THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On January 26, V R Krishna Iyer, former judge of the Supreme Court, flagged off four men, who set out on two motorbikes - a 220cc Pulsar and a 125cc Glamour - from Kochi for a 35-day long trip to Delhi. The group included retired Indian Navy sailor P S Surendran, businessman P S Vipin Kumar Palluruthy, photographer M B Simlesh, and motor mechanic K D Babu.
The aim of the trip: “We wanted to celebrate the 100th year of the ‘Jana Gana Mana’, which was first sung, on December 27, 1911, at a session of the Indian National Congress at Kolkata,” says Vipin. Penned by poet Rabindranath Tagore, it was officially adopted as the national anthem by the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950.
During the journey, the group would set out every day at 7 am “We would stop after every 50 kms,” says Surendran. “After four such stops, we would have a long run of about 90 kms.” They would travel between 290 and 310 kms a day. Usually, by sunset, they would stop. “There was no fixed plan,” says Surendran. “We would look out for schools, temples, churches, villages, or clubs to stay the night. Whenever we stopped, young people would congregate around us.”
The group would take out small Indian flags and ask the youngsters to sing the national anthem. “Many would shake their heads,” says Simlesh. “They only knew the ‘Vande Mataram’.” The elders, however, would know the anthem. After they sang it, they would feel inspired and offer the group lodging. The team always opted for the same type of food: chappatis, dal, and onions. “It was the safest,” says Simlesh, with a smile. “We ate so many onions that our cholesterol would have vanished by now.”
Meanwhile, those stays in the villages were eye-openers. “We saw many poor people, and houses in bad condition,” says Vipin. “They burn cow dung to cook their food. The roads are very bad. The children do not go to school and instead work in the fields. So they are missing out on education. There is a desperate need for water in states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The villagers take a small mug of water, go to an empty field, and do their ablutions. In many places the plants and trees have dried up because of the fierce sun. We felt very bad about this.”
Vipin proffers some advice. “The MLAs and MPs should take cycles and travel through all the villages and get an idea of the problems faced by the people,” he says. “India is only a superpower in the towns. When you travel on the national highways, you will feel you are in a European country, but that is not the whole truth.”
In fact, the highways that impressed them the most were the ones from Coimbatore to Nagpur (1430 kms), and from Jaipur to Ahmedabad (700 kms). The group travelled throug several states: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Goa, and the Union Territory of Delhi. And soon, the quartet realised that Kerala is, indeed, God’s Own Country. “Kerala is heaven,” says Babu. “People have a good standard of living. There is food to eat, good houses to stay in, and a proper education system. The only problem is the bad roads.”
They travelled a distance of 6320 kilometres and experienced one tyre puncture and a minor accident. Surprisingly, they only had one sponsor: the fruit drinks company Mona Vie. “They provided us with thick tracksuits for the cold weather and bags,” says Surendran. “At various stops they also provided us with drinks.”
The team returned to Kochi on March 1 to a rousing welcome by the members of the Youth Hostel, Kakkanad, followed by receptions hosted by the District Collector P I Sheik Pareeth and Mayor Tony Chammany of the Cochin Corporation, and it ended with a public meeting at Palluruthy, where they stay. “All in all, it was a wonderful trip,” says Vipin.