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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightBicycling for public...

Bicycling for public causes, youth find new meaning

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Bicycling for public causes, youth find new meaning
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Mumbai: Socially conscious youth in India are hopping on to their bicycles for countrywide tours to espouse public causes, which range from suicide preventing to driving awareness about the rare and debilitating Hunter syndrome.

In the last fortnight alone, Mumbai has hosted nearly half a dozen such "driven" youth who have been cycling up from the south of the Vindhyas to the Himalayan north.

Mysore-based 'tandem couple' M V Santhosh and his wife Akshatha Rao set out from their hometown on August 11 on a 'tandem' bicycle -- which has to be pedalled by the two together-- to reach out to depressed and suicidal children and create awareness about the issue.

The 30-something couple, who earn their living by teaching ballroom dance in Mysore pedalled over 2,000 kilometres to reach Mumbai earlier this week winning adulation and creating awareness along the way in whomever they met up with.

"We gatecrash into schools, colleges and other educational institutions on our way and engage with students and talk about depression and suicide.

"Group sessions can lead to individual sessions and we hope we have been able to prevent some children from taking the extreme step of suicide," says Santhosh.

The duo say they have taken "at least a year off" from their routine and hope to cycle across all the states.

Santhosh says the bicycle helps to establish a quick connect with people and admits that the presence of his wife helps inspire people, especially girl students.

"There are different points of inspirations... at some places, we also show them some western dance moves and once the walls come down, we begin speaking on the subject," Akshatha chips in.

On November 20, another youngster Rahul Kumawat, began a one month cycle expedition to Delhi from Chennai, where he is employed with an auto manufacturer. Kumawat says he hopes to cycle the nearly 3,200 kilometres distance to spread awareness about multiple causes- cancer and blood donation along with the progressive genetic disorder Hunter Syndrome.

He is also supporting the 'Save Arian campaign' launched to support Arian, a 11-year-old boy in West Bengal diagnosed with the debilitating and progressive hunter Syndrome, which decreases life expectancy.

Cyclists have hit on innovative ways, including dipping into personal savings and appealing to locals to fund their rides. Santhosh and Akshatha, however, say they have a very unique model.

"We set out with hardly any money in our bank accounts. We generally don't pay for our stays and look for people to host us. Apart from that, we also take up dance classes to earn some money as we pedal up, which may end up extending our stay in a city," says Akshatha.

The cyclists have a storehouse of stories about their road tour experiences.

"When I mention blood donation, people enquire whether I had cycled from Chennai to Delhi just to donate blood. Even worse when I talk of cancer, some just walk away," Rahul recalls.

Apart from the Mysore couple and Kumawat, other cyclists on their individual missions, have also passed through Mumbai recently.

Unni Karunakara, a doctor, is pedalling 5,000 kilometres from Kashmir to Kerala, to create a dialogue on healthcare and humanitarianism, while Mark Ellison ended his two year effort of cycling over 16,000 km along the country's borders to raise funds for an NGO-backed by actor Shabana Azmi.

British by birth, Ellison has been living in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh since 2004.

Espousing causes on bicycles is not a recent phenomenon Noted social worker Baba Amte had cycled with the youth from Kanyakumari to Kashmir way back in 1985-86 as part of his Bharat Jodo Abhiyan, and followed it up with a similar ride in 1986-87 from Itanagar to Okha in Gujarat.

There are others like the Coimbatore-based coconut farmer Vasanth Velusami, who cycled 9,865 km across the country last year with his relative Vidyasekhar to promote sustainable farming.

"Those four months were a life changing experience and I can take on any challenge now. I started out with my mobile's phonebook having 300 contacts, today it is 1,400 and all of those are in good touch," Velusami says.

The farmer says many people had visited his farm in Coimbatore, while he has also travelled till Srinagar to meet the friends he made on the ride.

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