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Jubilee jaunt for Victoria’s walkers

Every morning, since the summer of 1945, P.D. Khaitan has been going for his morning walk to the Victoria Memorial grounds, come rain or shine. The 81-year-old broker, who still goes to work every day to his office in the share market, attributes his “health and happiness” to these walks, sometimes also in evenings, for the past 58 years. And he is proud to point out that his son-in-law now follows in his footsteps.

On Thursday morning, Khaitan and four other dedicated Victoria Memorial Morning Walkers, as they call themselves, will be honoured by Governor Viren J. Shah, for having spent half-a-century or more treading the paths of cure and camaraderie.

The primary aim of the programme is to release the Victoria Memorial Walkers’ Directory 2003, a handbook of, for and by the morning walkers on health, helplines and names and contact details of over 900 regulars, to enable them to keep in touch with each other. The community spirit and feeling of friendship, after all, is as important as the exercise.

Published by Rupa & Company Ltd, the directory will be distributed free to all walkers. P.R. Agarwala, chairman of Rupa, has been going for his daily morning walk to the Memorial grounds for over a decade. He felt the time was right to make a mark on the old-timers and newcomers with some concrete tips on fitness. “It’s a healthy habit, and we have provided people with facts on various topics.” Like how to maintain a good heart, eating and drinking properly, getting rid of unwanted fat and keeping a positive attitude.

“We walkers talk about everything, from sports and politics to family matters and personal grievances,” says Babulal Agarwal, a morning walker since 1985, who, for the past year-and-a-half, has been visiting Victoria Memorial twice a day to keep his heart beating right.

“I chat with my Bengali, Marwari or Punjabi friends… It is good to be able to share our problems and happiness. Besides, walking is very good exercise, which people have started realising, and the numbers are increasing. Ten years ago, there were just 300 regular walkers. Also, stress is on the rise, so there are a lot of young people,” the 68-year-old adds.

For Kaitan, the changes over time have been many. “There have been a lot of improvements. The security is better, the grounds have been beautified and even better crowds have started coming. There are more young people and more women. But what really need to be improved are the walking paths. These are very badly maintained, and are dangerous for older people like me who can’t see properly. It’s risky, and we can get hurt anytime. I have written a letter to the governor about this as well.”

The maintenance and upkeep of the grounds too, are of equal import for the walkers. “We never litter the grounds, and cooperate fully with the authorities, because it is our responsibility to keep it clean,” says Agarwal. “But we need the help of NGOs to raise awareness.”

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