SUNDAY BUSINESS STANDARD.
A cycle for everyone!
A Mumbai-based filmmaker's social initiative, Bicycle Angels, raises FUNDS to buy bicycles for people whose livelihood depends on them
By Ranjita Ganesan | Mumbai July 26, 2014.
Two years ago during a round of outdoor cycling in Bandra, Rakesh Bakshi had an experience that left him feeling small. The filmmaker had stopped for a chat with a local tea seller, Susheel, in the course of which he offered him Rs 800 to replace his battered bicycle. When the boy acknowledged this by touching his feet, Bakshi's own expensive lycra gear, helmet and eyewear suddenly seemed too gaudy. "It was a sum I might have spent on a terrible weekend movie ticket and popcorn without thinking twice. That really put things in perspective," says Bakshi.
There is a sense of discomfort in charity that the privileged can feel, says Bakshi, but that has not stopped him from making a habit of it lately. His social initiative, Bicycle Angels, has donated as many as 73 cycles to people whose livelihood depends on them. And 4 wheelchairs to CP children.
It is not an NGO and perhaps comes closest to the idea of crowdfunding, except that the crowd mainly comprises Bakshi's friends and family, and few are strangers. They chip in with amounts starting from Rs 100 to Rs 10,000. When the donations total Rs 3,000 to 4500, Bakshi buys a new cycle and gifts not more than one or two every week since September 2013.
He also writes about his experiences with these recipients, and about the recipients' lives. A Google-sourced photograph, which is the header image of the Bicycle Angels blog, sums up the founder's biggest takeaway from the initiative. In it, seen wading through neck-deep floodwaters is a man with eyes transfixed ahead with one arm raised bolt upright, clutching a bicycle purposefully.
The humble mode of transport is "nothing less than a Ferrari" for these daily wages working class heroes, observes Bakshi, who lately was the Hindi dialogue writer for the Walt Disney film, The Million Dollar Arm.
Now in his cycling sessions, he looks for workers with worn-out cycles and others who do not own one at all. He learnt how the vehicle's wear-and-tear can affect fortunes from the way daily labourers describe a cycle's age, in terms of how many rainy seasons it has survived - for instance 'char baarish' (four monsoons).
Bakshi, who is the son of renowned lyricists Anand Bakshi, now has heightened respect for no-frills Roadster cycles that can carry loads of everything from coconuts to plastic pots.
Bicycle Angels had its beginnings when Bakshi started cycling in the mornings from Bandra to South Mumbai. He heard about a social initiative Campus Bicycle Project started by a few St. Xavier's students, where they collected and refurbished unused childrens cycles for gifting to poor school children in nearby villages. Bakshi decided to sponsor one for them and asked his friends, 33 of them, to contribute Rs 100 each. Soon, he had received MONEY enough for three cycles, and thus began looking for others, like the humble tea seller Susheel, whom he could help.
He has been learning on the job. Many people he approached were too proud to accept help and many wanted him to help others more needy than them.
For instance, one young egg seller returned with the new cycle given to him after being reprimanded by his father for accepting it "when there are people poorer than us living amongst us, next time think of them when someone offers you any help!."
When several others too declined the offer to exchange their old bicycle with a new one, Bakshi changed his strategy. "I stopped using the word 'daan' (charity). Instead, as many are too proud to receive charity, and began telling the potential recipients they would be donors too if they agreed to receive a new bicycle in exchange of their old one since their old bicycle would help someone without one. He gives away their old bicycles to daily wages workers who cannot afford to buy a bicycle to better their livelihood." Sometimes the recipients of new bicycles contribute Rs 500 to 1200 towards the purchase too, they chip in too willingly.
And at most times, the recipients of the old bicycle themselves offer to pay, donate, Rs 100-500 for receiving the old cycles from Bakshi. Bakshi adds these donated sums received to the donor's pool and later when it amounts to the cost of a new bicycle then he buys one new one for donation.
Invoices of the purchase made are always sent to the donor of the bike, and the recipient too, for total transparency; even though most donors being his friends and few even strangers, have never asked him for the Purchase Invoice of the bicycle they want him to donate on their behalf.
A few beneficiaries, of old and new bicycles however, have reported their Roadsters missing (stolen). As depicted in Vittorio De Sica's classic Italian film The Bicycle Thief, the empowerment a cycle can bring makes it a commonly stolen item.
The initiative has supported some offbeat professionals too, including a seller of nazar battu (an evil-warder) charm made out of lemons and chillis and charcoal, and someone who prepares and delivers lunchboxes to security guards.
The Bandra resident is not ambitious to make any ambitious plans for his private social-project. Keeping it simple will help transparency, he reckons, it's the clearest diamond that will sparkle best.
Daily wage workers almost always cycle carefully on the left side of the road, more out of a need to safeguard the vehicle than anything else. He feels it's because these daily wages riders do not have insurance.
However, often when traffic on roads are cleared to wave through ministers or VIPs, Bakshi says he sees security guards gruffly shooing us away and even these bicycle riding labourers. "However, In my opinion, these humble daily wages riders, workers, are more worthy of being inside those cars," he says.
(It's thanks to all my donors that I am able to do, achieve, what some credit me alone of doing and achieving; after all, it's their KINDNESS and EMPATHY that actually fuels my humble Bicycle Angels. They indeed are the angels of my humble initiative.)