My name is Dipali Cunningham. Subarata was also a Cunningham – we shared this last name but we were not related. We are spiritual sisters though and have the same spiritual Master, Sri Chinmoy. People would often say we looked alike and many of my expressions resembled hers. Subarata and I were very close and dear friends. I had the golden opportunity of sharing many experiences with her during our Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team's self-transcendence multi-day races in the mid nineties. She always had a heroic spirit of carrying the message of doing the impossible. She set the highest example in all her endeavours. Our friendship began in 1980 when I met her in Adelaide, Australia. For twenty years we shared the sweetest friendship. I am deeply honoured to have been a part of her life. Her treasured memories will always be a part of me.
I first heard of Subarata in 1980 in Australia. I had met her husband Jogyata at a Joy-Weekend when many of the Australian Sri Chinmoy Centres had travelled to Adelaide. Subarata was visiting her family in Ireland at the time. I do not remember our first meeting, but I do remember confidence, strength and most of all, that quick wit. She always made me laugh whether it was a sarcastic comment, a very direct comment or just Subarata. After all, her name does mean the 'Message'. Throughout the twenty years I knew her I can only offer my deepest sincere gratitude to a friend that gave me tremendous inspiration in my life. I still continue to feel this guiding inspiration. Sri Chinmoy has said countless times that she is for and helping those who need help in their spiritual lives.
Since her day of leaving me physically, I have a number of photographs in a special area in my room and a precious gift from her days before she left me. Every night before I go to sleep I take a glance to this corner and offer my love and affection to a friend who touched my heart and soul with her message. Subarata, I offer these stories of our friendship, some quite amusing, some most inspiring and some of them just who you were to me – a true friend. Thank you for touching my life, giving me so much joy in countless ways and making me happy.
The Heroic Pioneer Multi-day Runner
Many stories that I recollect about Subarata are from our early days of running the multi-day races. Sri Chinmoy encouraged many of us up to learn self-transcendence and have some fun in the park. We were all pioneers learning how to run and become and we had no idea what we were doing out there in Flushing Meadow Park and then later to Wards Island near Manhattan.
So I begin my first story with this new incredible running adventure as Subarata and I were signed up by Sri Chinmoy in our first 700 mile race in 1991 in Flushing Meadow Park. Sri Chinmoy wanted sixty runners in the 700 mile race. He was asking for name suggestions and all I remember hearing was my name and Subarata's. "Oh gosh!" – I remember thinking, does this mean just run time and it will be all over!!?
September 1991, Sri Chinmoy had his 60 runners toe the line. What a field! Just to name a few, Garima, Ashanka, Suprebha and Antana were running the 1300 mile race that year along with Sandy Barwick, the multi-day world record holder from New Zealand.
Subarata's Running Club
After a few days into our new journey, I could tell the distance was hurting Subarata. Every day a new bandage would appear on her legs. Other runners also developed injuries and would have bandages, Subarata named this club the 'SLUG CLUB'. Girls with bandages were running now much slower. So she was Slug 1, then there was Slug 2 and so on. Anyone with a bandage was christened. It took them a long time to get around the course – and Subarata added the more bandages they see the more they will feel sorry for you. She always had an amazing comment for every moment.
After many days of running on this course, we realised how uneven it was and it was causing injuries. However there was one area on the course which had some relief and you did not feel like you were pulling or twanging a tendon or muscle. You can imagine that there was a little bit of stubbornness to have the right of way when you hit this section of the course. We went up to the turn around and then back. Two way traffic. I remember Subarata motoring along this section and she was about to have a head on collision with a male runner. No one was moving for the other because of the ideal running surface. "Maybe I should not watch", I thought as I was about 50 metres behind what was about to happen. All I can tell you is 'Ireland' won and the male runner probably realised who he was dealing with and quickly moved himself out of the way.
It was along this stretch at about 2:00 am one morning I just happened to pass Subarata. As I ran by, she called out to me and said "What are we doing out here exactly?" I said "Don't you know?" Then she kind of picked me up a little at the shoulder with my jacket. I must say I knew she was in a playful mood, but I was not sure what was going to happen next. Then as we both stared up into the crystal clear September night, her finger pointing upwards arm outstretched, Subarata said, "I will never forget this" I was chuckling and thinking. "She is so funny".
We may all be having difficulties and wondering the same thing, but Subarata was so unique at expressing herself. I laughed for hours later at her expression to the sky and to the one she was pointing at.
This story I have shared with many a runner because I found it so amuzing and yet showed Subarata's courageous spirit in her running.
A New Zealand television crew came to see the race to cover the story of Sandy Barwick's 1300 mile record attempt. It was quite a hectic afternoon and yet entertaining for the rest of us going around watching the coverage. They were zipping around the course leaning out of the car windows or just throwing open the back of the van and the camera man was videoing Sandy coming up the course. I do remember some of us picking up the pace to get ourselves in the picture. But not Subarata. She had such tremendous difficulty with her knees. Aklanta our medical doctor had been working on them for days trying to help the pain. She was walking as fast as she could to keep up a good pace.
The next moment all I remember is one of the camera crew hearing Subarata was from New Zealand. That was it. They were on the case and relining up the van to get a shot of Subarata. Then I heard a shriek "Good God, I can't even run." I remember seeing and hearing the panic. Bhuvah who was Subarata's helper at the time was trying to calm her down, reassuring her it was just a quick clip. The van pulled up and the crew shouted out some directions and Subarata was off and running. What a heroic effort she put in for them. They videoed for a few minutes, thanked her for her co-operation and drove down the course to catch Sandy again. Meanwhile Subarata had run herself into camp and headed straight to medical. I saw her go right up to the door and called out "help" to Aklanta. Looking back it was the most amusing stories I remember of that 1991 700 mile race. Her courageous spirit was that Subarata never gave up. Aklanta would actually inject something into her knees to unlock them so she could run. Subarata would often say to me "It is easy for you – you are a runner; It is hard for me, I am not a runner!! Of course, she never let me forget this.
We had, the girls that is, 13 days to finish the 700 mile race in the time limit. Subarata even being Slug1 and locked knees, made it passed the cut off.
The Road Home
One day, I know I was having a tough time with my mind. I had no physical injuries, I was just having mental problems. I remember there was a part on the course where there was a small bridge and it was not part of the course. If you happened to wander over it, it was a road home to Jamaica Queens. Subarata knew I was having a few mental problems and one day as I ran by the bridge she was near me and I got the look of "Don't you dare even think about it"! I knew she knew what I was thinking. After that look I kept an even steady pace around that part of the course.
The Disappearing Food
In my first 700 mile adventure, my tortured helper was Ankhi from the Melbourne Centre. Poor Ankhi, I really put her to the test. As the race progressed, I was having such terrible problems with my stomach. I had lost my appetite, nothing was inspiring to me to eat. Ankhi was trying everything. She made the most delicious sandwiches, laid out so cutely and prepared almost gourmet styled food. She tried anything to get me to feel inspired to eat. There was a table full of delicious food for me to try every lap. Hours went by and while Ankhi was in the kitchen whipping up the next delight, she came back to the table to see some of the food was taken. She was so happy to see it was working. I did not see her each lap because she was preparing more and more food. Pranika came out to the race to see me and found Ankhi in the kitchen and heard the great news. I was finally eating again. Pranika came to my table and I came by the table and Ankhi explained how much I must have eaten. Pranika gave me a big hug and said "I am so proud of you". I said "why?" Ankhi said "you have really been trying to eat" with that, Subarata arrived at my table, had a quick look and very gingerly took herself a nicely buttered cheese and cracker and went on her way. Subarata later joked, "Well, she was not eating it."
Subarata and I were not only road-side camp mates, but also our tents were side by side. This actually lead me into a scolding one bright and early morning. I had finished my miles quite earlier on in the night. I probably had gone to bed at midnight. Around five in the morning, I was suddenly woken up with giggling and laughing from Subarata's tent. Subarata was coming into her tent for a break and she and Bhuvah were just sharing some fun. I was quite disturbed from my sleep so I said "Can you keep it down a little in there! After a quietened hush a response came back with that Irish tone "It's alright for some". "Whoops," I though, "she's a little mad at me." Subarata was probably on a one hour break because she took longer to get her miles and here I was on my five hour plus break.
Subarata and Suprabha – the dauntless heroes
During the 700 mile race, I got so much joy watching Subarata and Suprabha run together. They spent many hours singing, inspiring each other and just being prayerfully silent. There was a profound strength coming from the both. It was the two spiritual sisters who's names began with the letter "S". I know because Suprabha would tell me years later of those inspiring miles she ran with Subarata.
The Helicopter Chase
During this 700 mile race, we had one evening quite an exciting event. Suddenly late in the evening a helicopter appeared above our heads and was shining it's lights all across the course. It seemed intent on finding something. Unaware to us at the time there was a shooting on the Grand Central and the suspect had run into the park. We had no idea what was going on, so we all continued doing our usual thing. I remember after the race when we were told the whole story the look of fright on Subarata's face. "Good God, this was all going on while we were running?" I will not go into detail of all the incident, but in later years when we returned to Flushing Meadow Park after running at Wards Island, I was so glad they had pulled down the old dolphin arena where some scary stories were from that evening that the suspect had run into the park. That dolphin arena was next to the camp site! And it looked like a huge haunted house. In 1992, the Marathon Team began our multi-day races at Wards Island.
Subarata tried another 700 mile race in 1996 and sadly did not quite make the distance. I remember I got sick just a week before the race, so I could not compete with her. I remember her being so sad and said, "If Dipali is not going to run then I am not going to run." I said, "Why?" She said, "Because I do not know any of the other runners." I said, "Come on, you do and if it was the other way around, you would not let me get away with that excuse." I caught that cheeky Irish smile. "Alright", she said, "I'll go out there, but I'm telling you, I do not know anyone and it is going to be a terrible experience." How can Subarata not have a flock of friends? She ran with everyone and everyone ran with her. When Pranika and I would go to see her, we would walk with her to the handler cut off point and she would say, "You'll be here won't you when I come around again"? We would promise and she would run off into the dark with quite a clip.
In 1997, I ran the 1,000 mile race for the second time. Subarata ran the 700 mile race. During races we would suffer the same problem with a particular place on our feet. She would beg Pranika for a mash massage on the balls of her feet. We had identical problems that it caused a bit of a problem with the masseuse. She would beat me to the massage with Pranika and I would keep going around awaiting my turn. I saw lots of fun and chatter going on in that area of the camp when Subarata and Pranika were together. My feet were desperately waiting for a massage. Finally it was my turn and Pranika seemed a little pooped out." I said "What about me? – that's alright, don't worry about me!" I would exclaim. Subarata replied "You'll be right mate!" – mimicking our Australian expression.
Three spiritual sisters, Subarata, Dipali and Pranika, share a light moment during the 700 mile race
700 Mile Victory
Subarata finished the 700 mile race for the first time that year. I was unbelievably proud of her. At the awards ceremony we sat next to each other and I remember us both looking at Sri Chinmoy with such love and gratitude. After all we were both Cunninghams.
The Sweetest Birthday Encouragement
I still hear Subarata's cheers for me during the 47 mile race. My birthday is on the 27th of August - the same day as our Guru's - and she was always the first to wish me "Happy Birthday" at midnight during the 47 mile race. With the sweetest encouragement she would say "Go Dipali, go Dipali, go!" I still hear her whispers of encouragement and listen for her words during Sri Chinmoy's 47 mile birthday run.
We would often go for a run together when she was in New York to Cunningham Park of course. She would always delight me with her sudden stop as we were running down Henley Road. I would say "Why are we stopping?" She would respond "Cosmetic Stop" and would very gracefully pull out her tissues and blow her nose.
Getting the Best Price
She had so many unique ways of doing things. To this day I feel my favourite quote of hers was "Yeah, right!!" There was something so cheeky, so to the point when she said this. It was like nothing was going to stand in her way. I remember her using these words when she was making telephone calls to running shoe outlets. Each one stated that you could not beat their price. I remember her dialing a company in New Jersey and saying quite frankly "What is the price of your asics model 2000 you have on special. They would give the price and she would say "I know a cheaper price" The conversation would continue with some sales tactics at their end then her words would come "Yeah right!!"and she would hang up the phone saying "I'll call someone else for a cheaper price.
I could not believe how brave she was, how confident and to the point. She did not let anyone get away with anything. It was quite a talent to see in action. I admired Subarata's confidence, willpower, strength and courage and most of all her love and devotion to Sri Chinmoy. She was a true friend and sister. Sri Chinmoy once told me many years ago that we should be friends.
The Cup of Tea
I cherish our friendship and would look forward to her ringing our doorbell when she would come over for a cup of tea. It would be on these occasions she would tell us gossip from New Zealand and we would tell her all our news. Making that cup of tea the correct way was always highly important. Never put a tea bag into luke warm water, boiled water only and never add the milk until the tea bag was out. And watch out if you did it wrong...!
The 1,000 Mile Race
One story that touched my heart so deeply was just months after Subarata left us, I met Toshala at the tennis court one day. She whispered into my ear, "I have a secret for you." She went on to say that "Subarata never told you this, but she was planning to run the 1,000 mile race last year and I was going to be her helper!" I was choked with both sadness and joy. I looked at Toshala with silence and tears streaming down my cheeks. Finally, when I could bring some words to my lips I said "She was amazing". I knew and had seen her suffering during the 700 mile races. This would have been a significant challenge for Subarata. Her heroic spirit, her deepest love for her Sri Chinmoy would have taken her back out on the course.
Thank you Subarata
Subarata I know you are with me and will always be with me. Just to write these little stories about you brings you into my heart. Please continue to inspire us that we can manifest our Beloved Guru's Light here on earth.
With all my gratitude to your life and friendship – your sister-friend, Dipali.