Prahlad Jani The man who says he hasn't eaten or drunk for 70 years

There are few people, however busy their lives, unable to remember the last meal that they consumed. But Prahlad Jani is one of them.
And the reason is that the last morsel of food that he says passed his lips did so in the early years of World War II.
‘I can’t recall exactly what it was,’ the 82-year-old Indian admits. ‘It was such a long time ago.’
During the 70-odd years since, Mr Jani says he has eaten not so much as a single grain of rice nor consumed a drop of water. And while such an extended gap between meals might be expected to have a fatal impact on the activities of one so deprived, this octogenarian says he’s never felt better.

‘Although I walk 100 or 200 kilometres in the jungle, I never sweat and don’t feel tired or sleepy,’ he says. ‘I can meditate for three, eight or 12 hours — or even months.’ No food? No water? Superhuman strength? One straitjacket (size zero) for Mr Jani, please.

It is, of course, more than tempting to dismiss this Hindu holy man and his claims as the stuff of absolute nonsense. Medical science tells us that human beings rarely survive more than a week without water, and a couple of months at most without food. To even suggest otherwise is ridiculous, and also potentially dangerous.  Practitioners of extreme starvation diets can cause serious damage to their bodies, leading to death. And yet, despite all that is known, there is a growing bandwagon that says Mr Jani and his incredible claims should not be dismissed entirely out of hand.

On Thursday afternoon, he emerged from hospital in the Indian state of Gujarat, where he had spent 15 days. He was monitored around the clock and, according to the medics who oversaw him, consumed no food and no water whatsoever.

No human should be able to survive such conditions unscathed — the lack of water alone should have killed him. But Mr Jani apparently suffered absolutely no ill-effects at all.

Attending a press conference at the Sterling Hospital in Ahmedabad, he said: ‘I am fit and strong today and even the doctors agree. They ran every test possible for 15 days and proved that I do not need food to keep me strong.

'I am strong and healthy, because it is the way God wants me to be.’

So what is the explanation for his ability to endure such privations? No one knows for sure. But over the next three months, the medics will attempt to come up with some answers as they study the results of a battery of tests. Military scientists drawn from India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation believe that Mr Jani could hold the key to understanding how humans can be taught to survive for long periods without sustenance.

‘It is possible that it will be able to help save human lives during natural disasters, high altitude, sea journeys and other natural and human extremities,’ said a spokesman for the team. ‘We can educate people about the survival techniques in adverse conditions with little food and water, or nothing at all.’ He added: ‘If his claims are verified, it will be a breakthrough in medical science.’

By any standards that is a very big ‘if’. For starters, the doctors are considering only the two weeks during which Mr Jani was under their supervision. His claims not to have eaten for the preceding seven decades can and will never be
verified. The same goes for much of his early history.

According to his version of events — and there is no other — Mr Jani left his home in Rajasthan at the age of seven, and went to live in the jungle.

When he reached the age of 11, he underwent a religious experience during which he became a follower of the Hindu goddess Amba. In her honour, he chose to dress as a female devotee, wearing a red sari-like garment, nose-ring, bangles and crimson flowers in his shoulder-length hair.

In return, Mr Jani believes that the goddess has sustained him ever since by feeding him with a lifegiving, invisible ‘elixir’, which has supposedly given him the strength to continue without food or water. For at least the past 40 years, Mr Jani has been living, hermit-like, in a cave in the jungles close to the Gujarati temple of Ambaji. He rises at 4am, spending most of the day meditating. 

While well-known locally, for many years Mr Jani was no more famous than the millions of other Hindu holy men — sadhus or yogi as they are known — in India.

Mystical figures, these individuals renounce normal life for one on the margins of society, focusing every waking minute on the spiritual. They often assume austere or extreme practices — standing on one leg or refusing to talk for years on end.

Like Mr Jani, many sadhus regularly undergo lengthy periods of fasting. But the claim that his fast had endured for decades caught the public imagination and first propelled him into the limelight.

Challenged to prove that he could survive without food or water, in 2003 he underwent his first hospital investigations. Then, as now, he was placed under the care of Dr Sudhir Shah, a consultant neurologist from Ahmedabad who specialises in studying people with seemingly ‘supernatural’ powers.

Doctors had prepared a special glass-walled room equipped with CCTV cameras to monitor Mr Jani for ten days. The toilet was sealed to test his claim that he had no need to urinate or defecate. 
The only fluid allowed was a small amount of water, to use as mouthwash. This was collected and measured in a beaker when he spat it out, to make sure that none had been drunk. 
Scans revealed some urine accumulation in his bladder, but this seemed to be re-absorbed by the body because it was never passed.
In every other respect, clinically, Mr Jani was found to be perfectly normal.
While the results secured him an international following, they failed to offer any concrete answers. As a result, Dr Shah and the military team decided to repeat the experiment this year.

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