Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia. Photo courtesy of PK
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love chronicles the remarkable true story of how love and courage led Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, aka PK, born in a remote village of Orissa in 1949, to overcome extreme poverty, caste prejudice and adversity — as well as a 7,000-mile, adventure-filled journey across continents and cultures — to be with the woman he loved. An interview with PK about how love conquered all.
Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, aka PK, was born in a remote village of Odisha in 1949. During his childhood as an untouchable, he was at the receiving end of hardships and discrimination. He was forced to sit outside the classroom during school, would watch classmates wash themselves if they came into contact with him, and had stones thrown at him when he approached the village temple. According to the priests, PK dirtied everything that was pure and holy. But had PK not been an untouchable, his life would have turned out very differently.
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson (Oneworld) chronicles the remarkable true story of how love and courage led PK to overcome extreme poverty, caste prejudice and adversity — as well as a 7,000-mile, adventure-filled journey across continents and cultures — to be with the woman he loved.
It all seemed to be predestined. When PK was born, an astrologer had prophesied: “You will marry a girl who is not from the village, not even from the country; she will be musical, own a jungle and be born under the sign of the ox.” The prophecy came true. And PK and Charlotte (Lotta) have been happily married since 1979. They have two children and live in Boras, Sweden. He is an art and culture adviser in the Swedish government and is also the Oriya cultural ambassador to Sweden. In 2005, Mahanandia was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Excerpts from an interview:
The Punch: The book, The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J Andersson, translated by Anna Holmwood (Oneworld), chronicles your incredible story. Could you tell us about your journey to find love by cycling from India to Europe?
PK Mahanandia: I think of my life as a series of meetings with others. Some of those meetings have been hard lessons to learn and some have been blessings. I needed both to understand my life’s journey and the real value of life. Of all the lessons and blessings of my life, love is my biggest achievement — winning the heart of a woman, Charlotte (Lotta), who gave me unconditional love and power to forgive others — those who stoned, labeled or treated me as below human. By learning to forgive others, I learnt to forgive myself indirectly later in life.
The Punch: You were born in a weavers’ family in Orissa. What memories do you have of your home, your parents and family and the discrimination meted out to you during your growing-up years? Could you also tell us about your early artistic influences?
PK Mahanandia: To be an “untouchable” when I was young meant that you were rejected as a human from society when you were born — you were regarded as below even farm animals and dogs. The caste system does still exist in India in a sophisticated way, like when it comes to marriage, and it is sometimes still very brutal.
My mother used to say you cannot ferry yourself by two boats at the same time by placing your feet on each boat, one new and other old and broken. In this metaphor for India, democracy is the new boat and caste system — which I think of as being like a skyscraper without an elevator — is the old one.
The Punch: Tell us about your memories of Delhi when you arrived in the city.
PK Mahanandia: Roads in New Delhi were very clean, not many cars (mostly ambassador cars). Even strangers were meeting each other with smile. Old Indian Coffee House, close to inner circle of CP, was a great meeting place of all happy people.
The Punch: How did Delhi’s College of Art help hone your artistic sensibilities?
PK Mahanandia: MF Husain used to come to college barefoot as a guest teacher. All teachers and principal were very helpful, especially when we six students got the permission to exhibit under the huge colourful fountain (no more there; I miss it whenever I visit CP).
The Punch: Tell us about the prophecy about you finding your love which turned out to be true. Did you believe in the prophecy?
PK Mahanandia: In the beginning, I did not believe but when good things happened, I began believing more and more in astrology: planets and stars influence us all the time. I have become more conscious about this heavenly phenomena.
The Punch: How did Charlotte Von Schedvin (Lotta) respond to your proposal of marriage?
PK Mahanandia: I didn’t propose her on the first meeting. I proposed her properly a few days after our first meeting at the Mogul Garden of Rashtrapati Bhavan. I gave her a ring I made myself, with her name written in Oriya language (not gold).
However, I felt strongly that she was the one. When she replied to my questions, I got to know that she belonged to Taurus zodiac sign, was the second child of her parents, belonged to European nobility, played piano and flute, owned forest land and lakes and was adventurous, etc.
She drove her car all the way from west Sweden to New Delhi and had parked a few metres from where I was sketching. On our first meeting, she took out the best in me. I became a romantic person, started singing, and took her to show the film Sholay. Very quickly, she could imitate Hindi songs like Khana peena saath hei, marna jeena saath hai …….yeh dostee…., etc
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