a man who can outrun me after he senses any danger is a self-defeating exercise and I prefer being defeated by others.

Actually, it’s not Bolt or his stupendous sprint across 100 metres at the London Olympics last month that has kept my mind occupied. It’s the time he took to do the feat: 9.63 seconds. It takes more time to get your chewing gum chewy even if you munch it.

In front of my computer a few moments ago, it took me 4.20 seconds to say, “I’ve been thinking a lot about Usain Bolt these days.”

True, I wasn’t exerting myself and if I really put my mind to it, I think I could have broken the 4.10 second barrier. But covering 100 metres is a different kettle of drums.

As a person who drives, I should know. Bolt covered 100 metres at a speed of 37.37 km per hour powered only by his legs. If he had suddenly stopped midway, Bolt’s non-seatbelted body could have lunged head-first and been thrown out crashing through a non-existent car glass front.

What can happen in 9.63 seconds? You can form and utter an usable sentence in that time. If you’re exceedingly smart, you can even come up with a decent riposte in that time after an old schoolmate tells you at a reunion dinner that you’ve put on a rubber float around your waist. (“Call me when you’re sinking like the last time your marriage broke up” is my answer, but I was late by 45 minutes and the oaf had already left when I thought it up.)


The 2005 Ford Taurus takes 9.6 seconds to vroom from 0 to 60 miles per hour. It’s a very short time for humans, 9.63 seconds. And I’m not even going to think about Bolt’s personal best — the fastest recorded speed for a human — of crossing 100 metres in 9.58 seconds in Berlin in 2009.

The .05 seconds makes as much of a difference to me as the difference between the wealth of the Saudi royal family and the amount it would have had to pay if it paid taxes in Sweden.

But what I really think about — nay, worry about — is how Bolt spends large chunks of his life that are not punctuated by 9.63-second bursts. From what I’ve read about him, he’s a laidback guy, not a manic object whose existence is measured by tightly-winded stretches of energy built up to be let loose over 9.6 seconds of no-holds-barred recoils.

If you thought that the thrill for spectators witnessing Usain Bolt making a dash across 100 metres was rather short, leading some to say, “Um, that’s it? I had just gone to get popcorn!” I wonder how Bolt himself behaves when he's not running.

Are long movies unbearably long for him? How does he manage long-distance flying? By running up and down the aisles? Has he ever finished a novel or are tweets his War and Peace? Does he think it’s literally a waste of time for anyone reading his 288-page autobiography 9.58: Being the World's Fastest Man?

As I’m wrestling these questions over hours, I suddenly stop and promise to make the next 9.63 seconds of my life count. So instead of thinking about Bolt and his jam-packed bursts of blurry time and all the other nitty-gritty nonsense that takes up room in the waking hours and days and months and years of my life, I close my eyes and think of happy thoughts and count down from 9 to 0-and-a-half. Oh, it’s brilliant!

So I do it again for the next 9.63 seconds. And the next. And the next. And the...

 

(Indrajit Hazra is a Delhi-based novelist and journalist.)

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