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Still image from video: BBC Hindi
This is Jyoti Kumari, a 15-year-old who cycled more than 700 miles from New Delhi to her village, transporting her injured father, a migrant laborer, on her bike.

Some kids take on a lot of responsibility really fast. That was the case of a girl from a poor family in India who told her mother she would bring her injured father home even if she had to bike halfway across India. There are many such children who never get a media spotlight, but for those that do, good things may follow.

As Jeffrey Gettleman and Suhasini Raj reported at the New York Times, “She was a 15-year-old with a simple mission: bring papa home. Jyoti Kumari and her dad had nearly no money, no transport, and their village was halfway across India. And her dad, an out-of-work migrant laborer, was injured and could barely walk.

“So Jyoti told her dad: Let me take you home. He thought the idea was crazy but went along with it. She then jumped on a $20 purple bike bought with the last of their savings. With her dad perched on the rear, she pedaled from the outskirts of New Delhi to their home village, 700 miles away.

‘Don’t worry, mummy,’ she reassured her mother along the way, using borrowed cellphones. ‘I will get Papa home good.’

“During the past two months under India’s coronavirus lockdown, millions of migrant laborers and their families have poured out of India’s cities, desperate and penniless, as they try to get back to their native villages where they can rely on family networks to survive. Many haven’t made it. …

“But amid all this pain and sadness now emerges a tale of devotion and straight-up grit. The Indian press has seized upon this feel-good story. … And a few days ago, the story got even better.

“While resting up in her village, Jyoti received a call from the Cycling Federation of India. Convinced she had the right stuff, Onkar Singh, the federation’s chairman, invited her to New Delhi for a tryout with the national team. …

“Reached by phone on Friday in her village of Sirhulli, in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, Jyoti said in a scratchy voice barely above a whisper, because she still sounded exhausted: ‘I’m elated, I really want to go.’ …

“Her father, Mohan Paswan, a rickshaw driver from a lower rung of India’s caste system, was injured in a traffic accident in January and was running out of money even before the lockdown. … Jyoti came out from their village in Bihar to care for Mr. Paswan. She had dropped out of school a year ago because the family didn’t have enough money. Things got even worse after the lockdown, with their landlord threatening to kick them out and then cutting off their electricity.

“When Jyoti came up with the escape plan, her father shook his head.

“ ‘I said, “Look, daughter, it’s not four or five kilometers that you will drag me from here. It’s 12-, 13-hundred kilometers. How will we go?’’ ‘ he said in a video broadcast by the BBC’s Hindi service.

“The two bought a simple girl’s bike for the equivalent of about $20. On May 8, they set off, Jyoti at the handlebars, dad sitting pillion on back. Jyoti was pretty confident on a bike, having ridden a lot in her village.

“Many days they had little food. They slept at gas stations. They lived off the generosity of strangers. Jyoti said that except for one short lift on a truck, she pedaled nearly 100 miles a day. It wasn’t easy. Her father is big, and he was carrying a bag. …

“After they arrived in their village last weekend, her father went into a quarantine center. … Jyoti’s mother convinced village elders to let her quarantine at home. .. Then, a few days later, on Thursday morning, she got The Call.”

Read more at the New York Timeshere.

 

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