TALES OF TWO CORONA WARRIORS: ONE VICTORIOUS, THE OTHER SUCCUMBS
WEEK & FRAIL MAHESH CYCLES 1,050 MILES IN SEVEN DAYS TO REACH HOME
India’s twenty-plus, Mahesh Jena wearing a boyish look, is a symbol of grit and determination. When the entire world is in lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus that has already spread tentacles in the entire world and he cycled to reach his home Jajpur in Odisha from industrial town Sangli in Maharashtra.
Cycling across the breadth of the country, he became a role model for everyone fighting the corona battle.
To cover 1,050 miles, that roughly equals a distance between New York and Arkansas, he cycled 150 miles a distance equaling New York to Rhode Island, each day for a week.
To overcome the uncertainty and fear that had gripped Jena and his coworker’s migrant laborers working in the metal and plastic factories in Sangli ever since India-wide lockdown was announced on March 24, he on April decided to ride a cycle back home. Hindustan Times devoted a full page to report Jena’s tryst with cycle.
To support his adventure he had a backpack having a blanket, some clothes, biscuits, tiffin, some bottles of water, and money equal to USD 40. He had no maps, and no phone and he owned no fear or doubt. His was clear — he would keep going till he reached home.
As all factories were shut, workers in the industrial town were left to fend for themselves, with no food and money for survival. As everyone was toying, the idea to walk to their homes even if sitting hundreds of miles away, Jena thought cycling a faster and more reliable, alternative. He decided not to tell anyone else. His plan was simple: following the same route he took from Odisha to Sangli but in the opposite direction.
On April 1, a week after the lockdown Jena stated his cycle odyssey. By the time the sun was out, Jena had picked up a pace. For hours, he rode at a steady pace past the sugarcane fields. The first river he crossed was the Agrani, a stream that was successfully revived for a drought-prone area. When evening came, Jena found that he was not tired. In fact, he was enjoying the unhurried cadence of his cycling, the solitude of the road. He kept going.
When he finally stopped for the night — at a temple had cycled more than 100 miles. The only problem he faced on Day 1 was a puncture in the tire. He was helped by a group of villagers on hearing his story.
The first day set a pattern that would repeat itself with a regularity that is extraordinary in itself. In covering the breadth of India alone on a cycle, Jena was barely troubled. He was lucky to be helped everywhere he asked for it. He cycled all day and well into the night.
On Day 2, from Solapur past the massive medieval fort of Naldurg with its beautiful lake, past shuttered sugar mills, past the corpses of dogs killed in road accidents, crossing into Karnataka. On Day 3, he was into Hyderabad India’s silicon city. On Day 4, Jena reached Vijayawada. Jajpur was still nearly 900 km away, but by now Jena was in a trance. It was him, his cycle, and the road. For the next few days, he even forgot about the one thing that he usually obsessed about — where will the money come from? Without a phone, he did not even have the distraction of making or receiving calls, or watching videos, or listening to music, or taking photographs. The route was beautiful, often densely forested, hilly, by the Krishna river and Kondapalli reserve forest.
Jena said heat exhaustion was taking a toll on him, but it was not a reason for him to get distracted. He was determined to reach home.
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. “During nights he would look for safe places like temples, schools, and dhabas for a halt.
He began Day 6 by going past Srikakulam and crossing the bridge over the Nagavali river. By the end of the day, he crossed into Odisha, near the nondescript village of Gudipadar in Ganjam district. It was at Bhubaneswar on Day 7, that he finally felt the relief of being on home turf. There was still 60 miles to go. On April 7, he reached hometown Jajpur, two miles behind his village, where he was stuck for a 14-day quarantine.
12 YEARS OLD GIRL JAMLO MADKAM SUCCUMBS 30 MILES SHORT OF HER HOME
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Jamlo Madkam, had left her home in Chhattisgarh for the first time two months ago to work at a chilli farm in Telangana with relatives and friends, but as destiny has another plan, she died on way back amidst the lockdown.
The tribal girl died due to electrolyte imbalance and exhaustion on April 18, having walked for over three days, covering over 62 miles with 13 others. Her family could not be informed by the group as only one among the 13 had a phone whose battery had died.
Jamlo tested negative for coronavirus. Her death is just one more added to the long list of migrants who have died trying to make their way back home amid the lockdown after the certainty of them sustaining in cities was put under question due to the lockdown that halted all activity in a bid to curb the coronavirus.
Over 22 migrant workers have died on their way back home trying to escape the hunger that stared them in the face of the shutdown. They wanted to return to their families, to the safety of their homes. However, many are still cramped in shelters in cities with no scope of social distancing, with meager meals, with no news of their families back home, no money; only waiting to reunite with their families.