When Banwari Lal Tarachand Aheke fled to Bombay in 1999, the 10-year-old boy from Madhya Pradesh had hoped life would be easy far from his violent stepfather. Once in the Mumbai, he found himself among the scores of kids who dot the city’s thoroughfares.
From braving heat and rain to being shooed away every time he tried set up a home on Mumbai’s streets, Aheke’s struggle for survival began. During this journey, he also fell prey to paedophiles and got hooked on to banned substances for a brief period.
Despite rejection, pain and distrust over the years, Aheke kept alive his dream of spreading the message of peace and draw people’s attention to the lives of street children. The 25-year-old began an all-India tour on a bicycle last year for his cause.
“I realised my goal years ago, just that I was able to work on it recently,” said Aheke, who began taking up odd-jobs since he was 12.
“I crossed Shirdi, went through Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and reached his native place in Chindwara in 24 days. I took a break for a few days to take care of my ailing mother.”
Throughout his journey Aheke has met many curious people. “Every time, I stopped to explain them my cause. In the next phase, I plan to cover a lot more places,” he said.
After the first phase of his trip, he returned to Mumbai, stayed here for a few months before going back to MP to start his journey again. He reached Mumbai last week.
“Eventually, after completion of the trip, I will go back to my hometown, marry and settle there. But Mumbai will always be my first love,” he says.
Recounting the rainy day when he was first brutalised, Aheke said he and three of his friends were taking shelter at a bus stop. “A 60-something man offered us a ride in his car, took us to his home and violated us. He then gave a 100-rupee note to each of us.
Aheke says he has had a few such similar encounters. “Once I realised it was wrong, I decided to put a stop to it.”
Aheke started his journey from Mumbai on Thursday.