Around India in 118 days

Pedalling for peace.  

TO DRIVE down the entire length of the country on a bicycle, to spread the message of peace would truly qualify as the ideal way of spreading the Mahatma's message. And that is exactly what Karuppiah and his wife Chitra have done — traverse the length of the country, on a bicycle bearing the national flag — by way of celebrating Kamaraj's hundredth birth anniversary.

Hailing from Viswanatham village in Sivakasi, the couple began their arduous journey from Virudhnagar district, on July 15.

From there, they first visited various districts within the State, to spread their message of peace and harmony:

Madurai, Sivaganga, Pudukottai, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Tiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram, Chennai and Thiruvallur.

The next stop was Pondicherry, from where they began their trans-state bicycle expedition.

Pedalling over 6,000 kms across India, Karuppiah and Chitra visited about 77 districts in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and finally to Jammu, where All India Congress Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad felicitated them and gifted a token amount towards their cause.

The couple, travelling with the bare minimum in a true Gandhian spirit, weathered heat and dust, icy winds, pelting rain and even a cyclone in Andhra Pradesh. Sometimes villagers in various districts, were gracious to provide them with blankets and hot meals. But, at times, they had to make do with just one meal a day, and pedal on, ignited by the desire to spread their message. Pedalling and communicating by day, they sought refuge in village schools, temples or Dharamshalas by night.

The entire trip, spanning a period of 118 days, enabled the couple to pick up a smattering of local languages wherever they went.

Working knowledge of Hindi, enabled them to communicate and interact with the local people. They also took the help of volunteers who acted as interpreters.

In many of the truly remote and backward areas of the country, where people have little clue of the idea of India as a nation or even about Mahatma Gandhi, talking about non-violence can be a formidable task indeed.

But not so for Karuppiah and his wife. They remain unfazed and find it fulfilling to initiate these people into Gandhian ideals. "It is a difficult job, but someone's got to do it,'' shrugs Chitra, with a quiet determination.

With enormous public support wherever they went, Karuppiah and Chitra managed to find their way across the diverse terrain and districts, aided by a map.

In areas where naxalite tension was rife, they were helped by the local people and officials, to choose alternative routes.

The couple have carefully recorded every detail of their journey on a daily basis: distance travelled, districts they visited, people they met, and the minimum contributions they received to complete their expedition.

Having completed this truly remarkable expedition, the couple returned to Sivakasi by train from Jammu on Saturday, and have a guest book filled with comments and praise by local officials, people and journalists whom they met en route.

The Mahatma would be proud of them indeed!

By Preethi Chandrasekar.