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Pedalling for hope

Last updated on: November 13, 2014 18:27 IST

'It is a fact that we are all wired internally to give and share. What holds us back is the glue of inertia,' says Jasmeet Gandhi as he sets out on a 1,000 kilometre cycling journey to raise money for children afflicted with eye cancer.

newI have never been the kind to live my life as per Maslow's hierarchy… no one consciously does.

But, when you look back at your life, or at any one’s life, you realise we are stumbling our way through various stages of Maslow’s timeless pyramid. (External link: Click here to read about Maslow and his theory).

Wondering why I am musing about this basic but very relevant life/economic theory?

Well, when I announced my intention to cycle 1,000 kilometres to raise awareness and money for a charitable foundation, I was met with a cocktail of reactions ranging from the incredulous to the ridiculous (left: Bhavyashree, one of the children being supported by the Iksha Foundation. Photograph courtesy: Iksha Foundation).

The common denominator was that everyone believed I had definitely transcended beyond basic needs to a higher plane of consciousness in Maslow's hierarchy… towards self-actualisation. You could loosely interpret this as 'Poora vela hai (he has nothing better to do)'.

In fact, now that I am a few hours away from the flag-off, I am reminded about the stupefied reaction of a close relative, "Hain… sacchi? Par kyon? (Huh… really? But why?)"

What started off as a casual discussion is now staring me in the face like an arm wrestler from across the table, all set to test my strength (physical and mental!), my resolve and, above all, perhaps the limits of my foolhardiness.

What was I thinking? A 1,000 km ride on Indian highways??

For someone whose best distance has been 70-80 kilometres, it is like thinking you can run a full marathon just because you can run behind your nephew’s toddler a few hours every week.

Now that I have extracted my fears from the depth of my gut and put them on the table for all to stare at, let me talk about the positives.

Firstly, I am finally done with being an armchair do-gooder.

I always thought that outsourcing my benevolence by signing an occasional cheque for a cause here and a natural disaster there absolves me of taking action, of proving my ability to dedicate myself to a cause. A cause that extends beyond the well-being of my family and the immediate circle of my responsibilities.

Secondly, it has provided a much needed dose of motivation to my passion for cycling.

Third, and most importantly, it has given me a chance to test myself far beyond any boundaries I have ever pushed myself to earlier. This journey will either make me or break me… whatever the result, I believe I will come out much stronger.

Lately, I have been meeting a lot of people to pitch the cause and ask them for personal contributions or corporate sponsorships. And there’s one question that everyone I meet asks, "Why did you choose this cause or this method of raising money?"

Frankly, I think it all comes down to what we call 'the stars being aligned'.

It is a fact that we are all wired internally to give and share. What holds us back is the glue of inertia.

Jasmeet Gandhi

A few months ago, at a five-star hotel in Bengaluru, over a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, I met my inspiration -- Thanmaya Bekkalale, founder of Iksha foundation (Jasmeet Gandhi, above. Photograph: Khushi Gandhi).

An information technology professional with a responsible day job, he and his friends run a foundation focused on providing medical aid to underprivileged kids affected by eye cancer. They make a meaningful impact in the lives of children who do not have access to primary healthcare.

Thanmaya is living example of someone who chose not to hide behind the convenient excuse of a 'hectic lifestyle'.

The icing on the cake was our shared passion -- cycling. One thing led to another and, before I knew it, Umeed -- a 1,000 km ride to spread awareness and raise money about a disease that has very low awareness -- was born.

It is a little known fact that Retinoblastoma or eye cancer, which is genetic in nature, affects children between the age of two months and five years. It starts within the retina of the eye and, if not detected early, can prove fatal.

The good part is that, unlike other cancers, Retinoblastoma does not require extensive lab tests. It can be detected in a physical examination and the cure rate is very high, almost 95 per cent, if detected in time.

As expected, there is also a high instance of such cases (almost 92 per cent) in Third World countries where around 80 per cent of the afflicted children lose the battle due to late detection.

Mostly, when confronted with such mortifying data, we have one of two reactions.

One, consider them for what they are – facts. Write them off as an unfortunate circumstance someone else has to live through. Leave it to some higher power. At worst, leave it to the government. After all, what can an individual do?

Alternately, feel the passion of the person narrating those facts and latch on to that fleeting moment of genuine empathy before it slips into the stream of Time forever.

I latched on.

It may seem Bollywoodish but, once I decided I was going to do this trip, it was like the universe was conspiring to make it happen.

I took on an ambitious target of raising Rs 1 million (Rs 10 lakhs) and I am within touching distance of that amount.

I have four commercial sponsor logos on my jersey; a Bollywood/Tollywood starlet has agreed to flag off the event from Mumbai; radio, press and television interviews have helped.

I have unknown people offering me (and my support crew) their house to stay in overnight during the ride and possibly a very famous ex-cricketer to receive me at the end of the ride.

All this, within two months of starting the effort... It feels like the book The Secret is playing itself out in my life.

And so, on November 14, I will embark on what looks like a very long and exciting 10-day sojourn on National Highway 47 from Mumbai to Bengaluru (Jasmeet aims to reach Bengaluru on Sunday, November 23).

With Umeed, I take my first tentative steps to rise to the next level in Maslow’s triangle.

If you want to help bring light into a child's life, click here.

To follow Jasmeet's gruelling ride, click here. He will be updating you with photos, videos and messages as he pedals his way to Bengaluru.

Jasmeet Gandhi