– how a 15-year-old girl from Bihar influenced a Jesuit

By Jerry Rosario, SJ

You may recall reading this last year. Jyoti Kumari was just a 15 year-old girl from a remote village in Bihar, studying seventh standard.

Her father had gone to Haryana seeking a job towards the end of 2019. He was an  auto rickshaw driver. Lo, he met with an accident in the early March of 2020 and had to be hospitalised, as he had suffered serious injuries.  Two weeks later came the sudden declaration of a strict nationwide lockdown. He was forcibly discharged from the local Government hospital to make space for the COVID 19 patients.    

News reached his family living about 1,200 kilometers away in Bihar and it shattered the family. Crisis, history tells us, can birth change. This teen-aged girl, Jyoti Kumari, came up with an idea which was, as expected, not well received initially.  But she managed to convince her mother and siblings and embarked on a dangerous journey. How a village girl who had never gone anywhere managed to reach Haryana safely, in spite of the cancellation of all public transport, was by itself a big story.  After many a hardship, she not only reached the town in Haryana but also was able to find her dad now living in the pavement, after having been thrown out of the hospital. All this, in more than one sense, was a contemporary miracle.

How long could she stay by the side of her dad who had made the pavement his home? The government kept extending the nationwide lockdown. Anyone else would have lost all hope in such a situation. But not Jyoti Kumari. A master plan unfolded in her mind. Out of  1,000 rupees that her father had, she managed to buy an old bicycle for 500 rupees. The original price of the bicycle was Rs.1,200, but the seller, seeing the determination of this young Bihari girl, gave it to her for Rs. 500.

At the dawn of 10 May 2020, she started cycling along with her injured dad on the pillion, who carried his bag on his lap. It was summer and so cycling in that heat was extremely difficult. Every day the two travelled from 04.30 am to 09. 30 pm, and managed to cover over 170 kilometers. For the night they slept near any petrol-bunk they found on the way.  

When Jyoti Kumari reached home on 16 May with her dad, both were terribly exhausted. Her mother and others could not believe it could be true. The family and the villagers  had assumed that with hardly any money and no transport both Jyoti Kumari and her dad had no chance of getting back home. 

We came to know this incredible feat, because Jyoti Kumari herself, speaking to the media, narrated  in some detail how she managed to bring her injured dad on her bicycle after pedalling throughout the day for six days.

I tell you, this news item had a terrific impact on me. When I began pondering over this event and also later meditating over it prayerfully, Jyoti Kumari challenged me tremendously. She became my teacher. Her discernment about what she should do, while facing crisis after crisis at her age, is truly remarkable. Her hope and determination, planning and execution of the plan till its happy ending are truly inspiring.

Now let me share with you an attempt that I made, inspired by Jyoti Kumari. During the second part of the last year, I had to travel to Triuchirappalli (Trichy) from Chennai to visit my mother who had to go through, quite unexpectedly, a major surgery. Options were there for me, including flying to Trichy which is about 335 kms away.  Flights had resumed by then. Air travel was recommended as the safest and fastest way of travelling, because of the risks posed by Covid.

But I could hear the voice of Jyoti in me: ‘Follow me. Why not?’  Therefore after celebrating an early morning Mass, I started pedalling my old bicycle down to Trichy. I stayed in public places on the way, avoiding any parish or religious house. I rested for a couple of hours on the way. I didn’t eat anywhere. I just had a cup of tea now and then. I reached Trichy after 28 hours. I spent a day with my mom in the hospital. Then I cycled all the way back to Chennai. 

My attempt cannot be compared to what Jyoti Kumari managed to do. She covered totally a distance of 2,400 kilometres. For me it was just 670.

Before I began my bicycle trip, I prayed for nine intentions, the first of which was a speedy and complete recovery of my mother. Believe me, eight out of those nine intentions were granted by God one after the other. The way God answered some of these prayers even exceeded my expectations. Did prayer, accompanied by penance – hunger, and physical exhaustion in this case – achieve this?

Does a real life experience such as that of Jyoti Kumari have the power to motivate us? Not by itself.  But it certainly can, when we proceed to ponder in depth such an event. Lessons that we can reap from a ‘spirited’ consideration of ‘an anubhava’ can transform us.

In other words, experiences are there day in and day out. But we let them pass without trying to extract their lessons. We generally tend to take a bypass road and thereby, in the process, we miss the bus. But if we reflect prayerfully on all the curves and corners of rare life-experiences as this one, then we can see the questions they pose to us.      

If a 15-year-old village girl can do something like this for her sick father, can’t I do something similar for my mother? Unless we allow ourselves, both personally and collectively, to be challenged by happenings around, we may be judged by history as those who “just plucked blackberries” even when a bush was burning, trying to tell us something.      

Rare experiences – similar to what Jyoti Kumari had – beckon us to face every crisis and challenge, and to convert the impossible to possible. All that we need at such times is a sustained hope that makes us imagine what we pray for and a strong will. We are then sure to find a way out. We can recall here this quotable quote, attributed to St. Ignatius: ‘Do as if everything depends on you and then, pray as if everything depends on  God’.

Fr. Jerry Rosario, SJ (CEN) serves at Dhyana Ashram, Chennai where he offers close to 25 programs a year.  He is a theologian, professor, writer, pastor, and Founder – Director of Dhaanam for human  donations and Manitham for political  participation. Jerry is a tireless blood donor and motivator.