The love story of Dr. Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia from India and Charlotte Von Schedvin from Sweden will make you believe that I am quoting a story from a movie or a book.
The epic tale is set in 1970s. Born in a poor weaver’s family in 1949, Pradyumna Kumar (PK) and his family were considered untouchables and they hardly had any money to make the ends meet.
A young untouchable boy from Dhenkanal, Odisha, PK was a gifted artist but his education was something that his family couldn’t afford. Due to the dreaded caste system, which was still at its peak at that time, PK would often face insults from people of higher caste.
But the daily life struggles and insults didn’t demoralise PK and he worked hard to make his way to Delhi’s College of Art in 1971, where he made a name for himself making portraits.
By 1975, he was so popular that 19-year-old student Charlotte Von Sledvin, traveled all the way from London to India to get her portrait made by PK.
Their love story soon blossomed as PK was possessed by her beauty and she by his simplicity.
Soon, they married following a traditional ceremony and Charlotte took the Indian name of Charulata.
Over the months their love only deepened and when it was time for Charlotte to leave, she asked her husband, PK to join her.
Though tempted, PK refused as he was still a student and wanted to finish his studies. Belonging to a rich royal family, Charlotte offered to send him air tickets, but PK refused and said he would come and meet her on his own accord.
After she left, they both kept in touch through letters and their love for each other only deepened.
Though he was eager to meet her, PK’s financial condition stood in the way to fulfill his promise of meeting her.
But he was not the one to give up and he decided to sell all his belongings to buy a second-hand bicycle and decided to do the unthinkable, ride all the way to Sweden from India.
Carrying all his paints and brushes along, he set out on a voyage in 1978 to the Far West with the hope to reunite with his love.
Cycling his way from New Delhi, PK travelled all the way to Amritsar before entering Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria and Denmark. On his way his cycle broke down many times, but he didn’t let that break his spirit. He fixed it and carried on, even if it meant that that he had to go without food for days.
After four months and three weeks, PK finally reached Gothenburg, Sweden, the country, where the love of his life was.
This was the time when visa and travel documents were not required to enter many countries. Thus when he crossed the Swedish border and the immigration officer questioned him, they were amazed to learn that he had come all the way from India riding just a bicycle.
PK narrated his whole story to them, and told them the reason behind his visit.
He then produced a photographs of his marriage with Charlotte and the authorities were surprised to learn that Charlotte, who was of a royal descent in Europe had married a a poor Indian man and didn’t believe PK.
The sudden revelation about Charlotte’s royal descent, also made even PK sceptical and he was no longer sure whether his lady love would accept him or not.
But all his worries were unnecessary, as when Charlotte learned about the man from India who cycled all the way form India to meet her, she rushed to meet PK and drove to Gothenburg and received her husband with unbridled happiness.
Charlotte’s parents too accepted Pradyumna as a part of their family and welcomed him with open arms, a move that broke the royal tradition that prohibited non-white people from residing with the nobles.
It has now been 40 years since the two had married. Pradyumna over the years has been awarded an a doctorate and is now Dr PK Mahanandia who serves as the Odiya Cultural Ambassador of India to Sweden.
He now lives in Sweden with his wife Charlotte and two children, Emelie and Karl-Siddhartha.
The village that had shunned him in 1950s and called him an untouchable, now welcomes him with open arms and gives him a thundering welcome every time he visit.
Now, PK is a well known artist in Sweden and also works as an adviser to the Art and Culture department, under the Swedish Government.
Swedish Government, in turn has honoured the duo’s love story and has made films to document this immortal love for each other and called it the love of the century.
PK’s paintings have made its way to many major exhibition across the world and have even found a place in the prestigious UNICEF greeting cards.
PK was awarded his honorary doctorate degree on January 4, 2012, from Utkal University of Culture (UUC) in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.