A second-hand cycle bought with the Rs 2,000 that was left in the house, and a bottle of water, was all that 15-year-old Jyoti Kumari Paswan had when she decided to take her ailing father from Sikandarpur in Haryana to Darbhanga in Bihar.
But now, a fortnight after they set off on that “desperate” migrant journey on the national highway when Jyoti pedalled close to 1,200 km across eight days with her father sitting behind, she has got unexpected fame — and the promise of a sporting career.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump joined social media to salute what she called a “beautiful feat of endurance”. Cycling Federation of India chairman Onkar Singh has invited Jyoti for a trial. And several others are keen to offer financial help to the girl in the bright salwar kameez with the pink cycle — the frame that has gone viral on the Internet.
It was on May 7 that Jyoti helped her father Mohan, an e-rickshaw driver who was nursing a fractured knee from a road accident, on to the back of their newly acquired cycle. Running out of savings, struggling to afford two meals, and with no train or bus available, the daughter decided to take the road, “on an impulse”.
“We were desperate to return to our village, but we never knew if we could make it. But my daughter refused to give up. I don’t know how she thought about this. She has courage, and I’m really proud of her,” Mohan told The Indian Express from a quarantine centre in Darbhanga where he has been placed along with his daughter.
“I was recuperating from the knee injury and then came this lockdown. Within two months, my savings were over. Thankfully, my wife, who is an anganwadi worker in our village, and my eldest daughter and son-in-law, had already returned to the village in February. For the last three months, Jyoti and I were stuck in our two-room rented apartment in Sikandarpur,” he said.
The turning point, Mohan said, was when the landlord asked them to vacate for failing to pay rent. “Thankfully, Jyoti had
Rs 2,000 with her. With that, she bought a second-hand bicycle and we decided to return to our village,” he said.
Looking back on that journey, Mohan says they survived with the help of “several well-wishers” on the road. “We were lucky. Jyoti pedalled for eight days, making brief stops at Palwal, Agra and Mathura. At some places, we would get a proper meal, sometimes just biscuits, but we managed,” said the father.
The cycling federation chief, meanwhile, is “extremely impressed”. “It’s no mean feat for a 15-year-old to pedal with her father for eight days at a stretch over more than 1,200 km. It shows her endurance levels,” Singh said.
“Once she is out of quarantine, we will bring her to Delhi to conduct trials, where we will ascertain if she can be groomed into a serious cyclist. And then, it’s up to her if she wants to pursue a career in cycling. We can even transfer her to Patna or any other centre that’s closer to her village. Ultimately, she has to make the choice.”
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