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Long walk for nuclear disarmament

Bertrand Russell, that master of mathematics and English language, gave a call for total disarmament from his prison cell. Inspired by his writing, E.P. Menon, disciple of Vinoba Bhave, set out on a mission.



E.P. Menon: a soldier of peace

A MAN clad in homespun khadi emerged at a conference in Amsterdam in July 2002. His youthful determination and countenance eclipsed his age.

But his voice did not go unnoticed. He criticised reported plans by 2,50,000 armed forces of the United States of America waiting to plunge on Iraq's oil fields and decimate her people.

The debate that ensued could not quell the voice of dissent amongst supporters and sympathisers of the world's lone policeman. He was advising the very gathering, who believed in the ethical progress of the human race, to halt the nefarious advances of US President George W. Bush. Opposition is not new to E.P. Menon — a peace activist who took the vow of non-violence and joined Vinoba Bhave's army at the tender age of 16.

Vinoba was Mahatma Gandhi's second-in-command and spiritual clone. He observed young Menon, who fell under his sway after being inspired by Gandhiji's ideals. Come the Cold War days of 1961, when the dark cells of an English prison sheltered Bertrand Russell, a world-renowned philosopher. The prison walls could do little to stop Russell's concern at looming nuclear clouds. Bertrand Russell was convinced that the USA and the erstwhile Soviet Union were headed for a nuclear showdown at the drop of a hat. Despite his poor health, Russell sounded the clarion call for total disarmament.

Thousands of miles away in Bangalore, E.P. Menon heard Russell's call and resolved to spread the message of peace.

Without a penny, he set out, wearing a placard and knapsack, accompanied by Satish Kumar, currently editor of the Resurgence magazine in England. He and Satish had to walk accepting difficulties all the way, while meeting personalities like the former Shah of Iran and leaders of the USA and Soviet Union. "We never asked anything from anybody during the walk," affirms Menon. His journey spanned New Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul, Moscow, Paris, London, New York, Washington, and Hiroshima. Menon's arduous journey drew support for nuclear disarmament.

Take Two

Born in Thrissur in central Kerala in 1936, Edathil Prabhakara Menon's three-year walkathon from June 1962 to May 1965 is rooted in two questions: "Why" and "Why not?" This led him to discover various facets of Gandhiji's message of non-violence through the likes of Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. The latter recommended a "complete revolution" to combat corruption and poverty in India. Narayan, along with other leaders was put into prison during the Emergency between 1975-76. Menon's association with leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan infused him with the conviction that humanity is poised for greater goals. The work to achieve the goal of equality struck Menon while he walked and lectured through many villages in the Soviet Union. He recalls, "Nowhere did I come across a beggar in the street." People's programmes, says Menon, "was successfully implemented then." His book-diary, titled Footprints on Friendly Roads, reveals the highs and lows during the peace march.

The most memorable time for Menon was being thrown in prison for four days in Paris. He protested before the French President's Palace d' Elysees with peace activists and youths.

While in prison, Menon told co-walker Satish not to eat until De Gaulle gave his word to abandon nuclear weapons. "We refused to eat," he said. "French authorities were afraid we would die of starvation and released us," remarked Menon.

He and Satish reached America and ended the walk at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, which contains the gravestone of President John F. Kennedy. "We wanted to meet him but he died. It was saddening," says Menon. His meeting with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. served to reinforce the strength of non-violence propagated by Gandhiji.

Crossing to Hiroshima, Menon says he was appalled at the effects an atom bomb could create. A bomb dropped by the USA in 1945 killed about 200,000 people at the end of the Second World War.

Later on, with a smile and sparkle in his eyes, Menon concludes: "We covered more than 10,000 miles."

Take Three

Afterwards, Menon devoted his time for constructive education that spanned 20 years.

His meeting with Quakers, a minority Christian sect brought him into the field. This was an experiment called Friends World College. The now non-existent college at Long Island, New York, intended to spread a global culture through education, involving young people of varied nationalities. Prof. Menon served as the college director for South Asia.

Prof. Menon has been a resident of Bangalore for more than 40 years.

He is currently director of India Development Foundation, a Bangalore-based NGO. He pursues social activities while charting a new course for Indian youths. "The youths," Menon says, "have so much in store to contribute to the nation." His spartan lifestyle, together with his committed work, has earned him the distinction of being the "livewire of Bangalore."

ARAVIND KESAVAN

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