Thursday 18 September 2014

Out of my comfort zone

(In the second part of the blog, Anirban narrates his ride experience through Hindi heartland affected by addiction to tobacco)

From Kulti, my next stop was Topchanchi, a small town in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district. Who has not visited Topchanchi cannot make out its scenic beauty. I was spellbound by the small hillocks with lush green forests decorating both sides of the road in the Topchanchi area.

From Topchanchi town onwards, I noticed that gutka (chewing tobacco) consumption was very high instead of smoking. Here, I met Akhilesh Jadav, Topchanchi block development officer. He was very excited about my bicycle tour and the anti-tobacco campaign. After I started my ride from Kolkata, several newspapers and TV channels covered my bicycle tour and campaign. Several people in the small town seemed to have been aware of that. I delivered a small speech in a village school in Topchanchi that was arranged by Jadav.

The next day, I took a night halt at Giridih district’s Bagador, a very small town, around 45 km from Topchanchi. Here, I stayed at a house in a Muslim village. Next morning, while I was leaving the town, I stopped a while and thought how lucky I am to have born in such a beautiful country. The next night, I stayed at a roadside dhaba in the Dobhi region.

In the dhaba, I took class of truck drivers, cleaners and helpers as they all are addicted to different forms of tobacco. But the reaction from them was mixed, which I carefully noted it in my diary. My next destination was Aurangabad in Bihar where I stayed at a gurdwara with the help of a Panjabi friend in Aurangabad. Kudra is a hamlet on the border of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but nothing exciting happened in the village except I spent the night at a small temple there.

Longest state to ride

The district magistrate in Chandauli in eastern Uttar Pradesh was more than forthcoming in supporting my anti-tobacco campaign. I was greeted by the district magistrate himself. Like the BDO in Topchanchi, he also and arranged a speech of mine among his office staff and even he promised me that he was going to print posters, hand bills to distribute within his jurisdiction. That night I put up as a guest at the district magistrate’s sprawling bungalow.

Varanasi, the holy city, is really vibrant and colorful with different sadhus, food-sellers, shops and temples making the ancient town cosmopolitan. I visited different ghats and talked to people of different caste and creed regarding the effects of consuming tobacco. Here also additional district magistrate Mangla Prasad greeted me and arranged a lecture in a co-education higher secondary school. Prasad also arranged my night stay there at his bungalow.

Gopiganj, a small town in Badoli district of Uttar Pradesh, was my next stop. Here also I met villagers and tried to highlight the harmful effects of khaini and gutka. While chewing tobacco is popular in this part of India, not many people were addicted to smoking much. I put up at the local police station for the night and got a good reception there from the police staff. In all this while, I calculated that I have already spent some 20 days after leaving Kolkata.

My next destination was Allahabad, commonly known as the Prayag where three rivers meet. On way to Allahabad, I met Anil Joshi, the Padmashree man with his bicycle team. He was very glad about my bicycle trip and its motto. Joshi, the founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation, embarked on a mission to study jal-zameen-jungle from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal to Dehradun in Uttarakhand in November. I met him by sheer chance and he offered me to be a guest of honour at Allahabad University with his team. Along with Joshi, I stayed about two-three days and by this time we crossed Khagra where we stayed in a small village house. He also thanked and appreciated me for coming out with such a noble cause.

About 10 km before entering the city of Kanpur, I left Joshi because he was on a different mission and on different route. In Kanpur also, I maintained my routine to inform and alert the common people and so-called uneducated class of the society about the effects of tobacco in any form. In Kanpur, I was felicitated by Dev Sing, Kanpur CMO, and by his kind co-operation I stayed at a government bungalow. While entering Akbarpur, some villagers stopped me to know about my mission. But after knowing about my bicycle trip in a nutshell, they were overwhelmed and appreciated me from their heart. The panchayat mukhiya arranged my stay at the panchayat samiti’s guest room.

On my ride from Akbarpur to Auriya, I crossed Etawah --- the confluence of five rivers Yamuna, Chameli, Sond, Paur and Kuyare --- near Chambal ghati, the place known for its notoriety of dacoits.

After crossing Firojabad, famous for bangles, I reached the city of Taj Mahal --- Agra. It is also a city of mixed culture and religion. The city of love’s greatest monument also carries a distinguished historical value in the world’s modern history. We know about the epic love story of Shah Jehan and Mumtaj, and the construction of the Taj Mahal on the Yamuna bank. However, I maintained my routine of cycling along with informing and awakening the common mass about the lamentable effects of tobacco even in the city that epitomised love. In Agra, I was welcomed and amicably treated by the city’s biggest gurdwara.

From Agra, my ride towards Delhi covered two important cities. One is Mathura, one of the oldest cities of the civilization. The Mathura district magistrate also offered me a stay at his bungalow. These night rests helped me work relentlessly in the daylight hours when I could talk to people, teach youngsters about the evils tobacco can bring to the society. My last halt before New Delhi was Palwal where I got an accommodation at the police guesthouse.

Never ever I felt alone during my tour on the saddle as most of the people could understand the problem tobacco addiction can bring to a person’s health. 

(Revisit this blog on September 21 for the last and challenging part of his ride for cancer awareness from Kolkata to Kashmir. Picture of Topchanchi Lake sourced from the Net)

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