His pocket is full of white heart-shaped lockets. Snap one open, and there, resting like a pearl in an oyster, is a white Sorbitrate tablet. Dr Shrikant Jichkar takes great pleasure in distributing these lockets by the fistful while travelling in trains, buses or planes. People thought it a zany idea but accepted one with an indulgent smile. Until one day a recipient, who thought he had no use for it, saw a crowd gathered by a roadside in Hyderabad. Discovering them to have collected round a patient suffering a cardiac arrest, he broke open his white locket and saved the life of a complete stranger.
The idea caught on, and Dr Jichkar received a request for one lakh lockets from a do-gooder in Hyderabad. 'Find a craftsman in your town and have the lockets cast yourself,' the person was told. 'It's the idea that's important. I have no patent on these lockets. I was told about this means of saving lives by my friend Dr Hemant Joshi of Mumbai. I just happened to be in a better position to execute the idea,' said Dr Jichkar. This idea of his is galloping across the country, ensuring that India lives longer than it seems to have condemned itself to.
He's not restricted to only matters of the heart. After years of devoting himself to public life, 44-year-old Dr Jichkar decided to return to his first love: preventive medicine. Aware of the link between cellular ageing and fitness, his desire to see a healthier India has seen the beginning of a Nagpur Fitness Movement. It started off by accosting the unsuspecting walker or jogger on the streets of Nagpur and then turning those who responded positively into an army of 2,700 unpaid coordinators. Armed with booklets that tabulate diet and exercise regimens for various body shapes and sizes, their reward lies in ensuring that at least one person in the neighbourhood hops, skips or jumps to the proper specifications, and eats his or her way to a longer life. The Nagpur Fitness Movement, says Dr Jichkar, is all about 'educating people on how to live for a 100 years.'
That education also entails correcting the anomalies in public perception. 'People go walking, swimming or cycling without knowing if it's really going to help,' says Dr Jichkar. More often than not, he discovered, it doesn't, for Indians tend to follow the American specifications set by the famed Dr Cooper (who in the sixties set America jogging) which were meant for 'hefty Americans in a cold climate'. Indians, on the other hand, are smaller, live in tropical climes and so need to target their heart rate in a much more fine-tuned manner.
Dr Jichkar shows all those enrolled in the Nagpur Fitness Movement an easy way out - for free of course. 'Load your body with Vitamin E, Beta Carotin and Vitamin C.' These three, along with some other vitamins, will neutralise the free radicals in the body. That, with an intake of about 1,400-1,5000 calories a day - be it food loaded with ghee one day or a spartan meal of carrots and cucumbers the next - is the magic key to a longer, healthier life. Provided, of course, each person finds his or her private formula for a healthy heart beat: some may need to run five km in 45 minutes, others six in an hour.
'I tried it on myself for six years before involving the people of Nagpur. My endurance and immunity increased manifold,' he says. With that sort of a promise, it's no wonder that the movement is spreading: on request Dr Jichkar has added chapters in Akola and Chandrapur and is considering one in Jalgaon. 'If 61,000 people in America, and 5,300 in Japan are living at the age of over a hundred years, why can't at least our 2,700 coordinators achieve similar results in a few years from now?' he queries.
So the Nagpur Fitness Movement rolls along with a slogan at once old and new: Jai Hind, Long Live India(ns). It's, of course, entirely dependent on the volunteers. As for Jichkar, not quite content with the entire movement he's set rolling, the good doctor finds time to run an aids counselling centre as well from his clinic. For more details, if you wish to be a coordinator or start a similar movement in your town, contact Dr Shrikant Jichkar on 0712-544332 or write at 207, West High Court Road, Dharampeth, Nagpur 440 010