Ahead of 2023, here are five stories that prove it’s never too late to learn something new

Latha Srinivasan: Dream Run

At this year’s National Masters Athletics Championships, Latha Srinivasan, 62, won three silver medals — in 5K, 1500m, and 800m. She finished her first marathon last year. At an age when most people retire from sports and athletics, she has just begun. 

Until four years ago, her exposure to sports was limited to the occasional Olympics and Wimbledon-watching on TV. 

“Then, in 2018, I saw an article by Pankaja Srinivasan in The Hindu Metroplus regarding an upcoming marathon in Coimbatore. It kindled an interest within me. So, I contacted a local runners group and joined them,” she says. 

Latha signed up for the 10K event at the Coimbatore Marathon, which was just over a month away. But running at a retirement age was not very easy. “I used to gasp after running just a few metres. I felt signing up for the 10K event was a mistake.” She asked her runners group coordinator if she should downgrade herself to 5K. But he told her, ‘Just keep practising. There’s still a month’s time. The vibes on that day will carry you past the finish line.’

It did. Latha, aided by the support of her brother and sister-in-law (both of them, runners), finished the 10K run. “The euphoria of completing that run… Well, I can’t describe that. Ever since, I haven’t looked back.”

Running, she says, is like meditation. It helps her remain fit and healthy too. 

To the ones looking to start running, Latha’s advice is: “Don’t focus too much on the speed or distance. Consistency is more important. It applies to any new skill you want to master.”

Navin Balachandran: Play by ear

Navin Balachandran
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Special Arrangement

In July this year, Navin Balachandran, 46, came across a few articles about the increasing popularity of pickleball in the US. He saw that a lot of popular athletes such as LeBron James and Kim Clijsters taking up the sport. Many venture capitalists were investing on the game which is a mishmash of tennis, table tennis, and badminton. . 

His curiosity piqued, Navin wanted to check if the sport was played in India as well. That’s when he stumbled on the Instagram page of the Tamil Nadu Pickleball Association. “Hey, looks like you have a pickleball setup in Chennai. Where do you play?” he pinged them. 

A few days later, Navin was at the DAV Boys School, one of the practice venues of the Chennai ‘picklers’. “I soon realised that it’s a community-based sport,” says Navin. “When you start playing a sport, it’s tough to find people to play with since people who are better, don’t want to play with you. But people were very welcoming. The first day, I played with a guy who had accompanied his brother, his wife and his dad. So it can be a sport for the entire family.”

Within a few months of taking up the sport, Navin won the doubles gold medal at the Tamil Nadu State ranking tournament in Kanchipuram and made it to the singles and doubles quarter-finals at the Nationals in Indore. But more than the medals and victories, he cherishes the feeling the sport gives him. “I choose to put myself out of my comfort zone. I enjoy the idea of learning something new and meeting different people, doing things I never knew existed. Pickleball gave me that,” he says. 

Divya Rolla: Giving it a shot

Divya Rolla

Divya Rolla
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Special Arrangement

What do rifle shooting and yoga have in common?

The two seem worlds apart as rifles are usually associated with violence and yoga with peace. But they aren’t, says Divya Rolla, 41, who took up rifle shooting four months ago. As a yoga trainer at Cult Fit, she trains people in focus, breath, and stillness — three things that are essential in shooting as well.

“Post-COVID, I was looking around for something I could do after work. And, this rifle institue, which was just 10 minutes away from home caught my eye,” she says. 

Divya was not entirely new to rifle shooting. She had briefly practised it during her college NCC days. But that was two decades ago. Without practice, she was going to feel like a novice. After a few classes, however, she felt like she never left shooting. Now, it has become an important part of her life. She attends the classes two hours a day, four days a week.

Working at a Cult Fit, she is well aware of how difficult it is to start a new fitness hobby. “Even I was not very sure if I would stick to shooting. I thought it would wear off. So far, it hasn’t,” she says.

“The trick is to pick something that excites you — something that you would do just because it gives you joy. Don’t burden yourself with the expectation of being good at it. Take it one day at a time. And, don’t shame yourself if you feel like dropping it.”

Prabhakar Aloka: Write turn

Prabhakar Aloka

Prabhakar Aloka
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Special Arrangement

There is a world of between real-life espionage and its pop-culture portrayal, according to Prabhakar Aloka, a former intelligence officer. “While the latter involves 5Gs (glitz, glamour, gizmos, guns, and girls); the actual thing involves just 1G (grit),” he says. 

Aloka knows this because he has served the Intelligence Bureau for over three decades. When he retired two years ago, he wanted to tell people what happens in the lives of real spies. He considered doing it via a lecture series or a podcast but neither of those formats let him explore the psyche of a spy. “Spies are usually shown as action heroes who can jump off tall buildings and engage in fights. But they are also humans with emotions and conflicts.” The best way to convey this, he felt, was through stories. 

Aloka knew what to write; he just had to learn how to write it. He was into Hindi literature in school and college and a fan of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s works; English literature was more of an acquired taste. He started writing only towards the end of his career. He took two years to finish his spy thriller Operation Haygreeva (Penguin Random House), which was released towards the end of 2021. 

This year, he finished its sequel, Operation Sudarshan Chakra, which is available online and in bookstores. After decades of dead serious intelligence work, now, as a writer, Aloka says he feels “the juvenile excitement of a student anticipating his exam results” before the release of his books. 

Jayachandran Palazhy: Grow green

Jayachandran Palazhy

Jayachandran Palazhy
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Special Arrangement

Jayachandran Palazhy grew up amidst greenery. As a boy, in his village in Thrissur, he used to water the paddy fields and ride back home on a bullock cart. He left the pastoral life to pursue arts in Chennai, then in London, and eventually in Bengaluru, where he founded the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts. Dance has beenJayachandran’s primary focus for most of his life. But whenever he travelled, the trees lining the roads reminded him of his boyhood conversations with Nature. Constantly surrounded by concrete enclosures, he says, robs us of something intangible that we find in the midst of greenery. So, over the last year, the international choreographer has taken up organic farming on a three-acre plot near Bengaluru. 

“I feel there is a connection between art and sustainability,” he says, “Art teaches you to celebrate Nature, to practice a simple lifestyle, to think about the next generation. We should all contribute to that.”

Though Nature is an important part of his art practice, Jayachandran longed for a visceral experience. “A lot of people are into organic farming. They own a piece of land and get fruits and vegetables from the farm. But to get happiness and pleasure along with the yields, they must get their hands dirty — feel the earth, the leaves, the water.”

In his 60s, he is, in a way, going back to his boyhood but also learning something new. “Scientists say dance and music help the brain make new neural connections. There is no time limit to learning something new. The moment you stop learning, you stop evolving.”

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