April 30, 2020 2:02:01 am
Shortly after 8pm on Tuesday evening, Vikram Rai (24) and his five colleagues decided to rest on the premises of a highway dhaba near the Dhurel Pashupatinath temple, about 15 km before Biaora town in Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh.
Although the dhaba was closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, the owner who lives in a small room on the premises decided to make hot baatis for the famished group of migrants who have been cycling from Surat since Saturday to reach their homes in Fatepur district in Uttar Pradesh.
“It was our first proper meal since Saturday. We literally devoured the dal and baatis and it felt like someone had just given us a new lease of life. We couldn’t thank the generous owner of the dhaba enough. We didn’t even have the money to pay him but he said he was doing his bit of good karma,” Vikram says.
“We have been living on numbered biscuits, namkeen and handful of sugar that we are carrying with us. On Monday, at the Pitol checkpost on Gujarat-MP border, where we were made to wait for two hours before the officers asked us to go back to where we came from, they gave us a fist-sized bowl of khichdi,” Vikram told over phone on Wednesday, almost thrilled that the group has now covered close to 750 km — half of the 1,400 km from Surat to their homes. By Wednesday evening, they reached Guna in Madhya Pradesh.
“We are about 300 km from Jhansi, where we will enter our home state of UP. We are happy that we are closer home. There is a lot of exhaustion but there is no other way,” said Vikram.
The group covered about 320 km on Tuesday from their starting point in Jhabua in MP, where they had crossed over from Gujarat on Monday evening and decided to rest in a village. Out of the total distance covered to reach Biaora, they hitched a hike on a transport truck on Monday night for about 170 km till the outskirts of Ujjain town and began cycling again on National Highway 3.
“On Monday evening, we took a route through the jungles to cross over to MP because the officers at the Pitol checkpost did not allow us a straight entry. But thankfully they did not impound our cycles and throw us into shelter homes. We were tired and slept in a temple. We don’t know the name of the village but we left early morning before anyone could spot us or report us to the police. We are only afraid of being caught and treated like criminals in some shelters. No administration seems to understand that we only want to go home.”
The group has decided to cycle about 150 km every day with sufficient time for rest. “We are covering about 14 km in an hour. We stop every two hours at a petrol pump for about half an hour to have some sugar and namkeen that we are carrying…,” Rai said. On Tuesday, they stopped by after a distance of about 30 km from Jhabua when they spotted a transport truck on the highway that was willing to drop them till Ujjain. Their families know that they are traveling but they do not know that they are cycling, he says. “We don’t want them to worry. We have told them that we are taking rides on trucks and resting for meals so that they don’t keep bothering us on the phone.”
The group has a total of Rs 180 with them — they spent Rs 50 to purchase glucose biscuits on Tuesday that will help them for part of the next 700 km to be covered. “When I reach home, I will ask my mother to make aaloo parantha. I don’t know if she must have made aam ka achaar this year. I haven’t eaten parantha in a long time. And of course, kachori with aaloo sabzi is one thing all of us want to eat. If we find another God-sent angel in Jhansi, may be we will get kachoris too,” he says.