While cooling his heels at an isolation centre in Odisha’s Jajpur district, Mahesh Jena, a 20-year-old migrant worker, still continues to be in a state of disbelief.
He has cycled a distance over 1,700 km from Maharashtra to reach his home in Odisha in just seven days after lockdown restrictions snapped all options of using public transport.
The extraordinary bicycle ride by the Odisha youth was no less adventurous than the 1,400-km-scooty ride by a mother to bring back her stranded son in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Mr. Mahesh was working in an iron casting facility in the Sangli Miraj MIDC Industrial Area in Maharashtra for a salary of ₹15,000 per month. Soon after the announcement of the national lockdown, he was asked to stay indoors.
The youth was left with only ₹3000 at that time.He heard rumours that the industry would remain closed for another three months. Mahesh would require at least ₹6000 per month for his accommodation and food. After remaining idle for a week, he realized that the lockdown was not likely to end soon while his resources were fast depleting. He could not stretch his stay at Sangli further.
The lockdown had impacted everyoneand nobody would lend money, he said.
“I decided to cycle back to my house at Badasuari village in Jajpur. It was a matter of survival. On April 1, I set out for Odisha. Though I did not have a map, I remembered the names of major railway stations from my previous train journeys,” said the youth.
Some fellow villagers, who were still stranded in Sangli, had warned Mr. Mahesh against cycling such a long distance. Mr. Mahesh used to cycle 12 km daily, to get to his workplace and to a hotel for food.
He would begin cycling before dawn and continue till lunch time. Few roadside dhabas were open for truck drivers carrying essential goods. He would spend two to three hours eating, resting and taking a quick nap before getting back up again on his cycle seat. “I was averaging close to 200-km per day,” recounted Mr. Mahesh.
Some benevolent truck drivers would offer to take him with them fro a certain distance when he narrated his ordeal to them. But they would hold back the next moment, saying they would be risking cancellation of permits if found carrying someone.
Mr. Mahesh cycled along the Solapur-Hyderabad-Vijayawada-Visakhapatnam-Srikakulam route before entering Odisha through Ganjam district.
“Heat exhaustion was taking a toll on me, but I did not get distracted. I was determined to reach home. During the night, I would look for safe places like temples, schools and roadside dhabas to halt,” he narrated.
At the Maharashtra border, when the police questioned him about his journey, he convinced them by describing his amazing bicycle-ride.
He would cycle for almost 16 hours a day. Four days after he started his journey, he called his family members with a mobile phone, borrowed from a stranger. His family was very concerned and advised him to take precautions.
Mr. Mahesh reached Jajpur district by late evening on April 7. However, his family members said villagers were reluctant to allow him inside the village without a check-up at a hospital. They informed the Jajpur district administration which then sent him to a quarantine centre at Upendra Kumar High School at Bichitrapur.
“The seven-day arduous journey was more comfortable than the boredom at the isolation centre,” said Mr. Mahesh.