Satish Kumar and his friend E.P. Menon embarked on an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage from India to Washington, from the grave of Mahatma Gandhi to the grave of John F Kennedy. Walking at the height of the cold war, taking no money with them and declining all offers of transport and donations, they talked to heads of state around the world and met with peace activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. along the way. Kumar, author of No Destination and Earth Pilgrim, tells the story of their pilgrimage in this autobiography.
When the philosopher Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for his anti-nuclear activities, this was a call to action for Kumar. If a 90-year-old man would go to jail for peace, what could Kumar contribute to the struggle? So he set out to walk to the four nuclear capitals of the world – Moscow, Paris, London and Washington. A young Georgian woman he met along the way gave him packets of tea to give to the leaders of these countries, so that they would stop and have a cup of tea when they might “get the mad impulse to press the nuclear button”. He was determined to deliver a packet of this Peace Tea to each of the leaders.
From New Delhi to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Soviet Union, through Poland, East and West Germany, Belgium, France and England, to the US and finally Japan, Kumar and Menon walked for two and a half years. They faced severe challenges – walking illegally without a visa in the Soviet Union, imprisonment in France and experiencing the Jim Crow laws in the USA – but everywhere they were met with incredible generosity from the people who housed and fed them.
Pilgrimage for Peace is a book about trust – in yourself, your companions, and humanity – about confidence, resilience and the courage to stretch your limits. It is an ode to the power and the solace of pilgrimage, to peace, disarmament and hospitality. It is an adventure story that shows how travel can bring people together in hope and help them understand one another. It demonstrates how you don’t always need money to see the world, just time and patience.
With conflict and war constantly in the news today, this book is a timely testament not only to these pilgrims for peace, but to the many people who cheered them on their way, seeing in them the harbinger of a new peaceful future.