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Making a new India
We hope that the Walk of Hope, as a single act of good purpose, will catalyse a chain-reaction — leading to a better world and a better tomorrow, writes Sri M
Some time in last January, as the rising sun tinted the sky orange, I stood at the land’s end of peninsular India-Kanyakumari. Here, at the Triveni Sangam — the confluence of Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal — my thoughts harked back in time as the turquoise waters gently lapped at my feet.
At this very point, in 1892, the great prophet of interfaith harmony, Swami Vivekananda had swum across the sea to a nearby rock — known today by his name — and meditated to find his life’s mission. Consequently, the seer wandered the length and breadth of India with his message of peace and oneness, thus rousing it from its dismal slumber.
In tribute to this great seer, we chose January 12, 2015 — Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary — to begin the Walk of Hope from Kanyakumari. We visited the Vivekananda Rock to garland his statue, seeking blessings for the colossal crossing that lay ahead. Our mission of peace and communal harmony is derived in no small measure from the seer’s words: “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” Seeking inspiration and strength to complete this endeavour, we also paid floral respects at the nearby Gandhi Mandapam-the memorial to the apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi.
I am now 67. I am often asked why I am walking across India — a padayatra of 7,500 km through 11 States, charting 15-20 km a day in gruelling and fast-changing climatic conditions. The Walk of Hope spans 500 days through the villages and towns constituting the world’s largest democracy. After a year through the hinterlands of India, we reached Delhi — the nation’s heartland — covering about 6,000 km over 400 days. We spent a few weeks in the national capital, meeting the country’s lawmakers and prominent citizens, so as to evolve a public dialogue that will bring attention to the urgency for peace and oneness.
If you ask me about the padayatra’s origins, the Walk of Hope is a prophecy come true. When I was 22, my Master, Maheshwarnath Babaji, predicted I would one day walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He also added, mysteriously, that this crossing would be in the company of a multitude of people. I was reluctant for I thought I could do it alone easily. Why the people? At the time, the reasons for this statement lay beyond my understanding.
In 2012, I felt the time was ripe for the foretold journey, considering my advancing years. In the intervening years, since my Master’s prophecy, the mission’s cause had crystalised in my mind. It made sense, in a country overwhelmed by divisive tendencies, to originate and share a message of peace and harmony — a message to celebrate the commonalities between a multitude of faiths and cultures of a great nation.
The inspirational message for the padayatra lay in one of the four canonical sacred texts of ancient India — the Rig Veda, which said 3,000 years ago: “Ekam sat, viprahbahudaavadanti”, meaning “The truth is one, the wise call it by many names.” It postulates that the source of all life is one; a clear reason for humanity to remain united despite its divergent faiths. This ancient philosophy has remained the raison d’être for our culture’s embracing stance vis-à-vis foreign travellers, faiths and communities — helping them assimilate into our diverse culture.
The point where we embarked on the padayatra from Kanyakumari is incidentally called the Zero Point. Here, I conveyed to my fellowpadayatris that we must begin our journey with zero ego. Just like an overflowing cup can take no more, we recognised the need to humble ourselves — so as to let the divine truth manifest itself in the space created by the annihilation of ego. This is the personal journey from the zero to the shunya — the supreme being.
The padayatris, in essence, a walking pilgrimage. For centuries, seers and saints have reached out to society by walking to towns and villages to spread awareness of their message. In the past year, we have learned so much about the prevailing conditions of our country. The clarion call of the yesteryears — ‘Roti, kapda aur makaan’ for all — is yet to materialise completely.
I write with great pain about the glaring disparity in our country — between the rich and the poor. Our problems are largely basic, like lack of drinking water, and the growing specter of pollution and unsustainable development compounds the sad state of affairs. We hope Walk of Hope, as a single act of good purpose, will catalyse a chain-reaction — leading to a better world and a better tomorrow.
We are now in the last leg of the journey and with three more States to go, I am greatly encouraged by the response from the people. Everywhere, we have experienced overwhelming love and encouragement, which significantly demonstrates the relevance of the message.
To illustrate one such instance, we met an old Muslim lady along the route in Malappuram, Kerala, who enquired why we were undertaking this initiative. When we told her the reason, she said: “There are no differences between humans; there is no difference at all, except between the male and female gender. We need to live together.”
Growing from an idea to a movement, the Walk of Hope has had a seismic impact. Many are the individual contributions made by common people to power this gigantic endeavour, inspired largely by their dream for peaceful co-existence.
I recall while walking through a town, an autorickshaw driver approached me. Handing me a Rs100 note, he said that it was all of his day’s earnings, a contribution to the cause. Time and again, we have been humbled by such powerful gestures, inspiring us in our every step.
The Walk of Hope is not about me alone. The padayatris with me have an equally important role to play in this nation-building exercise. Creating awareness of the cause is our collective responsibility. This extends to inspiring acceptance, reconciliation and respect for diversity in each individual. People everywhere are generally predisposed to peace and harmony and the Walk seeks to manifest this along its route.
I remind those who walk with me that this is an inner journey too — a transformative passage into the depths of the soul to unravel the human capacity for compassion. This inner reflection is the crux of our syncretic exercise to make India one country and humankind its citizens. Many challenges still lie ahead. But the promise is great. We just have to walk our talk, together.
The writer is a spiritual guide, social reformer, educationist, and author
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