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L K Advani: Life at 100 kms an hour

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Aurangabad

These days, L K Advani's day begins at 6.30 am. But his Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra is still running about four days behind schedule.

After the morning ablutions, he speaks to whoever wishes to speak to him. He calls up his wife religiously every morning before breakfast. He addresses the press every day at 8.30 am and then he is ready to resume the Yatra.

Crinkling his eyes against the sun, he steps into the rath -- actually a Tata tempo modified to look like a chariot and festooned with garlands. Advani has seen this all before during his last three yatras -- the Ram Rath Yatra, the Janadesh Yatra and the Su-Raj Yatra. This time he has covered almost 4,500 km, breaking off only at selected places to address public meetings. The strain is beginning to tell on the Bharatiya Janata Party leader who turns 70 on November 8. At Nanded, he already showed signs of a sore throat, a problem apparently not resolved by the milk and turmeric blend he regularly consumes.

He knows he has still over 10,000 kms to go.

The long convoy races along the highway, with police jeeps, Gypsies, Ambassadors, Contessas, Tata Sumos and Maruti 800s racing along at 80 to 100 kilometres an hour.

Adivasi women, going down the hot road balancing firewood on their head look in surprise at the odd train, with the weird vehicle in front with all its attendant props quivering. Some Adivasi men further ahead wave as the air-conditioned cars whizz past. Even the goats and cows stop browsing awhile to gather this strange sight.

The road ahead of the yatra is kept clear with vehicles in the opposite direction being asked to stop till it is past. A safe move since there is just no doctor to deal with any accident though there is an ambulance in the cavalcade.

A doctor could help since Advani has trouble standing now. "I am suffering from standing oedema, which is commonly seen in soldiers and policemen who stand for long," he says.

A strict vegetarian, the BJP leader says he is eating less than he usually does. He eats at government guesthouses, but appears to have no special preferences. Other than milk.

Says Deepak Chopra, his personal secretary, "I have given him a special baby bottle which a straw is attached. On an average, he drinks seven-eight bottles of milk a day." He avoids oily food, but shows a liking for chaas (buttermilk).

To keep his voice going, Advani takes a homeopathic medicine given to him by film actor Manoj Kumar. Besides he has the milk laced with turmeric mentioned earlier. He also gargles with hot water, but not every day.

There were rumours that Advani was ill and that he would abandon the yatra midway. Advani pooh-poohs such reports and promises that he will complete his round trip of the country in 59 days all right.

Grand reception but little audience for Advani in Aurangabad

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