Rohini Kejriwal talks to Patrick Baddeley, a 62-year-old British man walking 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, covering 1,500 miles across India, all to help raise money for the street children of Kolkata
It isn’t the kind of story you hear about every day. Since October, 2016, Patrick Baddeley has been on his toes, literally, experiencing India for the umpteenth time as it passes him by, using social media to share his journey with the world. His goal has been to raise money for Future Hope, a Kolkata-based NGO, which provides a home, schooling and healthcare to Kolkata’s street and slum children.
His association with India began as a long-haired student in 1973, followed by many trips over the next four decades. The genuine love for the country became so strong, that it almost became a family tradition for each of his daughters to come visit with their Dad. The love affair with India continues till today for the family of “Indiaphiles” as he likes to call it. But what is truly special about the walk, which has been in the pipeline for several years, is that it is in memory of his late daughter Katie, with whom he visited Future Hope back in 2000 with a student group from Dragon School, Oxford. Since that initial visit, his family has been supporting the NGO regularly and like their visits, they see it as a family tradition to come volunteer.
So as Baddeley embarks on The K Walk, a tradition he compares to Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March and the long pilgrimages to religious sites, sbcltr catches up with the fascinating man to uncover his story. From his burgeoning friendship with his driver Dhirendra Singh, to dead snakes on the road, to his love for India, he reveals all in this intimate interview.
Tell us about yourself, your work, your life, and what led you to take on something so challenging, but also beautiful?
I’m Patrick, aged 62 but I turn 63 on 6 December. I’ve been married to my wife Lucy for 33 years. We’ve had four daughters: Megan, Katie, Elizabeth (aka Bubble) and Helen. I first came to India in 1973 and it was pure chance that I did. I was having supper in the college dining room with a friend of a friend on the last night of summer term and discussing what we’d be doing over the long summer vacation. He said that he was going with a group of friends to Nepal. I had been due to go to the Pyrenees, but he suggested that I join him. We spent two weeks each in Nepal and India. When I finished my degree two years later, my next step was to go on a six-month course at Law College. I took off in October for two-and-a-half months for Sri Lanka and India, where I covered a lot of India from Kanya Kumari to Kashmir.
My next trip to India was many years later when Megan turned 11. She was learning about India at school and I told her you couldn’t really learn about India from books. You had to go there. Lucy suggested I should take Megan to India, and we ended up spending three weeks touring South India mainly by train and had a great time. It then became a bit of a rite of passage for the Baddeley girls to go out to India with their Dad. Apart from the initial trip to Kolkata in 2000, Katie came out to India with me twice. Bubble didn’t come to India with me, but worked as a volunteer at Future Hope in 2013 when she was 18. My wife Lucy made her first trip to India in 2013 when we visited Bubble in Kolkata. I wasn’t sure if she’d like India, but she loved it. In December 2014 I sent Lucy and Bubble back out to India, preparing a little itinerary for them so that they could see more of India than just Kolkata. They went to Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi before going on to Kolkata. The whole family are now confirmed Indiaphiles. We even speak with Indian accents at home. It’s quite mad! Bubble has the best accent and all the mannerisms.
In terms of my work life, I worked as a solicitor, initially in London, but then from 1984 until my retirement at the end of 2015 in Oxford. I specialised in company law and acted for a lot of companies spun out from Oxford University to commercialise intellectual property created at the university.
You’ve been on the road since October 3rd. How did you prepare physically and mentally for such a long walk?
The experience of walking is much as I thought it would be. Then again, I already knew India pretty well and had done a practice walk back in February. I retired at the end of last year and in February, my brother-in-law and I came out to India for a month. I wanted to show him Future Hope in Kolkata, but we also came down to Tamil Nadu to do some walking and make sure I wasn’t being completely unrealistic in undertaking the walk. Fortunately, it went well enough to make me believe I could do this.
Once back in the UK, I set about getting myself into a mind-set, which meant that I was not daunted at walking 15 miles a day, 6 days a week. Until quite recently, I’ve played a lot of sport but have never really been into walking or running per se. I just started walking as often as I could, starting with walks for a couple of hours and then building up to four-five hours. As spring turned into summer, the walking became more and more enjoyable and I got to know the countryside around my home city of Oxford much better.
My brother-in-law, who was to accompany me in India, came on some walks with me but never got into it to the same way I did. Throughout this training period, I’d assumed that there would be two of us walking. It was quite late in the day, probably about six weeks before the departure date that he said he wasn’t coming. I’d been bracing myself for this news, but when it finally came, I had real doubts about whether I could do this as a solo mission. I had told so many people about the walk and I didn’t feel like backing out, so I pressed on.
I am a big cricket fan and drew a comparison between a team chasing a big total of 400 runs and me setting out on a long walk. Cricketers always say ‘Do not think about the total that has to be scored but concentrate on scoring the first 10 runs, then the next 10 and ultimately, the total will be reached. So for my walk, it was important not to think about the huge distance that I needed to cover but rather to concentrate in doing 15 miles (25 kms) a day .
How different are you today compared to the beady-eyed visitor in 1973?
I think that the 2016 version of me is more tolerant and open to engaging with Indian people, but I guess that that’s just age and experience. The 1973 version also had longer hair but give me another couple of months and that may no longer be the case, much to my wife’s annoyance.
What are some of your most memorable interactions/insights into India so far?
I wouldn’t say that I have gained any startlingly new insights into India on this trip. I just feel increasingly at home here to an extent that I feel that I’m going to find it difficult to acclimatise to the English way of doing things when I get back.
The two best things about my experience so far both relate to people. When people in the UK ask me what I like so much about India that makes me keep coming back, my answer is that India has magnificent natural scenery, really interesting buildings and historical sites and a fantastic array of wildlife. But what really draws me back are Indian people. People here are so friendly and generally lack the inhibitions of Europeans. If they want to know something about you such as your age, they simply ask.
The first really good thing relating to people on this trip is my relationship with my driver Dhirendra Singh. His English is not great, but we more or less understand each other. He has a great sense of humour and I think we both enjoy each other’s company, which is just as well because we spend enough time together.
The second good thing is the general level of kindness and hospitality shown to me by folks that I meet when I am walking. It helps that I am walking because Indians seem to respect walkers. As an example, a chap with a plastic crate of samosas on the back of his motorbike pulled up alongside me near Kanya Kumari and insisted that I take a bagful of samosas. Near Muthupet, I pulled off the road to have a look at a prawn farm. When I had finished my tour with one of the workers, I returned to find that the other workers had clubbed together to give me a cash donation for Future Hope. Just north of Chennai, a guy selling sachets of soft drinks from the back of his bicycle insisted that I have four sachets and would not accept payment. It was his obligation to give them to me. Numerous people also come up to me and say “Welcome to India” or “Welcome to Tamil Nadu”.
When I tell people what I’m doing, the most common reaction is incredulity, after which they offer me a lift on their motorbike or car. I then have to thank them for their offer and explain that I cannot accept because I have promised people back in the UK that I will walk the entire distance.
It’s beautiful that you’re doing this walk for Katie. Any stories you can recall while working with the NGO?
I can’t really give you much in the way of stories save for one incident that happened when I visited Future Hope in 2005. My nephew Robin was working there as a volunteer at the time. One of the teachers at the school was absent one morning and I was shoved in to look after a class for two lessons. No work had been set for the children so I had to improvise. Luckily, my knowledge of Indian geography is quite good, so I divided the class into two teams and we had an Indian geography quiz followed by a General Knowledge quiz.
My association with Future Hope started on the Dragon School (Oxford) trip with Katie in 2000. One evening, I saw a little Indian boy throwing a rugby ball up in the air. I thought, ‘Strange, you don’t associate Indians with rugby’. I started talking to him and told him that I had gone to the school where the game of rugby was invented. He said “So did Tim Uncle”, referring to Tim Grandage. I then discovered that Tim and I had been at Rugby School together although we didn’t know each other then.
But why has this NGO’s work stood out so strongly in your mind?
It was really the way that the Future Hope children behaved that so impressed me.They were very friendly, energetic and engaged with us very well. You could see how they flourished in an environment where they got love and security.
Katie’s name lives on at Future Hope. After her death, a charitable trust for which my law firm acted and for which Katie had done some clerical work in her university vacations, made a substantial donation to the NGO in her memory. Katie was very keen on art and music and had been studying for an art degree. The money was used to create a fund that was dedicated to providing art, drama and other cultural activities for the children. The children compete for the Katie Baddeley Cup in the house drama competition each year.
We’re sure she’d be proud. Just out of curiosity, you could have done The K Walk back home. Yet you chose India. Why?
I suppose the idea of doing this walk first came into my head four-five years ago. I’m not sure quite why it emerged! Undoubtedly Katie’s death had something to do with it. Although I tried as hard as I could, it was difficult to approach work the way that I had before. My priorities had changed. I felt I wanted to get out and do something that was worthwhile whilst I still could.
I have a deep love of India. I’ve probably been to the country some 13 or 14 times before this trip, so I felt that I knew it pretty well. But I also felt I’d get to know it even better if I walked through it. Walking also seems a very Indian thing to do. Somehow, it seemed far more logical to walk in India than in the UK. I also hoped that it would give me a better chance of raising funds since people in the UK undoubtedly think that walking in India is more of a challenge than walking in the UK.
As I have prepared for the walk, another reason for doing it in India has become apparent. I think that it will become increasingly become more difficult to raise funds for a charity like Future Hope from the UK. There are other parts of the world where the suffering of children is more obvious like Syria and India is, quite rightly, seen as a country which is becoming increasingly wealthy. By doing the walk in India, I’m hoping to connect with wealthy Indian individuals or companies that could fund Future Hope going forward.
We love the Facebook page, with the anecdotes about people and places, music recommendations for your ‘Walking Playlist’, photographs, and the blog-like personal daily updates. Does it get hard to manage the walking and posting?
I don’t have any problem doing the Facebook posts and walking. In addition to the Facebook posts, I’m also writing a diary and writing my mother a letter every week. I aim to walk for 6 hours 6 days a week, finishing no later than 12.45 pm, thus avoiding the hottest part of the day and leaving time to rest and doing all of the above.
Being a big music fan, I knew that I’d need to listen to music to keep my spirits up. I therefore spent quite a bit of time lengthening my Spotify playlist. One of my friends also suggested a ‘Walking playlist’, so I have compiled a list of 50+ songs that are connected to walking.
I’m hoping that my Facebook posts attract a readership that’s prepared to support me by making donations.
What are your biggest challenges? Do practical factors like health, age, language, weather etc. come in the way?
Luckily, there have been no major setbacks so far. One challenge I didn’t expect was the demonetisation, but I’m not going to complain about that as there are people who are much more badly affected than me.
My biggest concern is my health, although being out in the open air walking for 6 hours strikes me as a pretty healthy lifestyle. I hope I’m not tempting fate by saying that I have never really suffered from stomach problems in India. I only drink bottled water but otherwise exist on an entirely Indian diet, which is very tasty too.
The weather hasn’t been a real problem. When I started in southern Tamil Nadu in early October it was pretty hot but since then, it’s gotten cooler or I’ve acclimatised or both. I’m even complaining about the cold in the early morning now! Rain has hindered my progress on a few days but hasn’t seriously impeded me.
Language hasn’t been a problem. A lot of people speak English and as we move North, Dhirendra’s Hindi comes into play. I also have a laminated sheet explaining in Tamil, Telugu, Oriya and Bengali what I am doing.
And financially? Is this walk self-funded?
I’ve been provided with a support vehicle and a driver by Voler Cars and Finger Mate Writech Pte Ltd. I pay most of the daily food and accommodation expenses of the driver and all my own expenses. Every single penny of funding raised goes to Future Hope.
Anybody interested in supporting the cause can make a donation to Future Hope via the JustGiving page. One can also follow his journey through his Facebook page, where he regularly shares interesting anecdotes, updates, photographs and more.