While many would go the extra mile for their loved ones, 56-year-old Hiralal Yadav has made it his life’s mission to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to help millions of his compatriots, all rank strangers to him.
For the past 16 years, this Dahisar resident has been cycling across the length and breadth of India on a seatless cycle.
In this unique way, he has raised awareness about a slew of diverse causes, from the Kargil war, the importance of saving the girl child, to environmental conservation and communal harmony.
At a function organised to mark the silver jubilee celebration of SIES College of Commerce and Economics, Yadav received an award from former president A P J Abdul Kalam on Monday for his feat.
The former president presented him with a shawl, a lamp, a Tanjore painting and a cheque of Rs 1 lakh, for travelling over 80,000 kms across the country 13 times on his seatless cycle and spreading social awareness about different issues.
Yadav came to Mumbai from Gorakhpur in 1981 to make it big, but ended up selling fruits outside KEM hospital, Parel. He continued this till 1983, after which he shifted base to Dahisar. Here, he started sourcing vegetables from Dahanu and selling them at Borivli railway station. The business flourished, and soon he started procuring over 1,000 to 2,000 kilograms of vegetables every day.
In 1990, Yadav was diagnosed with kidney stones and couldn’t work for long hours. His illness took a toll on his business. He had to take a loan of Rs 1 lakh for surgery, and was soon plunged into financial crisis.
“I was shaken, and had no money. I soon got addicted to country liquor and started smoking heavily. At times, when I did not have money to buy liquor, I would opt for bhang tablets.
Even the moneylenders would abuse me and demand their money. Between 1993-1997 my financial situation was so bad that I even contemplated running away from the city,” recalled Yadav. But good sense prevailed. “I decided to fight back and mortgaged my wife Shakuntala’s ornaments to start a tea stall near my rented house. A few months later, I even started a tiffin service, which slowly gained momentum, and I could clear my debts,” said Yadav.
And then the journey began.
>> Met: Over 80 families of POWs. He also paid a visit to the family of the Delhi gang rape victim. He has collected letters, rakhees and even messages to and from Jawans who fought in the Kargil war and their families.
>> Lectured in: Over 500 schools and 40 universities in different cities.
Number of years on the road
Number of cycle rallies attended
Sarva Dharam Sadhbhavna Yatra
Days travelled: 199
Yadav’s most recent and longest yatra was undertaken between December 5, 2012 and June 22, 2013 (road map on the left), spanning over 10 locations like Arunchal Pradesh, Amritsar and Thane. This time, he pleaded the cause of the girl child, environmental conservation and harmony in society.
Cycling to spread Mother’s word
Days travelled: 82
In the year 1997, when the country was celebrating its 50th year of independence, Mother Teresa passed away in September. This inspired Yadav to spread the message of humanity and charity. Though doctors had advised Yadav against cycling, he armed himself with a road map, a bicycle, a first-aid kit, clothes, a mattress and Rs 15,000 in cash. Accompanied by an associate, he ventured on his first trip from Dahisar to Wagah Border on October 16, 1997.
Days travelled: 103
Soon after he returned from his first yatra, he saw his younger son Pradeep collecting his cigarette and beedi stubs and lighting them: “He was about to take a puff. I stopped him, showed him the cigarette in my hands and threw it away, promising I would give up smoking and drinking.” This became the inspiration for the second yatra, which covered the four metro cities – Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata. The message this time was against drinking and smoking. To make people sit up and take notice, he started riding his bicycle without a seat: “I wanted to prove that if I can ride a cycle without a seat, people can also give up bad habits. All one needs is determination and the will to not give up.”
Days travelled: 42
Yadav’s respect for the armed forces drew him out on another mission in 1999, which stretched from Mumbai to Kargil. “We only remember the Armed forces during crisis. The country has no idea about the supreme sacrifices made by our freedom fighters, and soldiers like Captain Saurabh Kalia, Captain Vikram Batra and Captain Jintu Gogoi. I was stricken with sorrow when I saw the bodies of our soldiers wrapped with the Tricolor. Most of them had not even crossed their 20s. My pain was nothing compared to the suffering of their families.” He wrote about his experiences in a collection of poems titled Salam Sainik, published in 2005. “My poems have been well appreciated by the Jawans. When I went to Ambala Cantonment to recite them, I found hundreds of army men waiting for me. I received a standing ovation from them. An officer even came up and said that it was the first time a civilian had put in so much effort to support the Army.”
Days travelled: 90
Yadav also traveled to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia on a 90-days visit in 2004, and even bought a cycle from Thailand for Rs 2,500. Three close friends from Dahisar sponsored the air tickets and he took a loan of Rs 25,000 for the trip. On his return, Indians based in Bangkok and other foreign countries donated money, which was used to repay the loan.