Pramod Sehwag weighed 140 kg some three months ago. And like every overweight person he too had tried shedding some weight but could never sustain a rigorous exercise regimen or dieting. But in the last three months, the 41-year-old has lost around 20 kg.
Sehwag, a Congress leader from Jind in Haryana, had been walking with Rahul Gandhi as part of his Bharat Jodo Yatra for the last three months. The Kanyakumari to Kashmir Yatra, which began on September 7, reached Delhi on Saturday morning after crossing nine states and covering over 2,500 km.
And Sehwag is not alone.
Many of the 120-odd Yatris walking all the way with Rahul in the hopes of turning around the fortunes of the electorally emaciated Congress have lost weight and claim the daily walk has helped build up their stamina. Some like 50-year-old Venugopalan PV from Kerala and Mohammad Arif from Tamil Nadu have lost more than 10 kg. Lok Sabha MP Jothimani has lost three kilos.
“I was already lean. But still, I lost three kg. We are losing weight but gaining patience,” she said, adding, “Our pain and all doesn’t matter since the party, I believe, is gaining weight because of the Yatra.”
“It is a life-changing experience for all of us. People like me from south India could see so much of north India … the culture, the diversity … Some days the pain is unbearable … but then you see the response of the people … the love and affection they shower … and you forget everything,” Jothimani said. “One day we walked 23 km at a stretch. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I thought I could walk 15 km as usual. But I walked without any difficulty.”
Sehwag agreed. “I am six feet tall. I am overweight but it doesn’t show because of my height. I did try shedding some kilos a couple of times but could never sustain it because of a lack of motivation. I was not serious. But this time the motivation level is so high. Hundreds of people are walking. And thousands have joined us everywhere showering love and affection. It has given all of us the strength and the courage to keep walking. Rahul ji is also walking. So this time the motivational level was very high. It was like if Rahul ji and thousands of people can walk… I can also walk,” said Sehwag.
For Arif, the Yatra was a personal challenge as his wife and his family members had predicted that he would not be able to walk for even three days. He too was overweight like Sehwag. “I lost 10 kg. I was 125 kg. Now I am down to 115,” he said with a chuckle.
“When my name was announced, I thought I would walk for three days. My wife, parents and family members said I would not be able to complete even three days. Because never in my life have I walked even 10 km. So, everybody was kind of sure that I would return in three days. It was kind of an insult. So I started walking … and here I am reaching Delhi from Kanyakumari,” said Arif, a secretary in the All India Congress Committee’s (AICC) minority department.
Sehwag — who unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Assembly elections from Jind — said the initial days were difficult. “When you are overweight it is not easy to walk 20-odd km every day. But after a few days… your body kind of gets adjusted. Now there is no problem. There is enough stamina now,” said Sehwag, a law graduate who has been with the Congress for over two decades.
Arif agreed. “It was tough initially. Not just for me. It was tough for everyone. There was muscle pain. Even Rahul Gandhi was saying he had keen pain initially. No one was used to walking 20-22 km day after day. We all had blisters on our feet. The heat was also too much in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And now we walked for 23 km at a stretch in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.”
Venugopalan has lost 12 kg. “I weighed 117 kg before. I have lost 12 kg so far,” he said. All of them say most of the yatris have lost weight. “Many people have lost 10 kg to 15 kg. Some people have lost 5 kg. I have lost 4 kg,” said Vaibhav Walia, a secretary in the AICC communications department.
Jothimani said that food was the only problem that yatris like her from south India faced. “Everything is different. The food is cooked in mustard oil. We are used to having boiled rice, here rice is not boiled. But despite all that we are all super happy walking behind our leader,” she said.
Like Sehwag, Arif is also six feet tall. The 39-year-old had been associated with the Congress since his student days. He was a national office bearer of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). Those from the south are now facing a new problem. They are not used to the extreme cold in the north. “It is going to be tough now as we enter Uttar Pradesh and walk through Haryana and Punjab and finally Jammu and Kashmir,” Arif said.
The renewed threat of Covid-19 is another problem. Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has triggered a political controversy by asking Rahul to either follow “all Covid-19 guidelines” during the Yatra or suspend it “in the national interest”. “I don’t know how practical it is to wear masks and walk for 25 km,” said Arif, who is from Coimbatore.
Among other things, some of the yatris faced serious health issues. Kranti Banjare from Chhattisgarh underwent surgery after she was detected with kidney stones.
“I knew about one stone..but it wasn’t that painful,” said the 32-year-old. “But when we reached Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, I was in severe pain. I went to a hospital but continued walking. But the pain became unbearable when we were reaching Indore. Digvijaya Singh came to know about it and took me to a hospital. After tests, the doctors said there are five stones — two in my kidney and three in my gallbladder — and I have to undergo surgery.”
Banjare underwent surgery on November 29 and rejoined the yatra on December 13. “I am walking now but very slowly. Doctors have told me to take rest after every hour. They have given me a diet chart. I have to drink a lot of water,” said Banjare, a former Zilla panchayat member.
Lhingkim Haokip, the only woman from the North East who is participating in the Yatra, suffered a fracture on her leg in the initial days in Tamil Nadu. “There were lots of people walking and somebody pushed me from the back. I fell and fractured my leg. I couldn’t move on the first day. I rested for five days. On and off I was in the ambulance. Now, I am walking properly,” she said.
“If I don’t walk one day, I don’t feel like eating,” the 48-year-old said. She said she took off the crepe bandage after two months. “I started removing it when the yatra reached Madhya Pradesh,” she said.
Banjare too has lost seven to eight kilos. “The most difficult and challenging phase is now. We could brave the heat and rain but the cold is getting unbearable,” she said.