Rakesh Anand Bakshi is a cyclist in Mumbai who started a non profit initiative “Bicycle Angels” through which his friends, acquaintances and even strangers have donated about 170 cycles. He is easygoing, has twinkling eyes, was born and lives in Mumbai.
Hi Rakesh, please tell about yourself nutshell.
I’m an author, want to be a film-maker, have written a few scripts for Bollywood, written Hindi dialogues for the Walt Disney movie “Million Dollar Arm”. My last book was Directors’ Diaries. I am now writing a book on the journeys of our radio jockeys – ‘Let’s Talk on Air’, then a book called ‘Fitness Sculptors’ and another on the inspiring women I have come across – ‘In Her Words’.
And what’s Bicycle Angels? How did it start?
When I would cycle in Mumbai, wearing expensive gear and a helmet, riding a cycle worth half a lakh rupees, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty passing the the pavwala, newspaperwala, chaiwala, and others, working hard for twenty rupees. The gap was just too much!
So, I asked about thirty friends of mine to chip in a hundred bucks each, towards buying a cycle for someone who couldn’t afford one. The response was overwhelming and thus began Bicycle Angels!
You say ‘Donate a Cycle, Donate a Livelihood’. How’s that?
Once when I started talking to a chaiwala, Susheel – “Kya karte ho, kaise karte ho?/ What do you do? How do you manage?” I realized – “Ek cycle se poora khandaan khata hai./A whole family gets fed due to one cycle.” He said a used cycle would cost about Rs 800-Rs1500 and when I offered to get him one he touched my feet. I was deeply struck by the reality that we spend this much money on watching a movie, having buttered popcorn but for someone else it is such a big deal!
And then you developed a system?
I don’t have a system as such. I don’t hold any money. I just ask my friends to transfer it directly to the shop we buy the cycle from. Sometimes donors say – “Rakesh why aren’t you taking my money?” And so I made a publicly visible waiting list on the Bicycle Angels’ facebook group. Here donors can see when their turn is coming. Only sometimes I may break the order if someone says “My grandmother’s birthday is coming up. Please let me donate on so and so date!” I also send donors an audio file of my conversation with the beneficiary, so they can see who they’ve helped and how.
How do you choose who to help?
I just find them on the street, and start talking to them, asking about their life, their struggles. If I think the person needs a cycle I offer them one, but only if they pay half the price. That way I am able to see who really needs a cycle and who is just looking for freebies. Ultimately, I may ask them to pay nothing at all. Most of my beneficiaries are struggling but self-respecting individuals who work hard to earn a livelihood but are struggling and could go miles ahead with just a little help.
And how do they react to your offer?
One guy said ‘Saab, mazaak kyun karte ho?/ Sir, why do you joke?’
Another said “Poori zindagi, kabhi bhi kisi ne mujhe kuch nahi diya. Yeh pehli baar ho raha hai aur woh bhi Bambayii shehr mein./ No one has ever given me anything in life, and now this is happening for the first time, that too in a city like Mumbai.”
One said “Humko nahi chahiye. Mere paas chhat hai, khaana hai./ I don’t want a cycle. I have a roof over my head, and have food.” He asked me to help someone else.
Some people start crying like one man who had spent his life savings of Rs 40,000 on his wife’s illness and now had nothing left. Instances like this reminded me of the value of money and I no longer feel like splurging on a new iPhone I don’t really need.
When I ask beneficiaries “What will you do with the bus-fare you’ll save?”, you will be surprised that many say “I will put the savings in my daughter’s bank account”. I feel many people don’t hate a girl child. Some say “Mera sabse badi khushi ka din tha jab meri beti paida hui./ The happiest day in my life was when my daughter was born.”
How far has Bicycle Angels come?
Now, we also help cerebral palsy patients with walkers and wheelchairs, and educate visually impaired students with a government recognized literacy degree so that they can navigate the digital world that they cannot touch and see like the physical world.
To help children with cerebral palsy I visited a special children’s school in Bandra. There, I asked the parents what hopes they had for their children. The boys’ parents said their dream was that the kid could urinate on his own, and girls’ parents hoped their child could wear her undergarments on her own. Many said – “Who will take care of my child once I am gone? I just want God to call my child before he calls me.”
Experiences like this have taught me the value of my own gift, my legs, health and abilities. You know who is the biggest beneficiary of Bicycle Angels? Who gets the most? It is me.
How can others contribute or help?
Why do you have to help me, or get involved with me? Don’t you live in homes where there are poor people around you. Look 1km around your house, or 3km or 5km. You will find someone to talk to, listen to and help. Why do you have to follow? Be a leader.
Most people think giving money is charity, but even sharing your smile generously is charity. Your time, your vision, your thoughts and actions towards helping another person without expecting a favour in return, is something that not even the best economist in the world can equate to money.
Read about the beneficiaries and how getting a cycle helped them in their lives here – https://bicycleangels.wordpress.com/
Watch Rakesh tell the story here – https://goo.gl/9Cs4d2
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