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MCG – SCG Walk 2.0 (Week 10 – The Final Week)

Days 64 to 70: Enmore to Entertainment Quarter and Return to Melbourne

Sunday 31 December: Today was a bonus rest day as we were slightly ahead of the schedule in covering the distance. Despite the excessive heat and humidity, we managed to push for a few extra kilometres each day. It was a divine blessing to have two consecutive rest days and have the opportunity to spend quality time with this young family. Shekhar and I took it easy in getting up. While Shekhar rested, I had a shower, and started working on my blogs. By the time, everyone else got up, I had already completed a few days blogs.


Kuldip and Raman made some masala tea and prepared Indian breakfast. Gurmehar, the little angel had stayed up late last night and hence she was still asleep. We all enjoyed being together just like a family. After breakfast, I got back to my work. Shekhar went to have a shower. Kuldip went to the shops while Raman attended to Gurmehar who was now awake and was seeking her mother’s attention.


We deliberately delayed the lunch for reasons noted below. Late afternoon, we sat outside and had a variety of pakoras with Indian tea. How much can you eat, especially if you haven’t done any physical work or exercise? I wasn’t hungry after having all that. So, I said to them, “No dinner for me please”. They cut up some fresh fruit because it wasn’t considered dinner. We had some fruit. Subsequently, all of them except me, went to Paramatta to watch the fireworks for the new year. I was too tired and preferred to stay home. I could hear some fireworks in the distance. But I have no idea what time they all came back. When the new year ticked over, I was fast asleep.


Monday 1 January: Today was 1st of January, the beginning of the new year. When I got up and had a shower, understandably everyone else was fast asleep because they had stayed up to watch the main fireworks over the Harbour Bridge. I set up the laptop and started working to catch up with the remaining blogs. Shekhar was the first one to get up. Kuldip and Raman were next to enter the kitchen area while the cute little girl was fast asleep. We had some Indian sweets with desi chai (Indian tea). I made some halwa (semolina cooking) as it is considered pious to start the new year. Subsequently, we were treated to a very special breakfast by Kuldip and Raman.


We had a big feast for lunch. Later we had afternoon tea with fried snacks and that made me sleepy. I went to have a powernap. One of Kuldip’s friends was moving to Canada and he wanted to see this friend before he left. It was mutually agreed to meet at the Gurudwara. We all went along. Kuldip met his friend for a few minutes outside the Gurudwara premises. After Kuldip’s friend left, we all went inside to pay our respect to the Divine and listen to recitation of the Holy Shri Guru Granth Sahib. We sat down in the main hall until the evening ceremony was concluded. We were blessed indeed to visit a holy place on day 1 of the new year. We took prasad and drove to an Indian store for shopping. We got back to Kuldip and Raman’s place and had to have dinner. Food after food and more food. I said to Kuldip and Raman, “All the weight I had lost through the walk in the last two months, I must have regained in the last two days.” This was our last night at their place. Kuldip and Raman were keen on staying up and chatting. However, myself being an early riser, my batteries were going flat. I thanked them, wished them well and went to bed.


I must emphasise the fact that Kuldip had taken two days leave from work to spend time with us. Because today was a public holiday, Kuldip would have been entitled to ‘double time and a half’ for his shift. But he forfeited what other people wouldn’t even think of doing. A big thank you to Kuldip and Raman! You guys are so kind-hearted and so dedicated. Thank you so very much for doing everything to support us. May God bless you!


Tuesday 2 January: Our plan was to leave early morning as we usually do when we are walking. However, after discussing with Shekhar, Kuldip and Raman, it was decided to delay our departure until after the Sydney peak traffic subsides and have proper breakfast before leaving. There was logic and merit in their argument. Thus, I agreed. While we had breakfast, Raman and Kuldip had packed our lunch and dinner for the day. They never missed an opportunity. These are incredibly cultured human beings. We could not possibly thank them appropriately for everything they did for us. We spent just a couple of days with them, but our mutual love and respect made us all one family. We wished them well and said goodbye to Kuldip, Raman and Gurmehar.


We drove to the corner of Stanmore Road and Enmore Road. I got off, paid my respect to Mother Earth and started the final leg of this year’s walk. I had enough water in my water-bottle. We didn’t stop for a break or breakfast. We walked past the prestigious University of Sydney and turned right to go towards the SCG. Shekhar had found a free parking space in the 4-Hour parking zone. We walked to end of Entertainment Quarter closest to the SCG. After walking for 66 days covering 1,325 kms through more than 40 towns across Victoria and NSW, we had just crossed the finish line. I touched my forehead to the ground and thanked Mother Earth for her assistance in the completion of the walk. While the formal completion of this gigantic walk would be celebrated with the McGrath Foundation Team, the legends from the Big Three Trekkers, and hundreds of supporters tomorrow, it was a dream come true, particularly at my age.


After completing the walk, we went around the area to check out where we could possibly park the next morning when we join the Pink Parade. Last year the MF was able to secure for us a parking spot at the members’ car park, but the same could not be done this year. We thought, in the worst case scenario, we would park in the 4-hour parking zone and walk to the SCG. This much, we could still manage to walk.


We checked into the hotel where we had reserved an undercover parking spot. This hotel was in Waterloo that is just a couple of kilometres from the SCG. After a hot shower/bath, I fell asleep. Shekhar and I joined the Big Three Trekkers for dinner at the Wooly Bay Hotel. It was such an uplifting experience to meet this incredible team of champions who had walked 60 kms in one day to reach the SCG. At the completion of their first walk in January 2022, this team inspired me to take on the challenge to walk from the MCG to SCG. I would always remain indebted to these young men and women for emitting so much positive energy. We had a great evening, and we all enjoyed each other’s company. The food and drinks were all organised by this team. Thank you so much for everything L.A. You guys are simply incredible. We all left around 8:00 PM because we had a big day ahead of us. Shekhar and I drove back to the hotel and went to sleep.


Wednesday 3 January: Today was the day we all had been waiting for. Today was the day we had prepared ourselves to walk all the way from the MCG for. Today was the day we had endured for climbing through tough terrains and walked in the heat, wind, and drizzle, put up with sweat and flies, and slept in the van for ten weeks. Today was the day we had chosen to arrive at the SCG on. Today was that day indeed.


Shekhar and I got ready and had early morning breakfast in our room. After checking out, we drove from the hotel to the SCG. The sign at the gate to public car park indicated, it would open at 7:30. We were there just after 7:00. We didn’t want to wait, so we proceeded to park the van in the 4-hour parking lot. When we walked back to the SCG, at the traffic lights we met a woman named Pauline Hart. She later made a generous donation. Thank you so much Pauline for supporting this noble cause.


We arrived at the assembly point; namely, Gate 2, Allianz Stadium. We met Luke, Gorick and other members of the Big Three team. We also met the women from the Pink Sari Group – Cancer Institute NSW. Gorick introduced us to Lisa Seiffert a young woman, a super model who was a breast cancer survivor. We met Jo Lovelock and a number of Breast Care Nurses along with Tracy Bevan, Holly Masters, and other members of the MF team. Everyone was supercharged with positive energy. The atmosphere was electrifying. There was a big buzz all around. Everyone was dressed in pink. There was pink everywhere. A pink wave had taken over everything. The Pink Parade was about to get on its way and march towards the SCG. There was a live band playing western music. Suddenly, a dholi (Indian drummer) with his drumbeats injected something very special into the crowd and everyone started dancing to this north Indian music. Though I was exhausted after such a long walk, I also joined in briefly. When I stopped and ‘got off the dance floor’, somebody from the media requested me to do it again because her cameraman had missed out on it.


Shekhar and Andrew Lovelock were leading the procession with the banner Unite in Pink. People were busy dancing and walking at the same time. The live band and the Indian dholi continued to excite the supporters of this pink movement and that is exactly what it has now become – A Movement transcending all barriers. Channel 9 asked me a few questions during the walk. The music was loud, and it was hard to hear. However, I thought we had managed it well, until the Channel 9 reporter apologized and said, “I am sorry. We had technical issues. Could we please redo the interview?” Of course, we did it again.


As Ambassador and Director MF, Tracy Bevan welcomed everyone and thanked us and our team for our role in raising awareness across rural Victoria and NSW and raising funds for the MF. She also thanked the Big Three Trekkers for their continuous support. Test Cricket legend and President MF Glenn McGrath called me to come closer and appreciated and highlighted what our walk from the MCG to SCG had done to raise awareness and funds for the MF.  Everyone in the crowd acknowledged and applauded our efforts. While we were not looking for recognition or acknowledgement, we appreciated the public announcement by the MF leaders. Thank you, Tracy. Thank you, Glenn. The format of media conference this year was different to the one we had last year when I was able to address the national media followed by one-to-one interviews. This time it was way too crowded, which in a way reflects the increasing popularity of the Pink Parade and the rising support for the MF. I had the opportunity to talk to various media individually. I did an interview with a Channel 7 reporter but missed out on talking to other media. Consequently, the news on a TV channel reported “someone was walking from MCG to SCG for the McGrath Foundation”. This amateurish reporting could have been avoided if the reporter had just googled Walk from MCG to SCG, the news would have been presented differently.


Jo Lovelock, Shekhar, and I along with a few others walked to the Entertainment Quarter for a good cup of coffee. Leanne Moss from the Big Three trekkers also joined us. It was great to have a few moments to have a chat and reflect on the events of the morning. After that Shekhar and I walked to the van, had something to eat before shifting the van to a new spot within the 4-hour parking zone. We walked into the SCG to watch the third test between Australia and Pakistan. Pakistan had won the toss and elected to bowl. We were tired but we wanted to watch the game. We hoped some fast food and cold drinks would keep us awake. We had planned to stay until the lunch break.


Gorick sent us a message to meet him at 12:00 outside the SCG. We met outside Gate E and drove to Bankstown Airport for a helicopter ride over the city and Sydney Harbour bridge. Gorick himself a trained helicopter pilot was treating us with this flight because of what we had done for the McGrath Foundation. When we arrived, Gorick introduced us to Alex who would also be flying the helicopter. We had a quick cuppa at this office where Gorick appeared to be a regular visitor. Before climbing into this expensive machine, Alex briefed us on what to expect from this ride and what was expected from us before, during and after the flight.


Soon we were up in the air flying over the skyscrapers. I think, Alex was the main pilot and Gorick the co-pilot. The ride started a bit shaky as it is mostly the case with helicopter rides. We were not worried because we had full faith in the ability and experience of both pilots. The flight was indeed exiting and enjoyable. Shekhar and I were blown away by what we were just experiencing. Gorick was taking photos of us and video recording the incredible scenes from the flight. Midway through the flight, Gorick and Alex switched. Gorick took over from Alex. We cherished flying over the world-famous landmarks including Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Alex took over again and we landed back safely. This was a wonderful experience for Shekhar and me. We walked into the service shed where a number of helicopters were getting serviced or repaired. Gorick’s knowledge of these machines is immense. From the bottom of our hearts, we thanked both pilots for this incredible experience that was slowly beginning to sink in. Thank you so much Alex for this wonderful encounter that would stay with us for ever. Gorick my friend, what an incredible thing to do to support us! This was a literal representation of out of box thinking on your part. I don’t know the proper words to thank you appropriately. A big thank you!


We dropped Gorick off at a Metro station so that he could get a train home. We continued to drive to Hitesh’s place in Gregory Hills. His wife had prepared yummy north Indian snacks, and we had them with a cuppa. Hitesh and his wife have two beautiful children; namely, a boy and a girl. We enjoyed catching up after such a long time. The last time Hitesh and I met was at a wedding in India about 15 years ago. While we all live in the same country, the busy lifestyle we choose to follow, leaves little time for socialising and catching up with loved ones. This was a prime example of that.


We had a lavish dinner that had been prepared with a professional touch. We were told that when Hitesh got married, his wife didn’t know how to cook. As a young bride in her 20s, when she joined Hitesh in Sydney, she was expected to cook. But all she knew was how to cook potatoes and how to prepare moong daal. Thus, she would cook potatoes on Monday and moong daal on Tuesday. She would keep switching between these two to avoid having the same food every day. The two-dish game went on for a while until Hitesh realised that what was happening was not usual. His wife had an open mind to learning new things and soon she began to take cooking lessons from youtube, family and friends. After putting in lots of hard work, she has become an exceptionally good chef in Indian dishes. Hitesh Ji, thank you so much to both of you for sharing your story.


Thursday 4 January: Shekhar and I enjoyed the sleep in a bed on a stable ground. I got up, had a shower, and started to work on my blogs. Before going to bed, Hitesh had connected my laptop to his monitor and keyboard. It was easier to type up and edit the text. I kept working until the table was set for breakfast. We had good chat over a cuppa. On some TV channels and radio stations, the news coverage reported the MCG to SCG Walk to support the McGrath Foundation. It was great to see the awareness rising. Hitesh took his son to a kid’s birthday party. I continued to work on my blogs because I had a lot of catching up to do. I was getting tired, and I was falling asleep. After we had lunch, I went for a powernap.


When I got up, we had some Indian snacks with tea. Around 5:30 PM, Hitesh’s friends who were followers of ISCKON arrived. They also brought a harmonium and a dholak. Hitesh himself has a mridangam. We did kirtan for an hour or so followed by the Aarti. We had prasadam with a cuppa. We thanked Hitesh and his family for their generous hospitality and for everything they had done for us to date. Shekhar and I bade farewell to this young family.


We started driving towards the hotel in Waterloo. On the way to our hotel, we were going to drop off a box of Juice bottles at a friend’s place. I had already messaged him that we would coming through around 9:00PM. He had already organised dinner for us. We couldn’t say NO to such a good friend. After dinner, we drove to the hotel. We were fortunate to find a parking space right next to the hotel. Shekhar and I checked in, went to our room, and hit the bed.


Friday 5 January: This morning, we were supposed to meet the MF support staff at Gate - E at 8:30AM. There was no urgency to get there. Shekhar and I took extra time to get ready and we had breakfast in our room before leaving the hotel. We checked out and drove to the public car park on Driver Avenue. We were still pretty early. There weren’t many vehicles parked in the car park. We paid the full day fee and parked the van in an area allocated for SUVs and 4WD vehicles. We walked to Gate E and the first people we met were Jo and Andrew Lovelock. Soon, more MF staff and supporters arrived. We were told to form a double file queue. Jen and Leanne from the Big Three Trekkers were leading the procession. Shekhar and I were right behind them. We walked into an underground tunnel beneath the SCG. We were told to wait for further instructions. A VIP woman was chauffeur driven in an expensive BMW into the tunnel. The car drove past us but we couldn’t recognise who this woman was.


It was already heating up this early in the morning. Even in the tunnel, it was getting warm and stuffy. There was a room with an open door where we were standing. The cool breeze blowing out from its air-con was a welcome comfort. Half an hour later, we were told to turn around and proceed to the actual ground, which meant, we were now at the backend of the procession. We arrived in double file and formed the shape of M, the symbol associated with the McGrath Foundation. The moment the young singer finished singing, we received a signal to leave the ground asap and head back because the cricket was about to start. This was Day 3 of the test between Australia and Pakistan.


Like everyone else in the procession, Shekhar and I left the ground and went outside. However, we walked back into the SCG to watch the game. We were feeling hungry. We opted for vegie sandwiches, fries and coffee. After a big burp, we took our seats to watch the game for a couple of hours. We left the SCG and walked over to Allianz Stadium to take part in the Jane McGrath High Tea celebrations. We were received by Natalie from MF and she told us our table number. We walked up to the next level and someone took us to our table.


These were large round tables, and everyone was seated on a table of ten. Except Shekhar and I, all other seats on our table were occupied by young women cricketers. There were around 50 tables of ten, and they were fully occupied. It means around 500 people attended this high profile function. We saw the Hon. Anthony Albanese Prime Minster, Hon. Peter Dutton the Leader of the Opposition, several ministers, current and retired bureaucrats, government officials, CEOs of many companies, TV personalities, Olympic champions, AFL players, cricketers, sports reporters, and a significant number of MF supporters who had come from far and wide to witness what was about to unfold.


The function began with James Tobin the weather man from Sunrise (Channel 7) taking to stage and announcing that he was going to be the MC for this event. Everyone was thrilled to hear it because James is a well-known entertainer in the television industry. He called upon Glenn McGrath to address the audience. Glenn highlighted the milestones in the growth story of MF and applauded the contribution of MF supporters in its increasing popularity. Glenn appealed to the audience in the room but also to the wider Australian community via TV channels to purchase virtual seats to help fund more breast care nurses. Glenn then called upon the Prime Minister to address the audience. Tracy Bevan was hilarious with her reference to cherry knickers being the primary reason for the success story of Australian cricket in the 1990s. However, it was Jen, 37, a breast cancer survivor who won the hearts of everybody when she bravely shared the details of her story. Her story from being a super fit girl to be diagnosed a breast cancer patient within a few months. And how McGrath Breast Care Nurses were able to help her through her ordeal. Jen’s speech brought tears to every eye in the audience.


After such a powerful address, there was a short break. Everybody was going around the tables to say hello and take photos. Shekhar and I also went around and met a number of dignitaries. Shortly after the break, we left the function as we had to start the journey back home. We set off towards Melbourne and reached Goulburn around 6:30 PM. We went to see Vishal at Café 5911. We had a quick cuppa with snacks before proceeding to his house where Mani had prepared dinner. It was great to have the opportunity to see Guru and play with him one more time. We all had dinner together before Shekhar and I went to bed because we had a long drive ahead of us.


Saturday 6 December: Upon the insistence of our young friend Vishal, Shekhar and I had a cuppa before leaving Goulburn. Guru was still asleep. while we had tea and snacks, Mani made fresh parathas and packed them for lunch. This is an admirable characteristic of Indian culture. Thank you so much to Vishal and Mani for pushing boundaries of Indian hospitality. A big thank you!


Shekhar and I filled up the van and hit 110 Km/h on the M31. We took a container with mixed nuts and dry fruit to chew on during the long drive. Munching on something usually keeps you awake. We took the Gundagai exit to have a short break and a coffee. We drove to the Information Centre. We introduced ourselves to the woman at the reception desk. She said, she felt honoured that we had called in. A bystander George Manning from Tumut also felt honoured and we exchanged phone numbers. Shekhar and I left the van near the Information Centre and walked to Niagara, the famous café in the middle of Gundagai and had a coffee. Yes, it was worth the walk.


We resumed our journey and got back on the M31 towards Melbourne. After two and a half hours, we pulled over at a rest place to use the toilet. We stretched and shook our legs and continued the journey. We arrived at Mahendra bhayia’s place at 5:30PM. We had a cuppa and a quick bite. Shekhar’s car had been sitting here since 2 December when Mahendra bhayia drove it from Wagga Wagga to his place. I started driving the van and Shekhar drove his own car to Boronia.


We were meeting for dinner a young Indian girl who is studying medicine in Queensland. She had just returned to Australia this morning after visiting her parents in Africa and then travelled with them to India. She had landed in Melbourne less than 12 hours earlier. It was an honour to meet an enthusiastic student of Indian origin, wo was doing so well in her studies to become a medical doctor. We all had dinner at the well-known Saravana Bhavan South Indian Restaurant. We had a good conversation on variety of topics. Hats off to her parents (Sri Ram and Gayathri) for bringing her up in such a disciplined manner and for passing on our traditional values. Any parent would be so proud of having a child of her calibre. She would go a long way and one day, she would make India proud.


By the time we finished dinner, it was past 9:00PM. This young girl, who is like a daughter to me, I didn’t want her to travel to her cousin’s place on the other side of Melbourne by public transport at this time of the night. I asked Shekhar to drop her off in his car. I drove the van home, parked it at the front and went to sleep.

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