Jun 22, 2003
Col S S Rajan: Walking to reconnect with India
Col S S Rajan remembers the date: June 23, 1989. He happened to be reading the life of Adi Shankara. It is a well known fact about the great man, but it struck Col. Rajan anew that the philosopher had criss-crossed the country by foot in the 5th century, left his imprint everywhere, all in a short worldly life of 32 years. The Colonel was travelling by car from Bareilly to Lucknow on duty when he read this. He felt a strange disconnection with the land. Were not many of our ills due to the fact that modern transportation had divided the society and its people into several unconnected layers. On that day his mission was settled: he would walk the length and breadth of India and preach the unity of the land.
It is a mission he feels he has only partly fulfilled, but many would be in awe of what he has already done. By the time he had retired in 1996 from service, the demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec 6, 1992 had already happened. India was even more divided than before. But Col. Rajan was even more determined.
He began with a modest trial in Aug 2000, with a walk from Bangalore to Tirupati. He was joined by Cols. K N Munuswamy and N Visvanathan. It was but 270 km and they did it in 10 days. Rajan then began to plan a grand walk to Delhi straight through India. He spent a while planning the mission and working out the logistics.
There was to be a van with audio visual gear fitted out, driven by volunteers. The van was to drive ahead and stop at a randomly selected village or town and begin playing an audio visual [AV] extolling the greatness of India and how it can be regained if only people sank their differences and became selfless as they once were. The Colonel would come marching in even as the show was on and address the gathered. This was the format of his mission. He readily found two ex -servicemen volunteer as drivers-- Subedar T Jambulingham and Subedar T Sahadevan . Young Mohan, son of his domestic help was to take care of the camp at nightfall everyday. Chief of the National Cadet Corps [NCC], Lt. Gen. B K Bopanna—an old mate—promised that NCC would manage billeting all along the route. The rub was funds.
The prosperity that attends corporate India barely touches its men in uniform. Rajan had served the army for 33 years. His father Major M D Sambasivam had served even longer in the Garhwal Rifles. Both had seen action. But Rajan’s finances at retirement, were barely enough to keep his family going. He needed money to outfit his Maruti Omni van with AV equipment and a generator. The AV show had to be professionally produced. Leaflets had to be printed. He needed more for fuel and food for four men. When he went looking for funds, people generally thought he was an odd ball. But families that serve India’s armed forces don’t give up easily. His generous sister and brother-in-law in the USA urged him to do it: they would fund him in full.
So on Nov 28, 2001 the team was off , with Bangalore’s Police Commissioner H T Sangliana flagging them off. For close to two months they were on road. Each morning would begin with the van going ahead and the Colonel stepping out alone, flagged off by a prominent local official. Alerted by the van people would rush to the roadside to see this man who was asking for neither votes nor business. ‘The love for the land that the ordinary folk have is incredible. It seemed to give them a greater context to see a man walk from one part to another,’ he says. They would wave and smile or simply follow him a kilometer or so. At the village AV shows there would be an outpouring of love for India. Each nightfall saw the NCC ready with a clean bed and a bath.
Col Rajan remembers this as the most revealing event: ‘It began as a normal day,’ he says. ‘We were in Andhra Pradesh. The van went ahead and I could discern I was in an area where the majority of people were Muslim. Soon I sensed a menacing mood. I was unclear as to the reason. I marched on and approached the village where the van was already showing the AV show. The crowds were unusually large and almost entirely Muslim. They were angry and hissing with rage. Then I knew. The Indian Parliament had been attacked that day. It was Dec 13, 2001. The crowd saw me march in and roared: “Blow them out, Sir. Enough is enough”. I knew my India then. Democracy is greater than religion.’
The four man troupe wended through 5 states and 2500 km. They entered Delhi just two days before the Republic Day Parade, 2002 to a rousing reception. Over the next week they were feted by the army brass, officials, media and people of Delhi.
Col Rajan is curiously dissatisfied. ‘It wasn’t quite a 100% march,’ he says. ‘Because of the practicality of night halts I often had to ride the van. I want to do a pure foot march from north to south and east to west. I would need a larger van with a bed and some camping gear. I have trudged to many corporate doors but have been unable to convince them to part with the money. But I am hopeful sponsors will be found someday.’
He is not keeping still though. During July- August 2002 he volunteered to be a crew member of a road expedition that covered the route from Kanyakumari to Leh with a similar purpose.
Col Rajan is an uncomplaining soldier though much of India is becoming mercantile with nary a thought for the armed forces except at times of war. He takes pride in little gestures that ennoble lives given to the defense of the country. ‘I wrote to Lt Gen A S Jhamwal AVSM, VSM that any servicemen who dies should be entitled to have have an army bugler attending the funeral to blow a few notes in his honour. This is now the practice in the four southern states,’ he says with great satisfaction.
But before a bugler keeps his date with him, Col. Rajan wants to find a sponsor who will enable him to tread every inch of India, as it were. Among the few things that a man in uniform gets in India when he retires is, faith in and love for his land.
Col S S Rajan
77 Shankar Mutt Road
Bangalore - 560004
Tel: 91 - 080 - 56975010; 9448024377[Mobile]