Lady walking illustration
All we have to do is pay attention to the kilometres we have covered and then go on from there Image Credit: Giphy

According to a recent study, Indian walkers ranked 39th out of 46 countries surveyed. Although none of the countries managed to reach that supposedly ideal average of 10,000 steps a day, we Indians came in at just a little over 4000 steps. (Of course, this study was done before the coronavirus struck the world and all of us saw the images of Indian workers on the move, walking hundreds of kilometres to reach home.)

While urban India may be sadly lacking in pedestrian amenities, it still seems hard to believe that we Indians average so few steps in a day, especially if we consider commuters in metropolitan cities walking to and from the local/Metro train stations or bus stands. At rush hour, it appears that an entire city is on the move, but I guess most of the crowd is too focused on reaching their destinations to worry about the number of steps they take to make it there!

Perhaps, the survey refers to the steps we take in the form of focused exercise. From where I stand — in a gated society of mostly military veterans — it appears that everyone is walking and going way above the ideal ten thousand steps, so it is only natural that I should be inspired to get up and get moving as well.

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In our quiet area with tree-lined roads and soothing greenery, it is not difficult to start moving. You set out, see a familiar face, fall into step, start talking and exchanging ideas — and before you know it, an hour has passed and you are still raring for more.

Your first companion goes home, and would you believe it, there comes another familiar face! So you team up again, and walk for another half-hour, then another friend joins the two of you and you keep going … with neither the pace nor the conversation flagging.

So the problem, I’ve found, is not about reaching that goal of ten thousand or fifteen thousand steps but about learning when to turn around, say goodbye to your third or fourth “serial” companion walker, and go home. And in a time such as this, when walking is just about the only thing we can do safely outdoors, masked and at a two-metre distance from our companions, nothing beats a walkathon!

Even if there is no one to walk with, there is so much to ruminate on: arithmetic, for instance, and geography. And thus, on a daily basis, there is some mental math, calculating your speed, and adding up the kilometres you have covered to gauge which part of the city you would have reached if you were to go out on the streets.

Walking in gated neighbourhood

Over the weeks and then months, you may find that your ability to add has improved, and while you have not left the safe walking path around your gated neighbourhood, in your imagination you have almost reached another city some 300 kilometres away. If you keep going, who knows where you will reach next?

In these times of confinement, it is infinitely gratifying to work out just where we could have reached on our cumulative walkathons. And thus, from geography we can move to history and archaeology and even palaeontology, wandering around the wondrous ruins of Lothal in our minds or perhaps discovering a dinosaur fossil in the sands of Rajasthan.

There are no Indian rivers that we have not crossed in our imaginations, no hills we have not climbed. All we have to do is pay attention to the kilometres we have covered and then go on from there.

Who knows, if we are still confined to the same walking track next year, we may have reached Outer Mongolia or a Red Sea resort and in time, we may even circumnavigate the globe, like a compatriot in Ireland, who reportedly walked 40,000 kilometres in 1500 days!

— Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India