The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
7/10 A nice story that keeps you engaged and gives you a glimpse into a life of a jungle boy from rural India. I learned a lot about the Indian caste system and how being a skillful artist can help you make the ends meet. Certainly not a cant-put-it-down type of book, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. Slightly disappointed in the lack of actual cycling :)
A boy born in rural India receives a prophecy of marrying a woman from a far away land. As the title suggest, the prophecy comes true, but there are a lot of obstacles that precede it. Pradyumna Kumar, PK, needs to first grow up and face the reality of the India’s caste system where, because of his origin, he occupies the lower ranks. Once old enough, PK moves away from his village to New Delhi, where he relentlessly pursues his dream of becoming an artist. Again, obstacles pave his way, but the prophecy is strong, and he eventually meets Lotta, a Swedish traveler, who he falls in love with. From there on, it is a ride-or-die relationship which leads him to pursuing Lotta all the way to her hometown, Boras in Sweden… on a bike… from New Delhi. Yet more obstacles emerge, but PK persists, and eventually becomes a proper Swedish citizen, with a Swedish family but a never-perishing connection to his home village in India.
MY FAVORITE SNIPPET:
He is invited home by one of the head doctors at Kandahar hospital. He has seen PK’s portraits on the streets of the city and wants him to draw one of his four wives.
PK walks into a circular room crowned by an immense semi-circular sofa. This is where the doctor’s first, second and third wives are sitting. Their faces are uncovered, a rare sight in Afghanistan. Perhaps they only need to wear burqas when going outside, PK reflects.
Then, a figure enters. A walking tent, but somewhere deep inside the burqa there is, PK assumes, a person. The doctor points to the fabric and he understands: this is his fourth wife, and PK will be drawing her. PK is left alone in a side room, facing her. He is petrified, unable to bring himself to draw a piece of cloth.
She removes the burqa. He is even more surprised. She is wearing a tight T-shirt, jeans and high-heeled shoes. A thick layer of make-up has been painted on her face and the sweet smell of perfume hangs like a cloud around her. But she cannot be older than fifteen. She is beautiful, very beautiful even, in complete contrast to the dull, heavy fabric of her covering. But her age saddens him. He thinks of her husband, the head doctor. Sixty-four, wrinkled, bald and with a fat belly. The poor girl! What a miserable future!
His sorrow then turns to anger. These outdated traditions, polygamy and arranged marriages, they have to be stopped. Love cannot be planned and controlled. Love must be free. In the future, the people of Afghanistan and India must be able to choose for themselves who they will marry.
The girl’s husband keeps popping his head in, asking when he will be done. He should really start now. But he cannot, his mind is spinning and he feels paralysed. Instead, he asks the beautiful fourth wife:
‘Are you happy?’
‘Yes, I’m happy,’ she answers quickly.
‘But your husband, do you really love him?’
‘In your heart?’
‘I really love him.’
‘But do you think he loves you?’
‘But he has three other wives.’
‘He loves me most.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I get whatever I want. I just have to point. If I want a new perfume from Paris, he makes a call and then a week later it arrives in the mail.’
‘But wouldn’t it be better to marry a boy your own age?’
‘I don’t trust men my age, they say all kinds of pretty things, tell you they love you, but they never keep their promises.’
She sounds brainwashed, he thinks, but he does not say this.
‘He only sleeps with me, not the other three,’ she says.
PK turns to the work at hand. And yet he keeps thinking about her life choices. Maybe she sees something he cannot. He thinks of a story his mother used to tell him as a boy about six blind men and their encounter with an elephant. The first man approaches the elephant and grabs hold of one of the animal’s legs. ‘Ah, the elephant is a tree, this is the trunk,’ he says. The next blind man goes round the back and takes hold of the tail. ‘You fool, the elephant is a kind of rope.’ The third blind man stretches out his hands and feels the trunk. ‘You’re both wrong. The elephant is a type of snake.’ The fourth man reaches for the tusks. ‘What nonsense. The elephant is a kind of spear.’ The fifth man grabs the elephant’s ear. ‘No, no, the elephant is a type of fan for when the weather gets hot.’ Finally, the last blind man approaches the belly. ‘You are all wrong. The elephant is a wall.’ The six blind men turn to the elephant keeper. ‘Which of us is right?’ they ask. ‘You are all right, and you are all wrong,’ says the elephant keeper. We’re both blind, the doctor’s wife and I, PK reflects. We only see and understand what is right in front of us.