Highways Infinite – Walk in Pune

Sunday, 1-Feb-2014 was an important day for us in FOM, for we participated in a walk for cancer awareness through the streets in Pune.

We walked to make cancer socially acceptable and show strength in numbers in support of the cause for various forms of cancer and its treatment. This walk was proof of the ever growing numbers of people who are either survivors or are under treatment. Care givers and also those who do not fall in these categories participated because they espouse the cause and understand the focus on it.

What made this so special was that this walk was organized by Highways Infinite (http://www.highwaysbeyondcancer.org/) founded by Dr. (Capt.) Ritu Biyani Joseph. Short story behind this association is that Viji Amma, Nirmesh and Pramod George met Dr Ritu in a workshop conducted by Can India Conclave, a common umbrella under which NGOs working for the cause of cancer have come together to harness their energies collectively.

And since then this relationship has begun to act on its own volition, a starting step being this walk organized by Highways Infinite, with an invitation to include all those from FOM interested in participating and walking towards common goals such as to create awareness, identify, accept, treat, and win over cancer; and to respect the undying spirit of all those who tried hard along the way.

A few participants were from FOM Mumbai (Viji Amma, Ayeshah, Pramod G, Suresh P and your truly) and the rest were from the Pune FOM team (Shashikant, Abhishek, Amruta, Milan ji, Trupti ji, Nikhil, Harshad and Borawake ji). The program summary, with bits of FOM participation highlighted,  is as follows –
1.    Assembly was at the grounds of the College of Engineering Pune at 7:30 am
2.    The crowd was present in fairly large numbers by the time we reached there. It was a mix of young, middle aged and wiser people. Highways Infinite volunteers were wearing their brown coloured t-shirts and were busy manning 2 counters viz pre-registration and registration counters. FOM team received their kits with a yellow cap and a CD-ROM with a sticker signifying the cause, which one could wear around the neck like a medal.
3.    The FOM team had planned to participate with their bright Puneri orange coloured t-shirts with blue jeans. In the mass, the FOM were clearly standing out while adding to the mix and match of colours there.
4.    The cause was ably supported by the Indian Army whereby they provided standby ambulances and participated by sending a team of paraplegic service men who are now actively participating in international sporting events and have won many accolades, displaying their indomitable spirit.
5.    We were privileged to be in the company of proud Olympians from the recently concluded London Olympics; again from the Army.
6.    The event was underway with a few introductory speeches and a briefing of the walk itself.
7.    A highlight of the unfolding events on the ground was the distribution of hundreds of colourful helium filled balloons. Each one was encouraged to pick one signifying one’s prayers for the departed and in respect of the strong willed spirit that binds cancer afflicted people; and a hope for a brighter future in the cancer horizon.
8.    A short prayer went up on the microphone. And then, the signal to release the balloons. What a moment it was! Silent, stoic, strong, colourful, free spirited and more. It was like a reassuring wave that went through the assembled crowd and each one felt it in their own way.
9.    With the balloons flying sky high, the lines were formed, banners held in hands and the walk began. The paraplegic team made us all proud by being right up there in the front eager to begin their walk.
10.    The route was approximately 5 kms long and wound its way from COEP grounds to J M Road, through mall lined, restaurant dotted streets back to COEP grounds. The walk in the mildly cool and pleasant morning had us all motivated to display the banners in full public view.  Vehicles slowed down to let their owners read them. We were glad that we were making an impact in some way.
11.    In all this, the Pune Police were gallant in their support for this walk through the surprisingly busy Pune roads on a Sunday morning. The long walking group was coordinated by able volunteers from Highway Infinite and the Pune Police ensured we were allowed a smooth walk without hindrance from passing vehicles or at the important junctions. Thank you Pune Police.
12.    Along the way, volunteers had set up stalls to supply refreshing lemon drinks and they were not disappointed, for participants milled around to get a glass for themselves and satiate their thirst.
13.    At various junctures of this walk, one observed the composition of the group and the unison in which strangers walked together with silent acknowledgement of why each one is participating. I must mention a 70+ years wise man with his walking stick keeping pace and completing the entire walk and having the energy at the end of the walk to grace us with a short speech that ended with the following popular lament in local circles –

“Pune is blessed with so many natural places around itself to visit especially the beautiful rolling hills and forts. Many local people procrastinate to take a walk to these hills. To them, we say, if you have passed all milestones in your human life, grown old and lost your teeth, at least now you should go and take a walk in the hills. What more are you waiting for!”

14.    Back at the ground after the walk, there were refreshments served with tea and coffee. It was a time to go about meeting and greeting familiar faces and the opportunity to say hello to the not so familiar ones. Participants were encouraged to come to the dais and say a few words on their brush with cancer or their experience as a care giver. A few strong willed people shared their stories and all of them ended with the same message. Cancer needs support – medical and emotional. The gratification in those receiving care was evident in their story. And the strong hands supporting them were only too proud to extend them as long as they needed it.
15.    All along, Dr Ritu was busy in ensuring the walk went well, stopping by to talk to sections of the crowd. And the FOM members were introduced to the core support of Highways Infinite including family members.
16.    The FOM connection played out with Pramod G speaking a few words in support of the event and with a promise of a stronger contingent next year. Viji Amma spoke and appreciated the good work by Dr Ritu and stated we from The Max Foundation and Friends of Max were only too happy and proud to participate in the event and the learning that came along.
17.    Another highlight was the presence of a calligraphy expert, Mr. Pradeep Dixit (http://www.csf.org.in/), who also espouses social causes and created an exhibit with poster paper and paint like the Wall on which people were allowed to write their messages.
18.    FOM presented our bright Orange coloured Puneri t-shirt to Dr Ritu who was only too happy and eager to grab it for she had wished to get hold of one in the past. The bond grew and it showed on us. I am convinced that Dr Ritu is now an addict of the “Jadoo ki Jhappi” from Viji Amma 🙂
19.    It was time to pack up and head back to Mumbai. With a promise of participating next year as well and hopefully with a pan India presence from FOM.

I would like to end with a thanksgiving note to Viji Amma, Ayeshah, Pramod G and the TMF team for organizing the event on the FOM side. Thank you for all the efforts and the participation, FOM! To know more about the fun we had on the previous day and on the return journey back to Mumbai, please participate next year and we will ensure the experience in that regard 🙂 🙂 🙂

By FOM Mumbai-
Manoj Panicker