Indian diaspora complete 116km bike ride to raise money for India’s Covid crisis

Fourteen Indian-origin people living in Britain undertook a 116km bike ride across London and raised more than £8,600 (Rs 8.8 lakh) for oxygen concentrators and other life-saving equipment to help Indians battling the second wave of the pandemic.
The group of British Indians and Indian expats, with family ties across different states in India, cycled from Hounslow in west London to Woolwich in east London and back to Feltham on 16 May in just under 13 hours. Despite getting exhausted and drenched in rain, with some falling off their bikes and others getting lost, they displayed grit and determination to finish the cycle ride ‘Ride to Breathe’ no matter what.
“I was very disturbed, I couldn’t sleep for three or four nights in a row because of what is happening in India,” said London-based 42-year-old IT consultant Nimit Shishodia, who was born in Noida, and helped organise the fundraiser.
“In 2012 I had a minor heart attack. I was shocked as I was quite young. Then a voice came to me from inside saying, ‘It is not about what happens you it is. What you are going to do about it?’ and I started biking after that. In India with Covid there was too much negativity and I thought this is time for biking. It’s not about what happens to India – it’s about what are we going to do about it,” Shishodia said.
“I saw what was happening on the regional news in India. I was devasted,” Jignesh Patel, another organiser, an artist in Hounslow, who hails from Gujarat, said. “I was working with volunteers on the ground in India helping them providing oxygen and supplies. The whole diaspora was full of despair about what was happening.”
Setting off at 7am, they finished at 9.45pm. But the journey was not short of mishaps. On the way back a lady biker in the group fell off her bike and injured herself. An ambulance had to be called and she was taken to hospital. Three bikes required repairing and one had to be replaced completely, whilst another one man strained his leg and had to stop for a while to be given a leg massage.
“We had a van from Birmingham accompanying us carrying spare bikes and supplies and to assist with emergencies,” Patel said. “The batteries on our phones kept going as we were using Google Maps and we had to charge them on power banks in the rain. My phone got drenched,” he added.
They stopped at seven Hindu temples, including BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, en route. Inside they prayed for those who had passed away of Covid.
“There is no household in India where someone does not know a Covid casualty,” Shishodia said. “There was this guy who we got an oxygen bed for but he still died and we prayed for him and his family.”
One of the cyclists lost his mother-in-law in India to Covid, and another lost his mother. “That was the motivation for them,” Shishodia said. Instead of being by her side, Dushant was not with his mother when she died but left to watch her fight to her last breath on WhatsApp video.
£5,000 (Rs 5 lakh) of the money raised on their JustGiving page has been used to send 10 concentrators via an community organisation called Mangalam through Sewa UK to various places in India. The remaining £3,318 (Rs 3 lakh) will be used to help needy families with cash, food and supplies.
Despite not knowing each other before they set off, by the end they had bonded.
“We went through tough times together – it felt amazing – the energy was brilliant when people work together for a cause. The team motivated each other so much,” Shishodia explained.
“Our approach was – it’s not just fundraising – it’s the mental, emotional and spiritual support that is needed. I think the community felt that if we can bike across London for 13 hours in the rain, that gives that spirit that this is a fight – and now people have cheered up and the emotion has changed and that was the purpose apart from fundraising. The mental aspect was really important. That is what I have learnt from my life that if the mind is strong you will recover quickly,” he said.
They plan to carry on their fundraising efforts for India’s Covid aftermath. One of their ideas is to break a Guinness World Record by creating the world’s biggest bubble wrap painting in the world. “It will be a massive mural of Covid warriors and healthcare workers and the idea is to do it live with hundreds of people and anyone can volunteer to inject the colour into bubbles with a syringe,” Patel said.
“We don’t think there is a shortage of oxygen concentrators anymore in India,” Shishodia said. “But that doesn’t mean the fundraising should stop. The real challenge starts now as even if people survive pandemic, there is a lot of financial woes like daily labourers who do not have food as there is no work owing to lockdown. We will find out what these families need and give it to them.”

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