P.K. Mahanandia grew up in the east of India, born into the Dalit caste. He was regarded as one of the “untouchables,” or on the lowest rung of society. But despite his lowly beginnings, he would go on to have a remarkable life.
Unfortunately, though, as a young boy Mahanandia was rejected by people of other castes. He wasn’t even permitted to join his schoolmates in the classroom and, instead, had to sit in a corridor. Even more horrifically, people went so far as to throw stones at him because of his low status.
Despite his miserable childhood, though, Mahanandia was determined to make something of his life. And so he worked hard and eventually became a respected sketch artist in the Indian capital of Delhi.
What’s more, it was through his work as an artist that in 1975 he met someone very special indeed. For while he was busy producing “ten-minute portraits” in Delhi, a 19-year-old Swedish girl was making her way down to India.
Charlotte Von Schedvin was enjoying a road trip with friends down the infamous “hippy trail” from Europe to India. And three weeks after setting off from Scandinavia, then traveling through Iran and Afghanistan, they finally arrived at their destination.
While she was in Delhi, meanwhile, Von Schedvin came across Mahanandia’s stall in the city’s Connaught Place and decided to have her portrait taken.But she wasn’t very impressed by Mahanandia’s first sketch of her; as a result, then, she decided to return the next day to ask for another.
After Mahanandia first laid eyes on Von Schedvin, though, she left quite the impression on him – so big was it, in fact, that he “got nervous in the stomach.” It made him think back to the time his mother read his palm leaf horoscope, which had said he would end up marrying a “white woman from a faraway land.” Could this really be love?
But Mahanandia had been too nervous to ask the Swedish girl if she conformed to the other predictions his mother had made about his future wife. These were that she would be a Taurus, enjoy music and own a jungle.
When she returned the next day, however, Mahanandia eventually plucked up the courage to ask her. And, unbelievably, Von Schedvin revealed that she was indeed a Taurus. Plus, she played the piano and her noble Swedish family owned a forest. Mahanandia couldn’t believe his ears.
The pair clicked immediately and spent a wonderful month in each other’s company. In 2016 Mahanandia would go on to tell the BBC that they “were drawn to each other like magnets,” adding that it was a definite example of “love at first sight.”
And the lovebirds became inseparable, with Von Schedvin traveling to Mahanandia’s home village to meet his family. With his relatives in attendance, they even participated in a traditional tribal wedding ceremony. Shortly after that memorable moment, though, the relationship became a little more complicated.
Specifically, the time had come for Von Schedvin to go home to Sweden. But Mahanandia still had a year of college to finish and decided to stay in India, meaning that he would have to wave goodbye to the love of his life. Would they ever see each other again?
And their situation wasn’t helped by the fact that Mahanandia couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Sweden. A whole year passed, then, with the couple keeping their love alive just through long letters to each other. But if they were to be together again in person, Mahanandia knew he had to think of something fast before she forgot him entirely.
In fact, Mahanandia finally decided that enough was enough. He sold all his possessions and bought a bike, determined to cycle all the way to his sweetheart and using the same route upon which Von Schedvin herself had traveled.
He left on two wheels in January 1977 and pedaled more than 40 miles each day in his quest to be reunited with his lover. And while it was an exhausting trek, Mahanandia was overwhelmed by the support he received from people along the way; one kind soul went so far as to give him a train ticket from Istanbul to Vienna.
Eventually, and after four grueling months on the saddle, he entered Europe on May 28, 1977. By the time he reached Gothenburg in Sweden, moreover, he had traveled an incredible 2,200 miles across eight different countries.
Inevitably, Mahanandia experienced quite a culture shock when he arrived in Europe. “I had no idea about European culture. It was all new to me,” he told the BBC. But everything was eclipsed by the fact that Von Schedvin was by his side once again – and they were still madly in love even after all the time apart.
Fast forward to the present day, then, and the couple still live in Sweden and Mahanandia is still an artist. But the pair now have two children, and the Indian native can now call himself Dr. P.K. Mahanandia. What’s more, the man who cycled thousands of miles for love has since been a Indian cultural ambassador of India to Sweden. And, most impressively, he was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2005.
Yet while the 64-year-old has come a very long way from his poverty-stricken roots in India, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. In particular, he continues to fail to understand the fuss about his big cycle trip. “I did what I had to, I had no money but I had to meet her,” he said to the BBC. “I was cycling for love, but never loved cycling. It’s simple.”
And, naturally, Mahanandia and Von Schedvin’s touching story has captured the hearts of many, not to mention having caught the eyes of filmmakers. Perhaps that’s because Mahanandia’s determination to reunite with his love provides a lesson to us all – that anything is possible if you want it enough.