Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, aka PK, was born in the remote village of Orissa in eastern India and his childhood as an untouchable was one of crushing hardship and prejudice. Yet throughout it all, he kept a palm leaf bearing an astrologer's prophecy: "You will marry a girl who is not from the village, not even from the country; she will be musical, own a jungle and be born under the sign of the ox".
Incredibly, it was a prophecy that would come true, but only after a remarkable, 7,000-mile journey that would take PK, armed with only a handful of paintbrushes and a second-hand bicycle across continents and cultures to be with the woman he loved.
PK and Lotta have been happily married since 1979. They have two children and live in Boras, Sweden. He is an art and culture adviser in the Swedish government and is also the Oriya cultural ambassador to Sweden. Two years ago Mahanandia was awarded an honorary doctorate from his state university, and in 2005 nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
When P K Mahanandia was born in 1949 in a weaver's family in Orissa, the village astrologer predicted that he would marry a girl who lived outside the country and she would be born under the sign of an ox. He also said that the girl would come looking for him.
PK grew up facing taunts and constant chides as he was born into an "untouchable" community. Though he felt like giving up on life many times, this prophecy gave him a ray of hope.
As time passed, PK found his way into Delhi's College of Art, to study fine arts where he gained respite from the treatment back home in Orissa.
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|Pradyumna Kumar with Lotta || |
After struggling initially, his ability to draw portraits earned him recognition. He shot into prominence when he presented Prime Minister Indira Gandhi a portrait that he had drawn of her.
One winter evening as he sat drawing portraits for people at Connaught Place he first laid eyes on Charlotte Von Schedvin (Lotta), who had driven all the way from London.
She asked him for a portrait. That portrait changed their lives; PK was drawn to her, especially whenever his gaze met her deep blue eyes. Soon, they fell in love with each other and married. Charlotte had to return to Sweden and asked Pradyumna to come with her, but he decided that one day he would go on his own. After she left, the two kept in touch through letters.
Realising that he would not be able to muster the money to buy an air ticket, PK decided to do the unthinkable; he came up with the audacious idea of cycling all the way to her in Gothenburg in Sweden.
When PK set off on his bicycle from Delhi on a nearly five-month long journey in 1977, he had no idea of geography or how big Europe was. In fact the simple PK did not even know that Sweden was not the same as Switzerland. All he had was a sleeping bag, a blue windbreaker, an extra pair of trousers, a blue shirt gifted to him by Lotta and $80 in cash.
India was a popular part of the hippie trail back in the 1970s. It was a very different world back then, when happiness, peace and freedom prevailed. He set off on his cycle to find Lotta. The journey was a memorable one where PK was exposed to many cultures, people and also a few setbacks.
His first hurdle was at the Indo-Pak border at Amritsar where the officer tossed his passport and refused to let him pass through. Not willing to give up easily, PK decided to draw their portraits. When he showed them their portrait sketches, they relented. PK was allowed to enter Pakistan. After spending several days and making new acquaintances, he was offered a plane ticket to Kabul, while his cycle was transported via a van by a German hippie.
He continued to embrace the several experiences that came his way whether it was being covered on Kabul Times, hounded by hungry stray dogs, rescuing a battered European girl whom he nursed back to health or learning from a Belgium traveller that Sweden was different from Switzerland.
It was on reaching Iran that he encountered tough times. Being far from civilization, he could not buy anything and was forced to survive merely on just one fruit. This left him feeling exhausted and as he continued pedalling, and he realised he was being driven by emotion more than anything. Managing to grab food offered by some kind-hearted Persian women, PK continued on this road less travelled.
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|Pradyumna Kumar with Lotta and their son Siddharth (Karle) and daughter Emelie || |
Besides battling the tough conditions that he was subjected to, PK also had to battle his inner demons where doubts began to creep about his significance in Lotta's life. He feared that she might not want him after all his exertions.
On nearing his destination, he took the train from Istanbul to Vienna where he got his firstglimpse of Europe. He learnt to develop a thick skin after being warned about the cold demeanour and racist mindset of the Europeans. His last hurdle was at the German border where the tight lipped and hard-faced German guards refused to relent despite narrating his fantastic journey.
PK was on a verge of a breakdown at the possibility of being made to turn back after reaching so close to his destination. It took some amount of convincing and tears to assure them that he was married to a Swedish woman that they ultimately relented.
The meeting with Lotta at Boras in Sweden was surreal. They married gain in 1979 and PK settled down with Lotta at her home in Boras, slowly getting accustomed to Swedish culture. They have two children - son Siddharth (Karle) and daughter Emelie.
Well known in Sweden as an artist, he works as an adviser on art and culture for the Swedish government. His works have been exhibited across the world. UNICEF has used his paintings for its greeting cards.
In 2012, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Utkal University of Culture (UUC) in Bhubaneshwar. He has been named by the state government as its Oriya cultural ambassador to Sweden.
The Orissa born boy's journey from a village untouchable to artistic renown as Dr PK Mahanandia has come full circle.
(See: PK recounts his incredible journey to domain-b's Swetha Amit )