What would you do for love? Would you cross an ocean? Would you jump out of a plane? Would you travel more than 6,000 miles using the strength of your legs alone?
Well, the latter is what Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia in order to be with beloved.
Mahanandia was born in an eastern village in India into one of the lowest castes possible which meant as an untouchable he was meant to live in poverty and discrimination with no chance of moving up and out of that status.
While this was true for most people in lower castes, an astrologer made a unique prediction for Mahanandia when he was born.
The astrologer told his parents that he wouldn’t have an arranged marriage like most people in India.
He would marry a woman from a faraway land, who was a Taurus, owner of a jungle or forest, and would play the flute. Mahanandia strongly believed in this prophecy when he grew up.
He went on to pursue art and eventually attended college for it where experienced discrimination.
“The caste system in India is organized racism. At home, as a child, I didn’t feel it, but when I came to school I came into contact with Hindus,” he told National Geographic. “There I felt I’m not the same as them. It’s like a skyscraper without the lift. You’re born on one floor and you die on the same floor.”
Mahanandia was working as a street artist where he met people like Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova and Indira Gandhi. He ended up becoming somewhat famous for his portraits.
That’s also how he met his future wife. Charlotte Von Schedvin, who comes from Swedish nobility, was visiting India as a tourist when she became intrigued by how he could make a portrait in 10 minutes.
Mahanandia was so distracted by the prediction that Von Schedvin came back three times for a portrait that came out right.
“I remember clearly: It was December 17, 1975. A woman with long beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes approached me. It was evening. When she appeared before my easel, I felt as though I didn’t have any weight. Words are not accurate enough to express such a feeling,” he reminisces.
“Her eyes were so blue and big and round, I felt as if she was not looking at me, she was looking inside me, like an X-ray machine! I thought I must do justice to her beauty. But I couldn’t do it the first time. I was nervous, my hand was shaking. So I said, ‘Is it possible for you to come back tomorrow?””
Mahanandia says something inside of him prompted him to question her about her zodiac sign, musical inclinations, and her background to find out if she was “the one.” And it turns out that she completely fit the description the astrologer gave.
“It was an inner voice that said to me that she was the one. During our first meeting, we were drawn to each other like magnets. It was love at first sight,” Mahanandia told the BBC. “I still don’t know what made me ask her the questions and then invite her for tea. I thought she would complain to the police.”
Well, she didn’t and found that there was something honest about him. The two eventually fell in love after spending a few days together. The two were wed according to tribal tradition.
Von Schedvin had to return home to Sweden with her friends but made him promise to eventually join her.
They kept in touch over the next year but Mahanandia didn’t have enough money for a plane ticket. Eventually, he couldn’t stand being apart from her anymore. So, he sold everything he owned and bought a bicycle to take the “hippie trail” through Europe Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to Sweden.
He would bike about 44 miles a day and would draw portraits of people who gave him money, food, or shelter.
It was easy to get around back then since countries didn’t require passports.
“Again art came to my rescue. I think love is the universal language and people understand that,” he said. “Those were different days. I think people had more free time then to entertain a wanderer like me.”
His legs would ache and cause him pain but the thought of his beloved kept him going.
It took him five months to reach her.
It took a while for Von Schedvin’s parents to agree to their union, but eventually, they made an exception to the rule that prevented royalty from marrying dark-skinned people.
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They got married, had two children, and inspired the world with their love.
“I am still in love just as I was in 1975,” Mahanandia said. “I did what I had to, I had no money but I had to meet her. I was cycling for love but never loved cycling. It’s simple.”
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