How far would you go for love? We know of people who had each other’s names inked on their bodies, of people who moved cities or even countries just to be together, of people who kept their love alive for years only through letters, of people who give their love the last slice of pepperoni pizza (aree, it’s a big deal!) and so much more. Nope, today we aren’t judging which of these actions were a tad too much or what not. Today, let’s just allow our minds to think of all these stories we’ve read or heard or maybe even experienced ourselves! Just for the love of love itself. Let’s think to ourselves in the quiet about how far we would go and while you marvel over this, I’m going to tell you a story. A story of how in the face of the unthinkable love somehow not only thinks but also leaps, sprints, dances and rejoices. A story of an Indian man who back in 1975 cycled from our country to all the way in Europe to be reunited with the love of his life.
It was on a winter evening in Delhi, when a young girl of Swedish origin was roaming around the popular Connaught Place in our capital when she decided to get a portrait made as she had read in the newspaper about a man who possessed the talent of making one under 10 minutes! Even today the circle remains packed with street artists and it seems such was the case some decades ago as well. The artist in question had received local fame through the media and made portraits of many including a former Vice President of India, BD Jatti. The girl would ask this man to make her portrait unaware that in that moment she had acquainted herself with her to be husband of 40 plus years. But what would a romance be without a flashback, right? So, let’s hit the rewind button and find ourselves in a remote village in Orissa called Angul. The hero of this story, Pradyumna Kumar “PK” Mahanandia was born in 1949 that too to the Dalit community. The latter part may not seem relevant right now but a little over half a century ago, it meant a lot of things. PK spoke of how he was made to sit in the back of his classroom, how other children would not touch him or share food and water with him. When he met the story’s heroine, Charlotte Von Schedvin, he found acceptance that he hadn’t always received through his life. But it wasn’t that alone. When PK was born an astrologer gave the prophecy that he would marry a woman from a faraway land who would own a forest or a jungle, be of the Taurus zodiac sign and play a musical instrument. So, while Charlotte found herself unimpressed with the skills of this artist that the media had covered, she didn’t know that behind his sheets the artist was actually remembering the prophecy.
Thus, in the biting Delhi winter evening, as PK’s hands shook with nervousness looking at the beautiful blonde with blue eyes in front of him, he failed to get the portrait right and had to ask her to come back thrice. During each of these meetings, he started to ask her some questions. The woman from the faraway land turned out to in fact be born under the Taurus sun-sign, own part of a forest land and even played the piano and the flute! He nervously told her that it was written in the skies and that they were destined to meet. He even told her that she would become his wife! While Charlotte calmed him down, she did smile. She smiled because since the time she was 11 years old she had yearned to visit India. She had seen black and white movies, interacted with a few Indians and had a strange fascination for our country. When she and four other friends drove a van from Sweden to India, she yet again found herself drawn, to the country, the tribal performances she saw and most of all to a curly haired boy who made portraits on the street. Although she wasn’t sure, her gut told her to explore her unexplainable connection with this man further. They visited his home village where she met his family, pulling out all the stops like draping a saree and everything. She felt as if she was returning home and believes that she has a spiritual connection to India and to PK from a past life. They got PK’s father’s blessings and married each other as per the tribal customs. Unfortunately, she had to leave India after just a few weeks to return to Sweden to finish her education. Now this may sound like that point for a holiday romance ends but in reality, this was where their romance would show its strength and depth.
Determined to follow the footsteps of his wife, PK decided to chalk out a plan. Flying was out of the question so he decided to cycle. He even bought a cycle categorized as a “ladies” cycle to cut cost. With a couple of hundred rupees and just 80 dollars, he set out on his cycle to cover a journey of over 4,000 miles on 22nd January 1976. And guess what? He disclosed later that he didn’t even like cycling! But his heart wanted to journey back to the woman who held it, so, the man would cycle about 70kms daily. Wherever possible he would take lifts through trucks. He would sleep in open places. But most of all it was his art that pulled him through. From passing over borders with expired visas, to finding accommodation, to making money, he did all through his art. Even where there was a language barrier, his art helped him make friends and he thought of it as a universal language. Another factor motivating him was Charlotte’s letters which he received in Kandahar, Kabul and Istanbul, brought to him by other travellers along the hippie trail. There were a lot of people rooting for the two to be united! In Afghanistan, he helped a German girl after she met with an accident. Once she was back home, she sent him a ticket to Vienna! Then a gallery owner moved by both, his story and his art, got him tickets till Copenhagen and further till, Gothenburg. A Dalit boy who had faced so much taboo his entire life now found not only acceptance but even support from complete strangers, many of whom didn’t even share a common language with him. He even inspired a man in Herat to overcome the fear of societal ostracization and seek out his love and later learnt that the man moved to Russia with the girl in question!
So, there he was, a 27 years old boy who had not been accepted for a large part of his life, a boy with less than 100 dollars in his pocket, a boy who used his art to make ends meet, a boy whose story had a lot of strangers praying for his happy ending, a boy whose wife’s letters kept him going as he slept under the stars and crossed boundaries in order to be with her. And on May 28th, roughly 5 months after he set out on an unimaginable adventure, he finally arrived. When he eventually saw Charlotte, he was so overwhelmed with emotions that he began to cry. He had a lot of cultural shocks and didn’t even speak the language but she held his hand through every step. They got married officially in Sweden also. Today, there’s a book written by Per J Andersson about this love story and there’s even talks of a film. Today, they have been happily married for about 45 years, have two children and are said to be just as much in love. When asked about their secret for a successful marriage, he responded “We’ve always said there is no secret. I mean that literally – never have secrets. Talk to each other. Love each other. Celebrate your differences.” And me, well, I’ll just ask you once again, how far would you go for love? ?