In early September this year, the Sports Club and Sports Committee at IISER Pune initiated the "Step-up Step-in Challenge" where they called out to the institute members to walk, and, as a group, complete within two weeks a collective distance of 3500 kilometers, which corresponds to the approximate length of our country from south to north.
The team conducted this challenge during September 5-18, 2021 as part of the Fit India Freedom Run 2.0 programme initiated by the Governement of India to celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Among the organisers were BS-MS students and Sports Club Coordinators Ziyad and Simantini Paul; Sports Instructor Swapnil Bule; and Sports Committee Chairperson Dr. Suhita Nadkarni. They describe here this exciting event that kept the IISER Pune community walking these past weeks.
Step-up Step-in Challenge: Kashmir to Kanyakumari
by Ziyad, Simantini Paul, Swapnil Bule, Suhita Nadkarni
Mahatma Gandhi’s health records show that he was a diminutive man (5 feet 5 weighing in at 46 kilos) – underweight by most measures. He walked approximately 79,000 Kms during his struggle with British rule in India. In a lifetime of walking, he upturned an empire and changed the course of history. To pay homage to the Mahatma’s life-long journey, and to discover the transformative capacity of the simple, subversive, and contemplative act of walking, a few weeks ago, the IISER Pune sports club challenged its community to collectively walk 3500 kilometers (the approximate distance between Kanyakumari to Kashmir) in two weeks.
The community stepped up to this challenged and not only completed but surpassed the distance, enough to make it back from Kashmir. About 200 people joined in this collective journey. Of these, 67 people, who recorded and shared their data, together walked a cumulative distance of 6265 km.
On Oct 1, the Sports Club members held a small ceremony to celebrate this achievement. It was a diverse group, each with a deeply engaging personal story of how two weeks of walking had transformed them.
Mayank Sharma covered a distance of 285.83 kilometers – a monumental feat for anyone. Mayank told us that he had not walked more than a few kilometers before he confronted this challenge. He felt renewed and transformed by his journey. Another student discovered a city that he never knew existed. He walked for several kilometers, stopped to eat at one of many places he discovered along the way, and kept walking. Another itinerant group discovered their love for the outdoors in the monsoons as they trekked along the western ghats. Laxmi, walked around IISER Pune campus, consistently, twice a day, sometimes in the pleasant company of her friends, and sometimes determinedly alone, to cover 218.6 kilometers. Several of them are now committed walkers! Their journey was more than just the steps they took, it was a journey of discovery, transformation, of challenges overcome as individuals and as a group.
Their achievement helped us celebrate the Mahatma who not only showed us that mere walking can change the world but inspired the rest of the world to use it as a call to emancipate. Martin Luther King Jr. called it the walk for freedom. At IISER Pune, this egalitarian, inclusive, no-fancy-gizmo’s needed, no-wooden-courts, no-tennis-racquets-needed act brought together a group of people who gave each other company, despite being in different cities forced by a raging pandemic.