It had been more than a year since I had visited the Sabarmati Ashram and touched base with my mentor, Mahatma Gandhi. Only two things, a marathon or a visit to my mentor could get me to leave my
. So, when @Vishwas Bhamburkar sent out an event invitation for a 100 KM run from Ahmedabad to Dakor for a visit to the famous Ranchodji (One who deserted the battlefield, one of the many names of Lord Krishna. This was given to him because of his decision not to bear arms in the battle of Kurukshetra between the two warring Cousins) temple. This was to be a run to coincide with the annual pilgrims take from across the state to visit the Lords abode during the month of ‘Phagun’, the various pandals to feed the pilgrims were to double as our aid-stations. This was a Gujju masterstroke and appealed to my Gandhian ways. Pilgrimage and a long run without hurting your pocket seemed too good to resist. This would be a natural progression from the Auroville! Despite the long journey and the busy times March are for an Accounts officer, I started harbouring thoughts of going for the run. The added attraction was always a few hours at the Sabarmati Ashram. I overzealously slayed files in office to be guilt free in seeking leave. My Boss, as I had occasion to mention elsewhere another day, was at his sporty self and acceded to my request for two days leave. The doubt still remained, will @Vishwas be sincere and really do the run, we were after all going to be three runners only, here I must pause to introduce @Piyush Shah, who would be the third musketeer and as readers would see, the hero of the event. After confirming from Vishwas, I went ahead and brought my tickets for the journey (yes my penchant for saving the Passes and asserting my Gandhian ways of travel by the cattle class continues..). kingdom of Hubli
I left for the train on 2nd March morning after giving the morning walk to Biscuit. I was a little uncomfortable leaving Biscuit because his foster father Mathew was also to be away around the same time. My wife assured me that she would manage, she was also not very happy (‘Radha Kaise na Jale’) at my deserting her for a visit to the stealer of hearts (another epithet for the Lord Krishna) without her by my side.
The train was already on the platform when I reached the station. I picked up two newspapers more to have material for eating food on and the Sudoku than keeping myself abreast of the happenings around the world. The allotted coach was jam-packed, and I was reminded of my earlier journey from Chennai to
where the TTE had not come to enforce my right to reserved accommodation and left me to fight my battle. Thankfully, the co-passengers parted on my entry to my bay much as the Bangalore Red sea must have at the approach of Moses. I buried myself inside the first Sudoku acting pricy. Co-passengers were not impressed. The co-passengers were mostly Rajasthani migrants going from the land of dreams (read ) to their dream-girls for the festival of colours. They were busy chattering in their Marwari little realizing that I had spent 5 years in Jaipur and could manage a little with their language (enough to make out any snide comments about my physique or bearing). The TTE came and went after checking tickets, all the co-passengers had tickets (even if waitlisted), the TTE decided that discretion was better part of valour and did not attempt offloading the wait-listed passengers. I did not assert my blue blood of Railway lineage and batted for peaceful co-existence. I opened by plastic cover full of buns to continue my carb-loading for the proposed run. The co-passengers gave a curious look at my wiry self downing bun after bun, neat. Enough was enough, I can’t act high brow for the long journey of more than 24 hours, I asked the most vocal of my co-passengers in chaste hindi, if he was going to Rajasthan and does he work in Bangalore . I got my answer in the affirmative but I was still not included in their deliberations of local Kannadiga population bashing of how they were forced to learn the local language or go back! The person was a veteran of 15 years, but, obviously the treatment rankled still. He spoke fluent Kannada and ribbed new entrant locals at Bangalore station. A young boy who boarded at Belgaum and going for a job in Rajasthan (reverse migration?) was ragged by these youngsters about having to speak in Marwari in the same tone that they were asked to speak in Kannada by people here. I had to butt in. I asked them if they could turn the other cheek. Can they not teach their adopted state a lesson in Indian (Marwari) hospitality and shame them instead of repeating the vicious cycle. Then each new entrant to Karnataka would be welcomed like the tourists are on ‘Palace on Wheels’ train. I asked them why with their knowledge of both languages they cannot print a small booklet of Marwari to Kannada and vice-versa. This seemed to appeal to their business sense. The old man was accepted into their circle. Around 1130 hrs we reached Miraj, I got down and got Janata Khana neatly packed in paper box. Water faucets were functional and sink clean. Out came their food baskets, They ate with gusto and without discriminating into whose basket who was drawing from. Similarly, from the seating you could not make out who had the reservation and who was wait-listed. What a contrast from the high-brow AC passengers, where boundaries are drawn the moment you enter not only for sitting space but also the proportionate luggage space beneath the seat. Belgaum
My mobile ran out of charge by mid-day. No charging points in the second class coaches (it’s not easy being Gandhian in today’s times of mobile touting).
Not being able to make out my origins from my accent, they wanted to know where I came from. I told them my journey through life so far, including 5 years in Jaipur, and said I am truly Indian and no state could claim me for its own. They took turns to sleep two to three to a berth but did not encroach on my berth. I offered it to them for sleeping in shifts while I read. Thought never entered my mind to de-train the waitlisted passengers or levy a penalty by summoning the TTE. This now seems to be a problem of inadequate infrastructure rather than intention to defraud Railways and where co-passengers are so thick with each other, I simply looked the other way.
After a quick dinner of flavored milk and Janata Khana at Pune station, I turned in at 07:30 PM in anticipation of the hectic day to follow. I should not forget to mention here, how I collared Ananth, my colleague IRAS officer presently on deputation at Pune to report about the bad quality of food and overcharging in the milk-parlour. I did apologise after returning for the abruptness of the call.
The co-passengers kept playing cards all night in a relay with people taking turns to sleep. I was in the process locked up in the upper berth and not even able to go to the loo. The entire aisle was lined with sleeping people; they must have got in during the night. Here one thing struck me, the railway catering services from the pantry car are not really patronized by the passengers but for the beverages and an occasional water bottle. With frequent stoppages and adequate facilities on station its time railways should replace pantry cars on trains with passenger carrying coaches to satisfy the growing demand for accommodation on trains. This also makes economic sense as earnings from a passenger coach will far outweigh the meager earnings from a pantry car (food for thought!).I was given a rousing farewell at Ahmedabad station by my co-passengers with ‘best of luck’ for the proposed 100 K run.
My friend and colleague now posted at Ahmedabad ensured a royal suite in the Construction rest house. The various gadgets in the room and the bath made me feel like an
in Wonderland. I had hot green tea going and after making safe arrival calls to Wifey from the Railway phone in the room settled down to a good brunch of bread and jam with green tea. This would be my last meal for Carb-loading before the 100K run. Touched base with my colleague and juniors at Ahmedabad and called up Piyush and Vishwas announcing my safe arrival. After finishing my meal I quickly bathed and changed into my Khadi gear for my tryst with the Mahatma. Alice
A comfortable bus-ride at a price tag of Rs. 8/- dropped me near Subhas bridge, walking distance from Sabarmati Ashram. I decided to first go to the workshop opposite the Ashram to get my spinning wheel (charkha) overhauled and to get a bundle of cotton for spinning at the Ashram. I met Kalyansinhji, who had originally sold me the charkha. He remembered me and made my day. We talked of how to get the yarn woven with the handloom weavers disappearing. My charkha required minor attention which the workmen did with a smile and at no charge. I enquired if they have a machine for ginning which is handy and portable. I was shown a not so small contraption which could do the job. Pressing could be done with a small rod on a wooden flat surface. The cost of the ginning machine was Rs. 925/-. I promised him that I would pay after reaching Hubli and that my colleage at Ahmedabad would pick it up and put it on the direct train to Hubli. I will now be able to convert cotton from the plants in Hubli (or what I pick on my run) to pressed cotton for my charkha. I felt great, this would be a fitting birthday gift for myself!
Thanking Kalyansinhji and his friendly staff profusely, I reached the Ashram. Outside the workshop I met Shri Hariom, my partner of the earlier aborted Dandi walkathon last year. I had left the walk at
after starting from Sabarmati ashram when I found neither Gandhi nor a physical challenge in the event. The daily walk of 20K was I am sure less than what a rural housewife puts in for collecting firewood and water. I got Hariomji’s mobile number and he dropped me on his scooter to the Ashram and reintroduced each other with Kishore bhai who demonstrates spinning to the visitors outside Gandhi’s cottage. Lata behn, my fan and volunteer who explained the history of the place to the visitors had still not come in. After bidding Hariomji bye, I sat down to a session of spinning with Kishore bhai after getting him to promise that he would put my that day’s output around Gandhiji’s photograph. There was a steady stream of visitors young and old. What always impressesme about the ashram is its opn to all and security staff has still not invaded it. There are more signs of ‘You may keep your footwear on’ than the contrary, the place makes you want to remove shoes, the whole place exudes holiness! People’s interest in charkha and spinning is phenomenal. Now I realize what masterstroke it was for Gandhi to have resurrected the humble spinning wheel for uniting people and teaching dignity of labour. I also met a few railwaymen from Chennai who were pleased to meet a co-linguist and railwayman. They promised to meet me at Hubli. They were impressed to find that a FA spins yarn and not stories! Latabehn arrived and met me with warmth and affection as a long last friend. She insisted that I write in the visitor’s book (I usually do to report to my mentor my progress in aping him). I get so much respect simply by wearing khadi and spinning that I feel like an impostor cashing in on the great man’s deeds. It eggs me on to ape him more. Kishore bhai taught me the right way to spin and fixing the spindle. This reduced the noise also. I did 125m of yarn in the time till 12:15hrs which was my deadline to leave for rest-house to hand over my spare clothes to Piyush. Latabehn was disappointed that I wouldn’t stay for lunch and pressed on me roasted gram and groundnuts. When I told them of the planned run from Sabarmati Ashram to Dakor Ranchodji’s temple, she suggested that we start after the evening prayers at 6:30PM. I checked up with Vishwas and Piyush and they concurred to the change in plan. I took a shared auto on the way back and it cost me only Rs. 10/-. Baroda
Piyush met me outside the station building and I gave him the plastic bag with my slippers (I would have to be barefoot till evening) and a set of kurta payjamas to change into for the temple. He pressed me to come to his place which I politely but firmly declined saying that I needed a quick lunch and some sleep for the all night run. I went back and bought a Janata Khana not before I had thrown in my designation (they claimed out of stock, which came out after I called for the complaint book). I had a quick lunch and tried to sleep a few hours before the wake up call of 4 PM for hydration. I read Gita while hydrating for the run with green tea. Interestingly, the theme was ‘self dedicated action with a spirit of sacrifice’ was this where Gandhi’s obsession with physical labour begin?
After downing two glasses of HPMC apple juice at the station and impressing the vendor with my proposed run, I left for the bus-stand. I had kept my driving license and cash in notes in a plastic cover in my running shorts to avoid their getting wet with sweat. I dropped the change I got from the juice stall to an old lady outside the station. I got further Rs. 2 change in the bus to provoke further piety from me. One middle-aged man stopped me and asked me if the knee guards I was wearing were useful. I told him that they surely don’t harm. After sending a message to the two other musketeers of my arrival at the ashram I settled for photography session on my mobile camera (I was early for the prayer meeting). Prayer song was rendered soulfully and Latabehn read out about Gandhiji. She acknowledged my arrival and embarrassed me after the prayer to speak to the gathering and I politely refused. I was constantly drawn to the young girl who was posing with the Gandhi statue and fondling his bald pate and sitting on his lap. I was tempted to go and get a snap of her. My mobile camera could not get her from such a distance. Gandhiji seemed to come alive with the girl’s ministrations. I got introduced to the secretary of the ashram (director was out of station). I broached the idea of a run from Dandi to Sabarmati to coincide with his birthday (My idea for the reverse run was that while Gandhi had to fight foreign rule, our challenge was to involve the masses in politics and governance). She was very enthusiastic and asked if the ashramites could run the last lap with us. I said we would also walk the last lap. She was very enthusiastic about the idea. Vishwas and Piyush got late because of a traffic jam on the way. She wished us well for the run and asked me my age diffidently. I proudly proclaimed my half century of age (shortly) and told her than runners don’t mind sharing their vintage and in fact are prone to overstate rather than understate. We three took photographs in front of Gandhi statue and started for the run.
Vishwas gave us each a belt to wear our water bottle in. In the novelty of trying it out, I forgot my red cap. I realized after about 500m of run. Latabehn would have to search for it and keep for me. I didn’t want to turn back after starting. I and Vishwas started chattering from the word go. Piyush kept running steadily and quietly. He was economical with sound even in his tread and breathing. He seemed to glide on the road. I had found my match in Vishwas, had a tough time in getting a word in edge-wise. Vishwas sought a walking break within 2 KM at the sight of a piddly flyover. Piyush got me alone and told me not to encourage Vishwas’s talking as that would break his rhythm and I could not hope to catch the train the next day at 3 PM. I soon realized that Vishwas’s style was different from mine and Piyush, he took lot of breaks and that broke our rhythm. Piyush sped off to drop his spare water bottle home and to instruct his wife and bro-in-law who were to later join us in their car and escort us all the way. We all took a biological break at a petrol pump after 1 hour and 20 minutes of run. I informed my wife of the pilgrims progress and told her I would call by 9:30PM before her bedtime. I had switched off my mobile to conserve battery. We had done a little over 12KM in the first 80 minutes, a bit slow even considering the traffic and setting sun. The weather was becoming pleasant, the humidity was tolerable. Vishwas I continued our banter and exchanging notes about what we thought when we ran long distance and our blogs. We came around to discussing about should one run opposite to the direction of traffic or otherwise. I pitched for opposite to traffic so that the driver has to look you in the eye while running you over. The other two musketeers stuck to their guns, I had no option but to do in Ahmedabad as the other Ahmedabadi did! Vishwas also suggested that it is harmful to wear knee guards while running on roads, I have been wearing them on my orthopedics advice. I however, agreed to try out his idea. He pointed out the sights and landmarks as we passed them. We turned short of Juhapura slums (where the displaced people of the 2002 riots stayed) not having the heart to confront their presence in the
. The pavement outside the famed IIM-A, where the dwellers (Harsh Mander’s subject matter of study for the graduate students) were settling for the night. Piyush’s wife and Bro-in-law (Ashok) met us and went ahead to meet us at the next stop. Vishwas took another break for cold water this time, and it was to be fateful. I and Piyush carried on with the run deciding to wait at the next stop of his car for Vishwas to catch us. We had a good run evenly matched. I admired his economy of breathing. We reached the cross roads where his car was to be waiting for us. There was no sign of the car nor of Vishwas from behind. Piyush was fretting and fuming at the loss of time and kept trying his wife and Ashok’s number. I went a little back and kept looking for Vishwas, it was already over 20 minutes and I was worried. Vishwas was not carrying a mobile. Piyush’s wife and Ashok were located and we had banana and a drink of water. After further 10 minutes Vishwas came limping swearing at us at having deserted him. Vishwas had been hit in his business area by a drunk bike driver. He had puked twice and had difficulty in tunning. He had bruised his what he jocularly called the family silver. I and Piyush commented that ours was past the use by date and he being a bachelor should take care of his. Piyush was thus rendered hor’s de combat a little after the first quarter of the run. I admire his courage in having completed the run after all this. He became more generous and justified in his walking breaks, the pain in the middle was bad for him. We now asked our Car escorts to follow the last runner so as to make sure that all of us are together. We entered our first pandal on the road side. The welcome was spontaneous and ministrations legendary. We were fed ghee ladoos and water. Tea was promised. Vishwas and Piyush took off their shoes and sat down. I leaned against scaffolding and munched on ladoos. I can’t bend at my knees after running this distance and I can sit only after I complete the run. It becomes increasingly difficult for me to start running after each such stop and the longer the stop the worse it gets. I could not get milk to wash down the ladoos, they finished their tea and we started. I and Piyush promised next stop after 7K more much to the chagrin of Vishwas. Piyush understood my problem with frequent start and stop and asked me to go ahead while he stopped with Vishwas for his walking breaks when his pain got worse. Vishwas kept feeling guilty for having spoiled the party. On one of the pandals outside which boys were dancing, I did a small jig not realizing that it would evoke the Gujju hospitality even more. Even when not due a break I was kidnapped and taken inside for plying me with water, chaach (drink of buttermilk laced with good helping of salt) which would be good to avoid cramps. We also were fed Shira (a sweet concoction of broken wheat, sugar with ample helpings of Ghee). I was worried if my tummy would complain at this mix of fuel it was to make me run. I took a snap in front of the Ranchodjis’ photo and we started for the run. My stomach held well. The Gujju aid stations had found a desi-mix to give the sports drink/gel companies a run for their money. land of Gandhi
The run was too smooth till then. It was like a party. Families with young kids and ladies on foot, boys on cycles were doing it in hordes. I am sure Lord Krishna must have taken a liking to the Gujju spirit and migrated to this place for the sheer fun of it, Bodana simply thought it was for him. He ust be among one of these kids doing the annual pilgrimage with his devotees. The impromptu tea breaks every few kilometers were fun and throwing back and forth of ‘Jai Ranchod’ was infectious. The passers by added an appellation ‘kaka’ to the invocation in deference to my and Piyush’s white hair (of whatever hair are still left standing on my tome), we didn’t mind it in the least. Around the 66 KM mark when we had still a marathon to go, we turned to a smaller road. The road was not lit and the aid stations had still not come up, we were among the first daredevils to reach. Stray dogs also asserted their sovereignty (Biscuit’s charm must have worn out or maybe I was beyond his zone of influence). The going got tough, the weather was also very cold, and in fact we were found praying for early sunrise both for the heat and light. There was more walking than running. I was getting worried about my being able to catch the return train. I even contemplated returning to Vadodara and asking my colleague to load my luggage on train at Ahmedabad. This way I could gain 2 hours. Piyush was absolutely certain that we would make it comfortably. I must admire his quiet confidence. When about 20 KM were left Piyush suddenly took off leaving me to give company to Vishwas. I simply could not see myself walking the 20 KM’s. I did not want to enter the temple limping, I have always finished any distance running and with energy to spare. I hope my frustration did not show on Vishwas, poor chap was doing his best and he was determined to complete the 100K come what may. He even offered to walk at his pace and asked me to go ahead. I simply didn’t have the heart. When we were about 15K away we read the Km stone as 11K and since the temple was at a diversion at KM 8, it meant we were 100K from start. Vishwas said he would sit there and I should send back the rescue vehicle of Ashok and Mrs. Piyush for him. I took off without looking back, only after completing a KM I realised we had read the board wrong we were 14K (from the temple and Vishwas 3K from his 100K point). I didn’t have the energy to go back to him to tell this. I met the car at KM 8 and I asked to fetch Vishwas, Piyush’s relatives car also met me from the opposite direction, the lady told me not to give up or take a ride. She gave me the killer laddoos and I took off after thanking the good lady. God bless her. I also gorged on Bhajiyas more for salt. I also took cut watermelon with lots of salt to avoid cramps as the sun was beating down now. The vehicle with Vishwas crossed me when I was 3K away from the turning to the temple. They guided me to the crossing. Piyush was waiting at the entrance so that we two could run the last stretch together. Hats off to his sportsman spirit. He even decided to post a timing of mine of 15 hours 7 minutes and not the 13 hour plus in which he had reached.
We ran the last two KM to the bathing place (Radha kund) at good pace and kept apologizing for having left us behind and wanted to make sure that I enjoyed the run.
The water at the pond was very dirty and I didn’t risk a dip. I washed my hands and feet and sprinkled a few drops on my head and changed into my Kurta-Payjama for the darshan. The place was choc-a-bloc with pilgrims and the temple was closed for alankar of the lord. We waited at the temple and listened to the singing and dancing competition between silver haired seniors. They would have put us youngsters to shame in the way they were shaking a leg. They really know how to celebrate love. The temple finally opened and the mass of humanity pushed. I and Vishwas were pushed to the exit, I could only glimpse the lord in the rear view mirror. Piyush in his daredevil act somehow got in and managed to play Holi with the priests. He met us at the main entrance after 10 more minutes. I was now positively getting fidgety. Piyush was cool as a cucumber. He first wanted tea, after which he had his pinch of tobacco which we used to call Cola power! He went ahead in search of a loo to relieve himself and I and Vishwas settled for a Lemon Soda. I also got to purchase Garlic being sold at Rs. 30/- per Kg. which was a steal considering that it generally sells above Rs. 100/-. The vendor told me it was from MP. My wife found fault in that it was wet. But, I am sure even if 10% weight loss for drying is given still it was a bargain. We left the place at 12:00 with the journey touted to be 2 to 2 and ½ hours.
That is till we had seen Piyush Schumacher Shah. The way he was threading through heavily laden trucks and pilgrims, I and Vishwas were reminded of Jackie Chan driving in Rush-Hour2. We were in the city limits in 1 hour and 10 minutes, the vehicle rarely going below 100Kmph. He surely has another profession waiting if he ever decides to hang his running boots. His wife was cool as a cucumber next to him and it was delightful to see her absolute confidence in her husband’s driving skills. I have grown up to believe that the spouses are the worst critics of their partner’s driving skills. May the sportive couple have and long and spirited innings. I am looking forward to many more runs with this team. Hope Vishwas is more careful of his family silver in future. Onward to Jagdish Damania to finalise the next pilgrimage from Dandi to Sabarmati. A separate blog on my return train journey, which was as interesting if not more as my onward journey, if time permits. The highlight of the return journey was a couple who got in at
, they had two wonderful kids who took to me and we had a wonderful journey. This has gotten too long already. Surat