In 1930, Gandhiji, along with 80 satyagrahis, walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi as a non-violent protest against the British salt monopoly. In 2017, 10 to 15 of us felt a similar calling to go on a yatra (journey) of our own. Was it a protest? Was it a journey of self-exploration? Or was it something else completely? We would soon find out.
In the month of November 2017, we walked for close to 400 km in 22 days. To keep the yatra true to its original context, we came up with constraints for ourselves that included travelling without phone and money. We also ensured that they were no pre-arrangements made in any place other than Bharuch.
Personally, the idea of travelling without money intrigued me. I began to expect the yatra to test my insecurities surrounding finances in general, and help me experience generosity through my encounters with villagers. But a day before the yatra began, a well-wisher advised me not to have any expectations from the yatra. I was told to travel with an open mind and surrender myself to the universe.
From dusk until dawn, we walked and walked. We would start the day around 6:30 am for a prayer. At 11 am, we would pause to rest and then start again at 3:30 pm. We would continue until 6:30 pm.
We ensured that we took our afternoon and night halts at the same places Gandhiji had stopped in 1930. Our night halts would be at Gandhi ashrams, temples, schools and houses of well-meaning villagers. We never felt in want of food or water. We met people along the way who praised us, some who questioned the rationale behind such a yatra and some who flat out ignored us.
What we could not ignore though was the love and compassion we received from the villagers – when we sang bhajans along with the villagers of Govindara or when we crossed the Mahi river with localities or the generosity we experienced at Derol village or when we sat down to get a sense of the ambitions of the local youth at Gajera village. It was then that I realised that transformations don’t always need to take decades, some happen in just a couple of hours, especially when one comes face to face with deep compassion.
An experience at Aasarama village made me ponder over the idea of giving back to the universe. On one of the days, we were to halt at night at Umrachi village. Things didn’t go as planned when we realised that the sun had set earlier than we expected and given that reaching Umrachi involved crossing a canal, we decided to stop at Aasarama, a village close to Umrachi.
While we were getting ready to spend the night at a temple in the village, two young men approached us and offered to make arrangements for our stay at the government school in the village. As we reached the school, we were welcomed and hosted by a dozen youth. They prepared dinner for all of us as well.
Gandhiji had never stayed there. But that didn’t seem to matter in the end. While the connection with the villagers in the previous places may have been due to Gandhiji’s visit, that wasn’t the case at Aasarama.
It was only later that we came to know that the youth of this village had also been on padayatras before and when they went to other villages, they had received similar hospitality from those villages. For them, what they did for us was both giving back and paying forward.
The next day, the youth brought for us a raft they had made out of dry grass for their use. Without the raft or their support, I am sure we would not have been able to cross the canal. The truth was that the group did not have anything to offer these youth. But what I am confident of is that even though we were unable to give back to them, we surely left with a sense of gratitude that we would pay forward to others.
Towards the end our yatra, the book “Moved by Love” by Vinobaji became my companion. In the book, Vinobaji mentions that “every person has a pure heart with compassion and love but there will be a wall of ‘wickedness’ or ‘meanness’ that restricts us from reaching that heart.” He says, “Instead of banging on this wall, all that we need to do is to find a door of ‘goodness’ that helps us reach his heart.”
As I write about the experience 50 days after the yatra, I can imagine taking the learnings from this journey and implementing them in my life. I believe now that going on a padayatra (without money or footwear) has a lot of potential for inner transformation. I found that intense walking may weaken the body temporarily but this physical exhaustion itself forces our mind to muster strength from within.
As Vinobaji said, “Change starts from your heart, then your lifestyle and then the society.” I wish to change my heart and lifestyle before I ask someone else to do the same. Understanding this idea at its core and putting it into practice won’t be easy. I respect Gandhiji and Vinobaji even more than ever for not only believing in their ideals but scrupulously following them as well.
May all of you listen to your inner calling within and have the courage to follow it. And I hope when you do follow this inner calling, that you do it barefoot and nary a care for how fat your wallet might be.