After cycling for seven days, covering around 1,400 kilometres, Vikram Rai feels exhausted. But, finally, he has reached his destination: home.
The 24-year-old man and five others had started cycling from Sahara Darwaza in Surat at 2 am on April 25. The six migrant labourers, who were stranded in Gujarat due to the COVID-19 lockdown, reached their native villages in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday.
While Rai and another labourer is from Haswa village in Fatepur, the four others live in nearby villages.
As he reached his home at 6 am, the first thing Rai did was to dip his feet in a bucket of warm water with salt.
“Ab soch raha hoon, bas sar par ghar pohachne ka junoon sawar tha (Now, when I look back, I feel it was just the frenzy to get back home),” says Rai.
“When I reached home, my parents were very happy to see me but I could not even touch their feet as I am aware that I should maintain distance,” adds Rai.
At home, his mother welcomed him with his favourite dishes including bhindi sabji, dal and roti.
“Like every mother, she feels I look malnourished, which could be true because we were not so lucky in the last leg of our journey on Friday and barely got meals. We just survived on sugar, biscuits and water,” he says.
His sisters are happy that he has reached home alive, he jokes. “They are now joking that they were anxious about getting any bad news but I know it is not really a joke. They were indeed scared. I am the only brother and have six sisters and the youngest one is 10 years old. She is very excited about the cycle I have brought,” he quips.
He visited the Haswa block community health centre to undergo a medical screening and has been asked to remain under quarantine.
When contacted, Fatepur SDM Ashish Kumar told The Indian Express that as many as 400 migrants had returned from various parts of the country to the district on their own before the state government began the process to bring them back.
Kumar said, “We are screening them and taking the necessary action as per protocol. If needed, they will be quarantined in an institution otherwise they can be at home.”
The Indian Express had first reported about the group cycling from Surat on April 28, when they had crossed over to Madhya Pradesh from the interior villages after being turned away from the Pitol check post. Thereon, the group travelled through interior villages of the state borders, taking shelters in temples and finding generous people offering them a few meals along the way.
“Kanpur was in total lockdown. So we had to cycle about 50 kilometres extra to travel through Jahanabad and Bhitaura. We took only the interior roads, ” says Rai.
“I read the news today that a migrant who was cycling from Delhi to Bihar died. It felt very personal. God saved all six of us through our journey in the dark, on the highways, in the jungles and when we would fasten the gamchas on our heads tight due to a headache arising out of hunger at times… I have never cycled so much in my entire life as I did in the last one week,” he adds.
The 24-year-old man, who completed his SSC almost eight years ago, has now decided to stay back in his village itself.
“Cities have so much glitter but at the end of the day, in situations like these, people like us are left to die,” Rai says adding that he hasn’t thought about the way forward.
“I will think once my legs stop aching,” he says.
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