Srinagar: For 36-year-old Mohammad Arif the nationwide lockdown to curb the coronavirus pandemic has led to a 2,100 km long journey on cycle from Mumbai to Jammu and Kashmir.
It was a normal Thursday morning for Arif, who works as a watchman in a private housing society in Mumbai, when he received a call from his house in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district that his father had suffered a massive stroke.
He spent the next two hours making desperate calls to neighbours and friends to try and ensure that his father reaches the hospital. However, none of his friends could reach his father Wazir Hussain due to the lockdown.
A panicked Arif ventured out to secure some sort of transportation back home, but with all transport services suspended due to the nationwide lockdown, he could only find a bicycle. Thus began his 2,100 km long and arduous journey to his ailing father.
He had travelled almost 130 km by Friday morning and was having his morning tea in Balivali on the outskirts of Mumbai when ThePrint spoke to him. He had started cycling in the wee hours of morning and had managed to cover a long distance without any breaks.
‘I just want to reach home’
Mumbai-based social activist Dipesh Tank met Arif Thursday afternoon while distributing food and water to travelers on Kandivali highway. Arif had cycled for more than 30 kms till then.
“I asked him where he planned to go and he said Jammu. I was astonished. He told me his father had a stroke. I offered food and water and he took some. I offered money but he refused. He told me he wanted to see his father. I hope he receives some help, when he reaches Jammu,” Tank told ThePrint.
By Thursday night he had managed to cover another 30 km. “I made some stops during the day to have water and to make calls to anyone back home to take my father to the hospital,” Arif told ThePrint Thursday while resting on the highway at Vasai Phata, a few kilometres outside Mumbai.
“At 6 pm in the evening a friend of mine managed to reach my home and took my father to the hospital. But an hour later I was told he had been discharged. I don’t know why because my family told me that he is still not well. I just want to reach home,” said Arif.
“My mother passed away a few years ago and my father lives with my wife and small children. My eldest daughter is 9-years-old,” he added.
‘I can’t rest till I see my father’
Arif had moved to Mumbai and joined his new job as a security guard only last month. He had moved back from UAE, where he worked as a driver, to his native village in Rajouri approximately three months ago.
When the 36-year-old informed his superiors about his plans to undertake the journey back to Rajouri on cycle, they expressed their concerns but Arif was relentless. “I can’t rest till I see my father,” he said.
On the possibility that the police might stop him and not allow him to travel further, he simply said, “I will request them to let me go”.
So far, he has been stopped by the police only once Thursday, but they let him go. “I asked them for help but they said they can’t. They were sympathetic but couldn’t help,” said Arif.
Last week, images of an ‘exodus’ of thousands of migrant workers from their workplaces caused a major uproar in the country. In the absence of any form of transportation due to the coronavirus lockdown, these workers were forced to walk back to their native villages and cities. This prompted the central and state governments to provide transportation, food and shelter to them.
At the time, Arif did not imagine that he would be in a similar situation. Now, he finds himself in a race against time. “I don’t know if my father’s condition will improve or God forbid worsen. In both cases I need to reach home,” he said.