Day three of Dandi March II; we stopped at Irvine Mandir for our first break. A man in OM t-shirt joined us for pictures. Then I asked him whether he joined for next 5 miles or entire day walk. He told me he joined for the rest of the 240 miles. Then I paid a little more attention, he is the 72-year-old guy from Tucson that Sripal told us about.
About a week ago…Kewal Parnami was watching Community Roundup on TV Asia with his wife around 10 PM in the night. TV Asia was playing my phone interview about Dandi March II. Kewal listened to it, and decided to join us for the entire 240 miles right away. He later told me that his wife supported him to take up this challenge. He joined us late, because he couldn’t find travel arrangement in time.
As soon as I saw him at the Irvine Mandir, I knew he would kick our butt in the march. He was bald, thin, stood straight, and had a backpack. He looked like a professional hiker (yes, he hikes about 3 times a week). He was holding a long stick (like a hiking pole). I think he found it off trail somewhere. He also walked faster than everyone else.
Thin, short, bald, old, fast, vegetarian, walking 240 miles with a stick….he looked like Gandhiji.
I think on 13th day of DM2, I woke up with body pains. Kewal taught me how to do Surya Namaskar. It is stretching different body muscles in about 10 poses. As soon as I did those, I was ready to hit the road. Through out our walk, I learned several things from Kewal, including how to stay healthy, about anti-corruption, and about life in general. He was always calm and collective. His greatest strength is, he did not let his age takeover his mind. He is older than anyone else who joined the march, yet he listened to everyone. He has a heart of a child.
He told me that the secret to his health is eating less and not eating junk. But I believe most of it has to do with the discipline. Every morning, he began his day with yoga. He drank milk, ate cornflakes or oatmeal. He ate limited food during the day, avoided chips and other junk food. Everyday he drank a cup of hot milk. When I am 72 years old, I want to look like him.
Around day 12 of the march, all of us attend an evening seminar in Milpitas with the Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar. Towards the end, they let audience to ask questions. The biggest surprise from Kewal came to me then. He asked Meeraji why India not stands up to itself when dealing with China. He specifically gave examples like China making noise while India constructs road on it’s soil, and Arunachal problem. He asked such a complicated question in a very composed way.
Even though Kewal lived in US for over 30 years, he is probably closer to India, than most Indians I met in my life. Kewal is our own Gandhiji, and he is my friend.
” I want to share a few other things I learnt walking with Kewal. He was an 8 year old boy when India partitioned. Born in Pakistan, he walked 4 days to cross the Indo/Pak border to be in India with his mother, grand father and brothers (4 boys from ages 4 to 10) with only things they can carry on them. They had to leave their home in Pakistan in 24 hour notice in the middle of riots. It was a heart wrenching story and I cried listening to it that day. Every day during the walk we discussed a new topic or story, and I have learnt a lot from to him.” – Srinivas Nandiwada