Because he was an admirable Walker, to start with.
2nd of October is imprinted in each Indians heart. Not only because it is M.K Gandhi’s birthdate. But to us growing up in India this day was always a holiday till we knew why?
From my last year’s Essay on Knowing Gandhi and Learning from Mahatma, I myself have come a long way in understanding Politics and Public Service. I have taken small steps in sharing my Yoga dhyana and health as a class, and as much speaking about many issues with children and parents at School and otherwise.
I have long admired MK Gandhi. But not only for the usual reasons, some of you may know from previous year’s essays. But Something where I connect with him. He was a great walker; indeed one of the hardiest, most determined walkers of all time. I acknowledge it because I love walking myself and I can say with authority that no day has gone empty where I hadn’t spend an hour or more taking time out to walk or play. Even though I haven’t taken strides like walking the length and breath of India in one go but I do have ideas and projects that If the universe and the circumstances permit, I would really like to make walking happen.
For Gandhiji, Walking was both an exercise and a great political tool. He walked as a child, instead of playing cricket, which he disliked. In London as a student lawyer he would walk eight to ten miles each day, and was convinced that it kept him healthy despite the privations of a vegetarian diet in a carnivorous country; in Bombay as a young barrister he would walk one and a half hours each day. In Paris, as an Eiffel tower-hating tourist, visiting the great exhibition of 1890, he walked almost everywhere. On the salt March of 1930, he walked more than two hundred and forty miles as an act of political and economic protest against British rule; and he died walking at the age of seventy-eight, supported by his two great nieces, abha and manu; whom he referred to as his walking-sticks. His last steps from his bedroom in Birla house through the garden are immortalised in stone. One hundred and eighty two foot shaped concrete lozenges, each one in thick ink, have been cemented into the pathway, as if his feet had been divine and had left terracotta weal upon the paving stones. Impiously, I had once as a child many years ago stepped upon those lozenges, one by one, counting them, tracing the final seconds of his life.
In his remarkable 1942 pamphlet key to Health, Gandhi declares that a brisk walk in the open is the best form of exercise. During the walk the mouth should be closed and breathing should be done through the nose. The nose, he points out is an air filter that requires daily cleaning and suggests this alternative to the widespread sub continental and British practice of public nose picking. He even draws my attention as soon I learnt that his knowledge was rooted deeply in Yoga. For when he talks about practicing one Yogic Kriya called Neti that I myself do on regular basis, Drawing saline water up through one nostril, as the other remaining closed, and expel it through the other by opening it and closing the former. In Yogic rituals it is one of the six kriyas to clean ones nasal system. It almost takes away any headache or heaviness one may have of the head. It brings freshness to the mind, better vision to the eyes, a whole lot of clarity and sharp focus; if anyone continues it for even a short period of time.
While talking about Health in general, one thing that I particularly liked, and was made to do as a child for a brief period was, when he talks about cultivating the habit of sleeping in the open under stars. The fear of catching a chill should be dismissed from the mind. Cold can be kept out by plenty of covering. And this covering should not extend beyond the neck. If cold is felt on the head, it can be covered with a separate piece of cloth. The opening of the respiratory passage – the nose – should never be covered up. And interestingly he continues to speak as a matter of fact no clothes are necessary at night when one sleeps covered with a sheet.
Even though Gandhiji In Key to Health, speaks on almost every food, drink, intoxicants, condiments and the five his experiments with the five elements in his ashram in Gujarat, I particularly want to share his views on Food and milk products because in India and may be elsewhere it had been a topic of talk amongst public and intellectuals, other health experts on his vows and choices.
He says, “I have always been in favor of pure vegetarian diet. But experience has taught me that in order to keep perfectly fit, vegetarian diet must include milk and milk products such as curd, butter, ghee etc. This is a significant departure from my original idea. I excluded milk from my diet for six years. At that time, I felt none the worse for the denial. But in the year 1917, as a result of my own ignorance, I was laid down with severe dysentery. I was reduced to a skeleton, but I stubbornly refused to take any medicine and with equal stubbornness refused to take milk or buttermilk. I could not build up my body and pick up sufficient strength to leave the bed. I had taken a vow of not taking milk. A medical friend suggested that at the time of taking a vow, I could have had in my mind only the milk of the cow and buffalo; why would the vow prevent me from taking goat’s milk? My wife supported him and I yielded. Really speaking, for one who has given up milk, though at the time of taking the vow only the cow and the buffalo were in mind, milk should be taboo. So I may be said to have kept merely the letter, not the spirit of the vow. Be that as it may, goat’s milk was produced immediately and I drank it. It seemed to bring me new life. From then on I picked up rapidly and was soon able to leave the bed. Hence on the account of this and several similar experiences, I have been forced to admit the necessity of adding milk to the strict vegetarian diet.”
He was known never to take a vow in haste, he used to think and feel about it. But once it was taken, we know it apart from some mischievous theories that he had broken any vow.
He also recommended hot water, honey and lemon as a healthy nourishing drink, which can well substitute for tea or coffee. He was also a proponent of the scientific collection of honey in a way that did not kill any bees. And also something that I read in his most popular autobiography ‘My Experiments with Truth” which I took seriously and ongoing, there he had mentioned- Never give up the practice of writing a diary once you have resolved to do so. If not immediately, you will certainly realize its advantages later. This habit itself will guard us against many of our shortcomings, as the diary will be a permanent witness of these. Must remember that All the slips must be noted in the diary as soon as you get back to your desk, because there should be no need to condemn them. Criticism is always taken for granted.
He for Indians of twentieth century was a living, walking god.
His final walk while he was walking to his place of evening prayer and discussion, where large crowds would gather each day, when he was shot dead- his last words, as he went down, he remembered Rama, the ancient warrior king Lord, who himself thousands of years ago had traversed the whole of India, first to keep his words for his vow to his father and further to find his love of life, mother Sita walking all the way to Sri Lanka.
Now tell me Why should not I like this man?
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