Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals brought together businessmen, retired defence officers, homemakers and car enthusiasts from across the country for a tri-nation commemorative rally.
“Most of us have read about Gandhijiin our history books, but by travelling to the places historically associated with him in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, we saw how he continues to be relevant,” says Tamanna Jeet Singh, one of the 11 women in the group. This was the fifth rally for the 42-year-old, and she says seeing slices of history as they drove through nine States in India and half-a-dozen cities in Bangladesh and Myanmar, set this one apart.
Curated by Bhubaneswar-based Kalinga Motor Sports Club (KMSC) and supported by the Ministries of External Affairs and Road Transport & Highways to mark the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, the rally was flagged off from Raj Ghat in Delhi on February 4 to coincide with Road Safety Week. The participants returned to the country from Yangon last week.
Ramesh Mahapatra, KMSC general secretary, said it is usually not so easy to get a large group of people to drive across India. This time, however, many people were attracted to the theme. The core team also conducted multiple seminars and workshops on road safety during the journey.
Seated in 10 Mahindra Scorpios with a pilot car and another 20 car enthusiasts joining for short stretches en route, the convoy of more than a dozen vehicles maintained synchronised speed and distance, attracting eyeballs all along the way.
There were colourful arches, tents and flags put up to welcome the team at check-posts, State borders and toll booths on the highways, besides strategic points in villages, towns and cities they crossed. The local population gathered to interact with them, and at many places the local administration and the Army extended hospitality.
Chennai-based organiser of the rally Ejji K Umamahesh, for whom it was the 13th trip to Myanmar since 2004, says it felt royal to be accorded such enthusiastic reception. Ninety-seven-year-old V Kalyanam, who was the personal secretary to Mahatma Gandhi from 1944 to 1948, was part of the rally.
“It was my privilege to drive him as a guest of honour and hear anecdotes about the Mahatma,” Umamahesh said. Gandhijispent three months in Noakhali (now in Bangladesh), following the massacre in 1946 and did not wear footwear during his stay there; he visited Burma thrice before 1947, and he would summon Kalyanam at odd hours for dictation; these were some of the stories the secretary shared.
If Kalyanam was the oldest participant, there was a 20-year-old student from Bengaluru, whose enthusiasm perhaps reaffirmed Mahatma Gandhi’s everlasting leadership. Sports journalist Anand Philar was particularly thrilled to drive on Asian Highway 1 that runs from Tokyo to Europe and manoeuvring right-hand cars on the right side of the road in Myanmar. He writes in his blog about the gentle, polite people of Mandalay and Yangon, where nobody honks despite traffic snarls; of bridges built during the Second World War by the British; of rivers and mountains, pagodas and albino elephants and the massive 10 and 16-lane roads in Naypyidaw, the custom-built capital city of modern Myanmar.
Bhamini Shankar, on her fourth rally as a navigator, is happy creating new friendships and bringing back memories of smiling people, beautiful landscapes and spectacular cityscapes. Trying out local food, overcoming challenging terrains between Agartala and Silchar or Petrapole and Jessore in Bangladesh, High Commission dinners and cultural programmes were all part of the trip.
“There were no differences of opinion, no mishaps, sickness or misunderstandings in the group,” she says adding, “Everyone was on a constant high.”
“It is addictive and amazing to be on the roads strengthening ties among nations and fellow travellers,” says Ejji, who is already preparing for his Moscow-London-Moscow drive in July.