Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Pilgrims progress

On 2nd October, Piyush (my running friend)’s drawing room at Ahmedabad the scenes were reminiscent of a raucous joint family having lunch. An outsider would find it hard to believe if he were told that these were a bunch of runners who had just finished 330Kms of run in the last 6 days and were just back from a heady Gandhi Jayanthi celebration at Sabarmati ashram.

My affair with Dandi started, I remember, in 2009 when Lathabehn (I didn’t know her by her name then) a Sabarmati ashram staffer and a devout Gandhian, had told us bunch of trainees from IIPA on a training programme with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation that Gandhiji with a band of 78 chosen satyagrahis had walked off the bridge for the 231 mile Dandi yatra with a vow not to return to the Ashram till India attained her freedom. I had silently vowed that day that I would one day do this journey between Sabarmati and Dandi.

I had broached this subject with Piyush bhai and he got working on it in right earnest. He single handedly set up the entire itinerary with relatives and friends to host us for the nights. The journey was planned with about 60Km to be covered roughly each day and the distance to be covered in 7 days. The plan was to set off on the 26th September so as to reach the Ashram on 2nd October morning in time for the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations at the Sabarmati ashram. I set up a page on Facebook for the event and over time six people expressed interest in joining for the trip. Of the six registrants, Bala from Chennai and Jaikant Kumaran from Bangalore had to back out in the end for personal reasons. That left Piyushbhai, Aparna Chowdhary, Bhupendrasingh Rajput and yours truly in the fray. Vivek Prasad later decided to join us from the third day (Bharuch) till Sabarmati.

I had a tough time convincing my boss for granting me 9 days leave for the event. He relented but not before taking a promise that I would not insist on running the Amritsar Lahore run planned for 9th November later in the year. For me Gandhi came above everything else and I gave up on Mohd. Iqbal in favour of the Dandi yatra.

Frequent phone calls were made between Piyush, Bhupendra  and myself to finalise the splits, support for the run and places of stay. Vineet Agarwal, a Delhi runner stepped in to design and make T-shirts for the event, initially we thought for a price. After giving us the T-shirt, he steadfastly refused to accept any payment. I end up with a feeling that we have exploited Gandhi’s name. We three met at Hyderabad marathon to finalise the details of the run. I had lot of doubts about recovery between two stints of long runs within the day, diet and Solid waste disposal. I had never run in a multi day event before. Bhupendra was very supportive and encouraging. He, Aparna and Piyush are veterans of many multi day runs, the recent being Uttarkashi run. I approached the event with humility and trepidation. To make matters worse, I had announced to lot of my friends about this run and the fear of failure was weighing heavy on me. I had also dared to do the run barefoot, but, as I have said earlier in a thread on a post related to barefoot running on Facebook, I am not fanatic about it and would use slippers if the going got tough or too hot.

A few days before the run, Kalyanibehn (Piyush’s wife) and Banu, my better half got into the act of preparing food to supplement the runners diet in between meals. Since our train was early in the morning, Biscuit (my four year old Labrador to the uninitiated) was left at Mathew (my Jeeves)’s place the previous night, but, not before I argued with wife to keep him till morning so that I could drop him after his morning walk in the Golf course. I need not say who won the argument. We set off at the appointed hour and the train was on time. I must digress and explain how the Gandhian traveled AC class. My own Kasturba (nee Banu) set this pre-condition for accompanying me on the trip. I don’t know how the original Gandhi would have got around it, I simply brought peace. Kasturba would definitely have not used Gandhi’s non-co-operation act on him, surely! I am sure he would have been stumped if she had done a Gandhi on him. The mineral water bottles were much smaller issues after having given in on the bigger issue of class of travel.

Piyush was getting delayed as some important work held him back in Ahmedabad, he planned to still reach Navsari (rail head to the Dandi beach about 17 kms away) the night before the run. The train journey was quite eventless but for the competition between the Rajasthani mother and daugher duo and my wife on who was carrying more food. My wife was impressed with the multi stage container with the Rajasthani duo. I know the likely next purchase for Dhanteras. Piyush, his wife and Son left Ahmedabad at 3PM and we were regularly in touch over phone. Bhupendra, his brother and Sister and Aparna were to leave Pune at 6 in the evening. Piyush on reaching Navsari finding the places of stay near the station very costly for the Gandhi wannabees settled for the waiting hall at the station. When I got to know this, I was elated and knew that this would be my kind of run. Our train reached Navsari on time at 2:15AM. After a round of tea (Piyush’s life giving fluid) we stared catching up with each other between slapping away the insistent mosquitoes. After dithering for sometime, I decided to put in a few hours of spinning on my charkha while waiting for the other runners to arrive at 5:30 on the morning. I did not change into Khadi and spun in my jeans and T-shirt itself on the waiting hall floor with old newspaper for covering the floor. The station did not have any monument indicating that this was the rail-head to the famous Dandi. A mention on the station name board was all there was to tell the visitor of this. We must put up a suitable monument on the station commemorating the Dandi march (I hope my railway friends from Western Railway are reading). The other runners Aparna and Bhupendra arrived and we changed into our running gear in the waiting hall itself. The luggage was trussed up on the top of Piyush’s car (the packing of the stuff on the top of the car would improve during the course of the run and would be later perfected after Vivek joined us at Bharuch). A big banner with Gandhi’s photo was put up on top of the vehicle. Since the party was too big to get into the car, we hired an auto to take four of the party and lead us into Dandi.

I was eyeing the route to see if it was barefoot friendly. After a not so good road for the first few kilometers from the station, the road was a perfect beauty all the way to the beach. We saw the place commemorating the making of salt by the Mahatma after the epic march and quickly went through the museum. After the mandatory photographs, the runners got restless to start, mindful of the Sun stealing up on our back. The caretaker at the place was apologetic that he could have arranged a press party if we had told them in advance. We were very particular right from the beginning that ours would be a private run and Press would be kept at bay. To me the run was not to give any message to the people but to relive the journey, get to know colleague runners and feel the transformation of the self internally. I had no delusions that we neither had the stature nor the experience to give any message.

We set off with our vehicle following us. I set off at a brisk pace and Piyush joined me, Aparna and Bhupendra brought up the rear. Bhupendra’s brother was at the wheel. After a bad initial stretch of a few Kilometers leading to the main road, the road was a beauty and I did my baretop act of taking off the T-shirt. The school kids on the way and villagers waved to us and it was a merry start. Sun was warming up and a 7AM start was going to hurt us. Piyush and I took a break at the road leading to the highway not sure if the vehicle would find the way. We boasted to the Tender Coconut seller and the cobbler next to him. They were suitably impressed and the tender coconut seller offered to fill up our water bottles. This has been the running theme on all days of our run hereafter, the roadside shops and houses plied us with water and good wishes. I felt like we were living off the name of Gandhi. After a wait of about an hour the party got together and we ran for another hour to reach our breakfast point, a Malyali shop where we only took tea and milk to supplement Kalyanibehn’s Thepla ( unleavened bread of Jowar and Wheat flour with salt and spice) and chilli pickles to go with it. The sweet dish was the powerful ladoos whose ingredients and recipe are still a secret. After having run the earlier trip from Ahmedabad to Dakor on these Ladoos, I can only vouch that they rest easy on the stomach. The kilometer sign near the Dhaba (road side eatery) on the highway read Surat-28K. We had an interesting discussion between the local, Piyush and the Blackberry toting youngsters the distance to our first night’s stay, Khamrej chowk. It turned out that the distance to Surat and Khamrej chowk was same as we were to bypass the city of Surat. The Sun was merciless now and the Tar road was severe on my pebble softened soles. I was in serious trouble as I did not have a Plan-B for the heat and Sun for my soles. I foolishly trudged on barefooted. The busy highway with container laden trucks left very little room on the sides for the runners and the sides of the road were heavily littered with pebbles. After much coaxing from my wife I jumped at the bait and decided to wear my bathroom slippers to protect my soles from the heat. First compromise was made on my run. We ran in the heat and dust on the highway till we spotted our vehicle near a restaurant. It was time for a well earned lunch. We all had Dal-chawal and filled up our radiators full of water. Bhupendra and Piyush set off on a brisk walk (they know no other way to walk). Aparna and I decided to run at a slow pace. We both felt that the running was less strain on our feet and our slowest run was faster than our fastest walk. We kept exchanging notes on our running experiences and chipped away at the kilometers. Aparna taught me run-walk strategy, 400-600 (walking 400m and running 600m). The Sun was merciless and I started talking to the kilometer stone and I think I was hallucinating. Later we came to know that Piyush had tummy trouble and had difficulty in moving in the afternoon. The earlier fast paced run had taken its toll on me and I was a much humbled man now. Incessant drinks of water and chattering later the distance to our first night halt came down to a single digit and we pushed on. I was impressed by Aparna’s persistence and stamina. The afternoon session was a great lesson in endurance running for me. Within half an hour, Piyush and Bhupendra also came in. Piyush’s wife had by then managed booking in a dormitory (free-free-free) and after a meager dinner which had Aparna and me (at least) asking for more. The sleeping quarter was comfortable and the braver amongst us took a shower. I curled on the mattress and was dead to the world in no time. The three ladies, Aparna, Archana (Bhupendra’s sister) and Banu got a cot each. Banu’s cot which had a warped metal plate for base made loud noises every time she turned. One gone, six to go! 55K done.

I woke up to my mobile alarm at 2 AM and started on the spinning wheel. Piyush had woken up before me and Bhupendra woke up at 3AM. After an hour of spinning I had the first use of the loo and the bath. I located a water cooler and filled up my bottle for hydration while spinning. The picture was complete, minus the Active Darshan channel on TV and Biscuit lying near me. Slowly one by one the other inmates came to life. Aparna had instructed us to wake her up last. I and Bhupendra went down to tying up the luggage on the car top. After the first day’s fiasco when essential items were stuck inside bags trussed up on the top of the car, this day we removed all eatables and a change of cloth in a separate bag to be carried by Banu. Despite having made solemn vows to have an early start, it was 5:45 AM by the time we all came down. After the mandatory group photo in front of the Gandhi banner, we set off for the day. The gateman made a special concession for us in letting us off before 6 AM as the temples did not permit opening of gates before 6 AM. Few other pilgrims with flag staff also left for their walkathon. Bhupendra and Archana (who don’t take tea or coffee) set off on a brisk walk while rest of the party stopped at a road side stall for tea for Aparna and Piyush and milk for me. Shortly Banu and Kalyanibehn joined us for tea. After hurriedly finishing my milk, I set off on a run, I wanted to put in some Kms before the Sun got his act together. I crossed Bhupender and Archana in a canter. Bhupender joined me, but, not before I had secretly tried barefoot for a few paces when no one watching or so I thought. My soles were still sore from the pebble and heat treatment of the previous day. I meekly got my feet into the slippers. He gave me a stirring account of his Thar 160K run. It was very inspiring. A man who has gone through so much must be like ice-berg in situations which could be trying for any lesser mortal. No wonder he was so cool, he never once looked at his watch and never exulted after every passing kilometer or despaired at the distance left. A true yogi at work, it was a learning experience. After some time he wanted to slow down, and I carried on. I crossed Banu and Kalyanibehn taking their morning walk. After a good run of close to 2 hours, around 9 AM, I spotted a restaurant and waited there for others to join for the breakfast break. By and by, others joined and we settled for a Gujrati dish of Fafda (Piyushbhai corrected us that what we were served was Papdi) and their special Lassi. Our Dandi T-shirt was drawing admiring glances from fellow diners. Virender, Bhupendra’s brother and stand-in-charioteer, is an interesting personality. He was keeping the volunteers in good spirits with his jokes. He had special liking for Coffee and Coke. He settled for Bhel-puri at this place. His extrovert nature would come to the fore in future exploits of his. He proved to be an invaluable asset in keeping the spirits of the group high. After breakfast, as per the previous day, Aparna and I started off on a slow run and Piyushbhai and Bhupender settled for a brisk walk. Today’s lunch break was at Ankleshwar a distance of 42 Kms from Khamrej where we started day-2. Between us Aparna and I were eating up Kilometers and she made interesting company for conversation. She wished for a canal for a dip and lo and behold at KM 17, a canal where a lady was washing clothes and her son playing appeared. We lost no time in getting into the water. I told Aparna, that my wife would look for me at every watering hole as I never miss a chance to take a dip. The steps were well laid out and it felt good to cool the head, I call this dunking the CPU so that the mind remains cool. Soon, my wife and Kalyanibehn joined followed by Piyushbhai and Bhupender. We had a good half an hour of cooling off. The poor lady was slowly displaced to the edge of the washing stone (A live demo of the Arabs and the Camel!). Aparna and I set off again and had the best run till then, non-stop run (run-walk that is) from KM17 to KM2. Aparna seems to have a mole on her tongue (or seems to have goddess Saraswati residing there) as all her wishes/predictions about the next canal etc. were bang on. I asked to wish something good for me also when the going was good. She asked for Rs. 5 crore instead (that’s what I call dreaming big!). Poor Aparna was ribbed about it the whole of the day and probably the rest of the run. I met a walker on the way who was on a pilgrimage and had been doing about 40K per day for the last 10 days. Since, Aparna crossed me while I was talking to him, I left the conversation mid-way and raced past her. We passed the Industrial area, and as per Aparna’s precise Calorie loading schedule, she started looking for a Coke. She spied a road-side shop and got a Coke for herself and a cold mineral water bottle for me. I suppressed my Gandhian instincts and filled up my bottle (I must remember to carry some money!). Thereafter, we stopped at KM2 from Ankleshwar at a road-side shop under a Neem tree. The man sitting there tried his English-Vinglish on us. I also let loose my half-baked Gujrati. The lady was kind to let me fill up my water bottle. I established contact with our vehicle and sought directions. After much exchange of calls back and forth we reached another shop, I shall call this Aparna’s Bread-batata sandwich stall. The guy was preparing bread pieces for making bread-pakoda. Aparna simply gorged on the plain bread stuffed with batata without letting him to value-add them into bread pakoda. I asked him to name this as Aparna-sandwich. Then there was the incident of slithering creature, which a local described as Mausi of Snake, which Aparna absolutely abhorred and was scared stiff much to the amusement of the young kids there. The temptation to reach the lunch venue and manage a bath was too tempting and we started off on foot. There were varying accounts of the distance to the Ragini theatre the landmark near where we were promised our nose-bags. We didn’t know where Bhupendra and Piyush were left behind. That was our longest walk and coming after the grueling 42K, we were finished. Piyush and Bhupener did the smart thing of getting picked up by our car. The vehicle went for a check up for a failed electrical contact. My wife seemed to have over-done the repairs for loose contact enroute. A nice refreshing bath had us forget the morning grind. The typical Gujrati lunch in ample quantity served with a smile (even though we were 3 hours behind schedule) made us all over eat without a care for the distance of 15K to Bharuch awaiting us in the afternoon. The love and affection showered by the family was infectious and we extended our stay a few more hours. An interesting discussion on deifying Gandhi but not following his tenets (a.k.a. Lage Raho Munnabhai) ensued. Reluctantly and with heavy stomachs we pulled ourselves away for the run to Bharuch. We walked the 3K to the main road. The road from Ankleshwar to Bharuch was very narrow and crowded. I managed to put in a few short sprints but most part was done by walk. The Sun set and the weather was nice. We were received by our vehicle near a Hanuman temple enroute, where our pictures were taken and the Pujari gave us Prasad (Mango bites, I have christened him the Chocolate baba). He said the toffees were more hygienic than conventional Prasad. The 2K bridge across river Narmada was really choc-a-bloc and we somehow crossed it. I and Bhupender did a sprint and I was able to do most of the stretch from Ankleshwar to Bharuch, barefoot. Our welcome to Bharuch retiring rooms and rest house at Railway station was grand. After some confusion over room allocations we finally settled for the night. I skipped dinner in deference to the heavy and late lunch. We were able to wash all our clothes thanks to a big and clean bathroom and lot of place to dry clothes. Thus ended Day2, another 57K licked! We now look forward to the arrival of Comrade-ian Vivek Prasad on Day3. His train arrival time gave us an excuse for late start again.

Welcome to the most eventful and grueling day of the run, literally the hump day. We were all enthused by the fresh pair of legs and vigour Vivek brought to the team. I took of my slippers and started barefoot (Did I mention, my trusted hawaai slippers broke down on Day2, and I had to use my wife’s pink slippers thereafter, if my daughter had seen me in them, I would have been dead meat, my running friends were more charitable and tolerant). My wife seeing me running barefoot comfortable offered to and took away my slippers (watch this seemingly good Samaritan act of my wife as it has painful consequences for me). Bhupender, Vivek and I took the pole position and Aparna and Piyush brought up the rear. I was in a very chirpy mood, with good road below my soles, the Sun still an hour away and a fresh COMRADE-ian for company. After about 8K, where we got on to the highway, Piyushbhai just came from nowhere and whizzed past us. Piyush had asked the vehicle to bring up the rear with Aparna. Though tempted to follow Piyushbhai, I stuck with Vivek for the valuable inputs I was getting from him. He had a very steady metronome kind of regularity to his running and compared to my loud mouth he was a man of few words. I was still watching out for the Blue top which Piyush was wearing to see if I could catch up with him. He was unstoppable today. It was nice to see him come to form after two listless days, it was a typical Sehwag kind of run. All good things come to an end, the road got from bad to worse and it was getting torturous for my soles. But, my slippers (even if pink) were stuck in the Car. The bad roads had one positive though, one of the sugar cane laden truck, spilled some juicy cane on the stretch of bad road and Bhupendra picked a few for us. The bad road with angry stones was not ending anywhere soon. Vivek and Bhupendra with their shodden feet had put in a good gap with me. Virender suddenly appeared out of nowhere with a plastic cover with goodies for refreshment. Finally the really bad stretch ended and I could sprint to Bhupendra and Vivek who were taking a sugarcane break. I also had a refreshing break with sugarcane. Virender did us a good deed by reaching Piyush and tempting him with a tea-break. Nothing else could have stopped Piyush that day! Virender had a knack of managed free rides from locals and as he puts it, he exploited Gandhi’s name to the hilt. Once halted, Piyush settled for a brisk walk and we three caught up with him. Thereafter, I and Vivek went on with my newly learnt run-walk strategy learnt from Aparna the previous day. I thought I had modified it for the day for run in the Sun and walk in the shade. Independently, it seems Aparna also invented it. Piyush and Bhupender settled in their brisk walk. There was no detailed plan for the day about breakfast and other breaks. Virender forced a lunch break about a Km from Amogh. Meanwhile, the vehicle had got a flat tire and the ladies managed to get the type changed with the help of a friendly truck driver, I am sure the smiling Gandhi on top of the vehicle must have done his bit. The spot chosen was bang on the highway and we rested for half an hour to 45 minutes before the vehicle and Aparna joined us. We had a sumptuous lunch of Theplas and laddoos and stretched under the tree on Polythene bags for a rug below unmindful of the speeding trucks whizzing past us. Bhupendra did a few stretches and sped off after the lunch break. Our tea break was at Jambusar, a distance of 13K. I and Vivek started on a slow jog. We spied a hand-pump within a few Kms of our run. We all stopped for a good wash and dunking of my CPU as I call it. I also saw the beginnings of sweat rashes all over my arms and neck and shoulders. I and Vivek continued our run-walk strategy, more walk than run to be honest. He bore my constant chatter stoically. The wives meanwhile got the spare wheel attended and kept us company my meeting us every few Kms. I and Vivek were the first to reach Jambusar cross and we stole a nap on a concrete bench under a Neem tree outside the district offices. The others reached after about an hour and after the mandatory tea break, we set off for the last inning of the day. We embarked on what we thought was 24K of run. Piyush took off at a good pace and I excused myself from Vivek and went with him. The next 7-8 Kms was ehhilirating running with Piyush, It was inspirational to see a 53 year old coming up with such reserves after a speedy 25K in the morning and a lesson on endurance running. We stopped at a Hanuman temple for water more than darshan. We could have done with his leap instead of our now painful plod. At around 12K, another break was taken where we got fresh corn and tea for tea-drinkers, but, biggest of all the shocking news that another 20K was left for our halt for the day. The lights had come on and the traffic was menacing. Vivek could not handle all this, coming after a night of journey, he settled into the Car. Aparna with good company from Bhupendra was doggedly eating up the miles. After the break, Aparna and Bhupendra sped off and Piyush and I took almost a Km to pass them. We had another good stretch of steady running (Piyush claimed 12k/hr and I guess we were going at not more than 10k/hr) for another 8-10K. Piyush again stopped for a tea-break and the frequent tea-breaks meant we were running out of reserves. We had interesting conversation about his foray into running. The support team in the car was also getting restless. The ladies particularly were angry that we would again be bothering our hosts for the night late into the night. We somehow limped till a petrol bunk in Vadu, village and requested the host to pick us up from there. Aparna and Bhupendra caught up with us while we waited for our host to come and get us. We promised to start from this point the next day. It was past 10PM and we were seriously worried about recovery for the next day’s run. Piyush enthused us by saying that rest of the days were below 50K. We were taken to Runu village about 3K from the petrol bunk where we broke for the day. The smiling faces of the hosts despite the late hour lifted our spirits. After a good bath we had a sumptuous dinner. The host was the brother-in-law of Piyush’s business associate at Ahmedabad. I was really feeling weighed down by such love affection and hospitality from perfect strangers. Old man of the family, a retired doctor, who practices both allopathy and ayurveda kept up steady conversation and made us feel perfectly at home. He plied us with extra helping of Shrikhand (all the while saying that he cannot have it as he has diabetes). I can now believe when we hear that our elders treated guests as Gods (Atithi Devo Bhava!) They have given us the main rooms and to my surprise and shame next day, I found the hosts sleeping in the drawing room. They were up early morning next day and gave us a warm and affectionate farewell.  The host dropped us at the start point wishing us godspeed. Thus ended the most grueling day of the event, Day3, 76K done!

We had no pretensions of an early start after the grueling day3. Elaborate farewells and photo session ensured we could not start till 6:30AM. Thankfully, Piyushbhai promised that today’s run was only 43K. The tentative plan was to do the 30K to Borsad by lunch and keep the balance 13K to Dharmaj for the night stay. After the previous day, this looked like cake walk. All runners were rearing to go. Ladies in the crew vehicle, leaving Virender behind the wheel started their morning walk. Vivek and I brought up the front. This day, I asked him to speak up and we had very interesting discussion on Gandhi, societal inequalities his experiences during walk for the Vidarbha farmers with an NGO. The road was good and I was able to run barefoot for the most part. At around 17-18K we merged into the Vadodara-Borsad main road and decided to wait for our colleagues for breakfast break. I managed a visit to the temple nearby. We all had a sumptuous breakfast of Bread-bhajiya. As has been the usual pattern, I and Vivek decided to run. I spotted markings on the road where every 50 mtrs was marked, this to me was a good incentive to keep running. The Sun was very severe and my rashes had become very pronounced by then. Aparna had assured me earlier that she had similar problem on her hands and they went away with some medical soap and protection from direct light. On my part I have not been complaining in front of my wife for the fear of being plied with Citrizen tablet. Vivek stopped for cold water at one way-side shop. What is Coke to Aparna, cold water is to Vivek. I was again the sponge, not carrying any money and not being strong enough in refusing. What would have not I given for a canal with gushing cold water. Though my nirvana was not as instantaneous as that of Aparna, few kilometers ahead we spotted a canal, where a raucous crowd was bidding farewell to Ganpati. I and after much prodding Vivek got down to taking a dip. After the break within the next few kilometers when we were one Km from Borsad, Vivek spotted a student’s hostel with lush lawns and a tap. We decided to take our lunch break there, leaving 14K for the post lunch session. The vehicle joined us, my wife was agog with excitement, thsy had been stopped by an Anganwadi enroute where teachers had heard of our expedition and they were plied with tea. We laid out our wet clothes to dry and rested under the Neem tree after a good lunch of Theplas and laddoos. Aparna managed a small shower under the overflowing over head tank, herself comparing her pose to Zeenat Aman’s of ‘Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram’. We had interesting discussion on Secularism and intolerance. Aparna and I were quick and vociferous to shut out strident arguments by Virender. Piyush and Bhupender moved over to the verandah for a quiet nap. Everybody appreciated Vivek’s choice of the camp-site.  The run post lunch was not as taxing as the previous day and we were secure in the distance left. Google maps and local knowledge was checked repeatedly to avoid a goof up. Since Piyush’s friend was to reach the temple (Jalaram Bapa, temple at DharmaJ) at 5:30PM, we set of 3:30PM itself.  Within 2K of the start, Piyush and Virender stopped at a restaurant stopped for tea. The break was aborted as the hotel had no tea/Coke. Piyush and Aparna gave a look as if to say who gave this guy the licence to set up shop. I saw a board indicating Rajkot, 215K, and became nostalgic. My first posting in the Railways was Rajkot and I remember the Alfred high school there which I visited and it’s Gandhi connection. It was here that he refused to correct his spelling of ‘Kettle’ (hope I have got it right), despite his teacher prompting him many times. I, Piyush and Vivek led now with Aparna and Bhupender bringing up the rear. Piyush bhai took a boiled-egg break (I found his third secret recipe after tea and tobacco) to tackle the balance few kilometers. Bhupender ran past us and we made no attempt to catch up. I and Piyush finishing the distance sedately walking. I must say I find walking with Piyush at his pace more taxing than my slow run. We reached the temple ahead of his contact and spent time with Piyush’s friend’s local contact who came with his cute little daughter. My wife and Kalyanibehn followed pretty soon. We had a brief interlude taking photographs with the young girl. I forget her name, but she was in 2nd standard and her birthday was in November. Vivek and Aparna steamed in and Virender went up to them and ran back with them as if finishing a marathon. Here again we managed dormitory with the beds laid out in a row. We used the rope we used to secure luggage on the car to set up a clothesline and washed clothes. We visited the temple. Strains of devotional music was very refreshing. We were invited to eat at a special hall where tables were laid out with Army jawans. The food was unlimited but the vegetable was very spicy. Khichdi was very nice. We turned in early. Iti Day4, another 43Km licked!

We were determined to have an early start come what may. We packed bags and trussed it up on the car and asked the support team to follow us after an hour or so. We had a good chance of hitting the road at 05:15AM. Piyushbhai got out his headlamp for lighting up the way. We set off finally at 05:25AM our earliest start to date. I and Vivek led from the front. I settled for a barefoot run. The blister between the big toe and first finger on my right foot making wearing of slipper painful. I used Vivek’s paper tape to truss up my foot and on Aparna’s advice taped up the offending part of the slipper strap also. Piyush brought up the rear, after the lights improved, Piyush came ahead and we two ran in tandem. Piyush today did the Gandhi act and we two baretop and Piyush in his minimal footwear and I barefoot make a good twosome. Our fist stop was Tarapur about 18K for breakfast. Original breakfast at Tarapur was scheduled for 10:30 AM at Tarapur and Piyush tried to re-schedule it. Finally we settled for a Bhajiya-bread breakfast by 8:15AM. Piyush’s friend and our host for the day came and I did the unpardonable act of showing Piyush the watch at 9AM for the promised start. Piyush was very angry and I also felt bad at having to depart so early after his friend had just come all the way to meet us. The tyranny of the Sun was too fresh in my mind. We set off at 9AM and Piyush also reluctantly followed. Today, I, Vivek and Aparna went ahead and Piyush and Bhupender settling for a long walk. This was Piyush’s practice for his Bhatti mines Ultra of 160K the next week. A word about Archana, she is on the heavier side in the conventional sense to be a runner of any worth. But, what she lacks in shape, she more than makes up with her grit and determination. She has been steadily increasing the kilometers every day. She dutifully plugs on her walkman and walks for hours. An example for attitude! Within a few kilometers into our run, we came across the first canal. Not knowing if we would get any more the three of us took a break for a dip. Piyush and Bhupender plodded on, what sense of sacrifice and determination. Canal was welcoming and we did not want to leave but 13K was a tall order if we did not work doggedly, Piyush and Bhupender having gone ahead also put pressure on us. Our lunch stop was planned at Limbasa village a good 13K away.  After a few kilometers there were lush fields on either side but, for quite a distance there was not a tree on either side of the road and the Sun took its toll. We realized the importance of trees to keep the temperatures in check. After a grueling 4-5 Kms we stopped outside a water resort and sanctuary. The messages painted about planting trees there on the benches struck an immediate chord. It was as true if not more as the Ten Commandments. Thankfully after a few more dry kilometers we encountered wet lands with water birds and lush paddy fields on either side of the road. Pictures of the various water birds were depicted on sign boards and we could see families in cars probably out for a weekend (remember this was a Sunday!). Presently we reached Limbasa village and my wife went out and got buttermilk for us. We scouted for a lunch spot. The suggestion to have it in two batches was shot down by Savitribehn(sorry, Kalyanibehn) who insisted on waiting for her husband to come. This gave more material to Aparna to rib Piyushbhai when he arrived later. We walked for about a kilometer to reach Princy hotel (no name board, only word of mouth). The owner was an interesting personality who gave us hot rotis and good food. Aparna had a run in with a few peaceful lizards cooling themselves near the wash area.Piyush and Bhupendra wanted to continue their walk after the lunch and we lesser mortals, at the hotel owner’s suggested retired to a temple for our afternoon siesta. The heat was unbearable and the canal nearby though presently occupied by buffalos and kids was inviting. We waited a while for the food to settle before we took a dip. Water was very turbid but beggars can’t be choosers. We received a phone call from Bhupendra asking us to start early. We set off at 4:30PM after taking tea offered gratis by the priest, the today being an auspicious full moon day. I settled for a barefoot run and Vivek and Aparna asked me to go ahead. The road was good and kilometers fell quickly. The Sun was also not as potent after a hard day’s battle with our determination. My rashes were chafing and I seriously thought of consulting my doctor over phone. Bhupender on reaching Matr called me over phone and gave me directions. Bad news awaited me as I entered the APMC market complex which was to be our place of rest for the night. The party was sitting on floor outside waiting for the meeting to get over. Our wives were invited to join. I joked that Kalyanibehn lost a chance to become sarpanch of the village. Now the bad news, the toilets were very bad and would definitely not do. We explored if we could go ahead and manage some temple at Kheda which was a further 7K away. Piyush bhai got working on his mobile and Kheda was fixed as the place of stay. This meant 7K less for the next day. Piyush bhai also toyed with the idea of completing the balance 42K to Ahmedabad from Kheda in the night itself. Kalyanibehn vetoed it and I also was not in favour as the yatra was to be during day even if we have no audience to preach to. Now for the task of breaking the news to Aparna and Vivek when they enter Matar. I told them as diplomatically as possible. Surprisingly, they took it sportingly and we set off immediately. We also got an idea which gained instant acceptance from everybody that we run through to Ahmedabad the next day without stopping at Aslali village where some reception was planned for us for the next day night. The thought of bath and a night at Piyush’s home swung the decision and Aslali host was informed accordingly. Our host for the night, the same person who had the breakfast programme changed at the last minute, was very accommodative and shifted the dinner venue to the community hall at Kheda. Children and families came and feted us and served us food. Despite the mosquito coils, the winged creatures and mosquitoes bothered us. Very soon, sleep took over and before I knew, it was 2AM on the last day. SO, thus ended DAY5, another 50K done!


While there was excitement of finishing the run successfully and only a marathon distance left between us and the Ashram, there was a tinge of sadness at the event coming to an end. We had actually started to enjoy the company and the bunch of runners had become a well knit family now. I must acknowledge the excellent biscuits (Thekua it is called) brought by Vivek which had become my morning starch loading before the run along with Kalyanibehn’s laddoo. The highway was very smooth (Baby’s bum by Barefoot Ted’s reckoning or Hema Malini’s cheek if you prefer Lalu’s simile) and I enjoyed my barefoot run. Today I did a Piyush of Day3 and shot off. The start was 6AM and I was determined to put in as many kilometers before Sun woke up to realize it. Even though the highway was narrow, the drivers were accommodative to this baretop, barefoot runner. I took my first break at KM7, met Banu and Kalyani walking further down. We had planned this day to have a working breakfast around 9 AM. My wife was to pick up bread and keep sandwiches ready to hand us over on the run. There was some mix up about the place to stop. While I thought it was KM20 (22 to destination) or Narola cross, which was a further 9K away, as instructed by Piyush to his wife. I took my breakfast at KM 19, and sped off. Piyush had briefly caught me around KM 15 but I was in a zone that day. When I reached KM 27 (15K from destination), I got a call from Piyushbhai to wait for him. This was equivalent to what Virender did to Piyush with offer of Tea on Day3. I had already taken a break to fill up my water bottle. I told him the location and landmark and settled under the tree. We informed the people in the Car and people following of the intended stop. Piyush bhai settled and started refueling with tea. He also ordered for lunch for 9 people. Between us we had forgotten to tell Bhupender of the intended stop and he crossed us. He went on to Narol cross. Instead of asking him to return back, we decided to cancel the lunch order and reach Narol cross and wait for all to assemble. We asked the people in the car to go home as escorting in Ahmedabad traffic would be difficult and we could anyway get all the support needed from the road-side shops dotting the road on either side. We finished all the bread in the car and sped them off. Vivek and Aparna looked in a bad way. We stopped for a fresh lime drink at a road-side shop. Aparna’s knee was showing up and she popped a painkiller. Vivek was absolutely uncommunicative and plodding like a convict on his walk to the gallows. He felt short changed because of the cancellation of lunch. After another stop at a shop for some more fruit drinks, Piyush bhai ordained that we should walk along the Riverfront. This turned out to be a bad move, with no shade for long distance and no shops, the 7K looked very daunting. I and Aparna tried to run as that was less painful than walk. Vivek was constantly falling behind and really looked bad. Piyush and Bhupender had gone ahead. We took a call to get out from the riverfront and take the city roads. We first wanted to get some food and drink into Vivek. His eyes were glazed, we did not want to send him by Auto as this would spoil his final moments. We settled at a CafĂ© Coffee day outlet and they ordered a sandwich and iced tea. I was really conscious of my pink slippers and khadi shorts now. I was afraid if the girl at the counter would exercise the option of ‘right of admission reserved’ on me. There was an interesting interlude here, much similar to the scene where Charlie Chaplin makes as if to eat a shoe (in the movie Gold rush, I think). The guards at the CCD were sitting to their lunch just outside the glass door where we were sitting. Aparna was giving them a look of absolute hunger and I am sure they would have ended up with a tummy ache. I told her they must be thinking that people have more exotic food inside the glass door. The classic case of grass being greener on the other side of the Glass door. She also did a similar hungry kid act near a fresh fruit vendor who was selling cut fruits. We all got some bananas where even your Gandhian joined. Aparna also got her favorite sandwich. We then walked on egging Vivek with each step. We made an interesting group wearing the Dandi march T-shirt in the afternoon Ahmedabad crowd on a Monday afternoon on the busy Ashram road. There was another good news awaiting us. Lathabehn my friend at the Ashram was to be away on a village visit and I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to get my wife to see her. Lathabehn called me and informed me that her village visit hass been cancelled and she would meet us at the Ashram. Meanwhile Piyush and Bhupender had reached. Kalyanibehn and Banu reached the Ashram with home cooked food for us. My wife located Lathabehn and was enjoying all her attention when we reached the Ashram. We finished the Pulao which was to do for our late lunch. I then went to the workshop to meet the manager, where the charkhas are made, though I had forgotten to get mine for servicing. The next day was to be a holiday for the workshop. We had an elaborate photo session and I even managed to put in a few minutes of spinning at the ashram charkha. We got to visit the Gandhi’s room. We were specially invited for the next day’s function at the Ashram. We attended the inter faith prayer meeting at 6:15PM where Banu got to sing a few devotional songs at the request of Secretary, Ms. Aashiya Desai’s invitation. We returned by BRTS bus, (self, Aparna, Bhupender and Piyush). But for a run in with a young boy who stared at Aparna and got a mouthful, the journey want eventless. We took a bath and after a simple but satisfying meal of Dal, Roti, Bhindi sabji and jeera rice we settled for the night. The meal was reminiscent of a Joint family at dinner with everybody sitting on floor around the food. We joked about the wake up time for next day and who is game for the 7K run for the morning function at the Ashram.

We reached early in Piyush’s car in informal dress but we carried our Dandi-run tops, just in case we were asked to put them on. The director’s speech made a detailed reference to our effort and it was loudly cheered by the appreciative crowd. The all faith prayer meeting and the lecture on Gandhi’s eleven vows by the Vice Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith thereafter was very gripping. Even though I could not get it completely as it was in Gujarati. After a song by inmates of the Sabarmati jail, the programme concluded. I had the satisfaction of spinning at the programme on my charkha. A very satisfying and elevating event for me.  Piyush bhai then took us to a Jain shop for purchasing footwear for us (the minimal wear which he was wearing during the run). We reached home and as the time neared for departures we got restless and tried to prolong the inevitable. I, Vivek and Aprana went to the mall across the road for drawing money from the ATM. We settled accounts and had a small ceremony of giving 5-star chocolates to the participants. After a relaxed lunch we could no longer postpone the departure and all the people came to the road to put us in an auto. I invited all of them for a friendly marathon on my highway at Hubli. We wished Piyush all the best for his Bhati Ultra of 160K coming up the next weekend. As I go to press, our man has completed the 160K run in record 25 hrs and 2 minutes. Hats off Piyush. I have really returned a much more chastened runner and a more mature person.