Kanobhai Makwana walks briskly in front of me. He is wearing a kurta and pyjama, has a fading garland around his neck, his hair and moustache are greying, and I can barely match his pace.
And oh yes, Kanobhai is less than 4 feet tall. At a year older than me, this businessman from Ahmedabad ("I'm in milk," he tells me) is shorter than my five-year-old son. He walks two or three steps to each one that I manage. ("At his height", one of his companions says as Kanobhai smiles, "he has to walk like that.") Yet he keeps up a scorching pace, mile after mile. It's all I can do to keep up. He has been doing this since Ahmedabad, nearly a month ago.
Perhaps it shouldn't be, but it is: in this whole march, Kanobhai is the most surprising sight. From behind, he looks like a boy as he strides minutely along. Yet his face is a middle-aged man's in miniature, his hands are veined, and he walks like no boy I know. Glad to have met you, Kanobhai.
This man is on the march, come all the way from Florida. One morning, he comes over and sits down with us. Launches into a long complaint about the march. "Too much politics," he says. "We didn't know it would turn into this Congress show. It should never have happened."
That may be so, that it should never have happened that way. But how could it not? Given all the symbolism -- the 75th anniversary, the simple message of Dandi, the appeal of Gandhi -- how could the Congress, or any political party, ever have passed up the opportunity to milk the event? Sure, it gets annoying. But if you want to, you can find your own meaning in the march and pay no attention to Sonia and her Congress show.
We explain this to Riad. But he is not persuaded. He is annoyed and disgruntled and wanders off muttering. "It could have been done differently," he says.
Much later, I catch him leaving town. He's in a car, but like we are, he is inching through the vast tide of trucked-in Congress supporters. I get down and walk through the traffic, trying to see how we can get out of this mess. Suddenly, he races past me, geysering dust as the car gathers speed. Seeing me there, he leans out and shouts with a wide smile: "Tell you what, man. I'm not going to miss India, that's for sure!"
India's Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, the septuagenarian once-film star and my MP, Sunil Dutt, is part of the march on the penultimate day. Surrounding him are several tough looking men carrying a rope. As I pass him, he stops and walks into someone's front yard to say hello and shake a few hands. Men and rope go in as well, though they don't shake any hands.
Just a minute or so later, a car passes me and stops a little ahead. On the back is a sign proclaiming "MLA Gujarat". Clearly, the occupant has noticed that he just passed the Sports Minister. For he gets out, smooths his hair and satiny shirt, leans at the side of the road and spits violently, then straightens, summons a smile, and waits for Dutt.
The MLA, I shall presume. For a few seconds at least, sputum-free.
Next day in Dandi, another car passes me and it also has "MLA Gujarat" on the back. It's deja vu all over again (yes indeed, Yogi Berra), because this one stops a little ahead as well. The attraction this time is a pair of photographers walking near me. Two men in identical spotless white churidar-kurtas and identical gold pens in their pockets get out and beckon imperiously to the photographers. "Take our photo!" they order.
They pose behind their car, smiling widely, shouting "Gandhi-ji ki jai!" and the like as the photographers click away. (For no particular reason, I find myself hoping there's no film in their cameras). Then they catch sight of another photographer, this one a svelte young woman, strolling past. They quickly run to a different position and pose for her.
Only this time, as they run and get into position, one of them finds his cellphone is ringing. So for a few odd seconds, he is trying to pose, smile, shout "Gandhi-ji ki jai!" and answer his phone, all at the same time. Must be an excellent photograph.
The young woman later wanders on the beach, taking photographs. When she comes back, she tells us that she ran into more minor politicians there, also in white kurtas, also asking her to take their photos. They insisted on posing bent over as if picking up salt, like in the famous picture of Gandhi from 1930. So she has these photographs of these well-fed men bent awkwardly at the waist and squinting smilingly up at her camera.
What would they have done if their phones started ringing too?