On June 2 1962 Satish Kumar, a disciple of Gandhi’s philosophy, and his friend EP Menon left New Delhi on an 8,000-mile walk for peace, determined to meet the heads of the nuclear powers in Moscow, Paris, London and Washington. They took no money, no food, no documents (including passports), relying on ordinary people’s help and on officialdom yielding out of kindness or exasperation.
In No Destination (Radio 4 Saturday 8pm) Kumar, a zestful, incurably enthusiastic 78-year-old, recounts their two-and-a-half-year trek. His narration is intercut with news bulletins and radio archive speeches reflecting the cold war and the real uncertainty many felt about survival, a counterpoint to the peacefulness of those they met on the way. Armenian tea-factory workers gave them four packets of “peace tea”: each nuclear leader was to make a fresh cup if he felt like pushing the button.
The story is as fascinating as it is unlikely. The Russians were ambivalent, giving them an unwanted lift in a plane, unwilling to let the walkers wander through the Soviet Union preaching peace. Tickets for the Atlantic crossing were provided by well-wishers – on the Queen Mary. They embarked on November 22 1963, the day John F Kennedy was killed, but delivered their peace tea to Lyndon Johnson. Kumar achieved his ambition to meet Bertrand Russell.
Their worst reception, the one time Kumar encountered a “stinking” prison cell, came from the one nuclear power that ignored the proposed nuclear-test moratorium and enforced the ban on demonstrations near the presidential palace, thus embodying the national ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité …Kumar remains cheerful, hopeful and benign.
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