All of us at DM2 team were confused when we heard that a journalist wants to fly from India to US to walk with us. We asked ourselves Why? We tried to convey that it would not be worth it, without saying that. I think he probably believed in the walk more than us.
Sunil Kumar from Daily Chhattisgarh News flew into Los Angeles the previous night we started the march. After a very long flight, without much sleep he walked about 18 miles with us on the first day. By the end of the day, I was pretty confident that he wouldn’t last couple of more days of walking. In fact Jawahar wondered few times that he would ask Sunilji to take a day break. Even though I did not believe he would complete the entire walk, I thought Sunilji would know when to stop, if needed. I told Jawahar that there is a possibility that none of us would complete the 240 mile walk, and only Sunilji would be the last man standing at the Gandhi statue in San Francisco. For most part he was always the last one in the walk. But that wasn’t the reason I titled the article “the journalist behind us”. He was also almost always the man behind the camera, but that wasn’t the reason for the title either.
The best thing I liked about him was, he appreciated everything. He appreciated curd rice, he appreciated accommodation and he appreciated my massage stick (Belan/Chapati-roller). I think the only complaint he had was that we would take too many stops to take pictures. He was very respectful of elders and youngers alike. He called my wife Ma’am. We all called Jawahar as Javhar, he explained us the meaning of Jawahar (Jewel) and made us all call him Ja-waa-har. Now I remember Sunilji every time I call Jawahar.
If there is a reason for everything, I think the reason he joined us was to keep our sanity; to keep us together and give us a direction when we felt lost. I think at times the way we felt about him was similar to how a small kid feels his/her dad knows everything in the world. I remembered Jawahar, Subhash and I several times having long conversations, which seemed never-ending. Somehow Sunilji was able to break it down for us in a sentence or two, most times in less than 30 seconds. One such example was whether we should throw out one of the key team-members out, because we found that he burnt Muslim houses in Gujarat riots about 30 years ago.
Towards the end of our journey, we knew we would miss Sunilji a lot. Now I miss him everytime I come out of hours of discussions without any fruitful outcome.