Monday 15 September 2014

Ride against cancer

(In 2012, Discover on Wheels founder-member Anirban Acharya pedalled from Kolkata to Kashmir to raise awareness against tobacco consumption. He narrates his incredible experience in this three-part blog starting September 15, 2014)

Since my childhood I have been wanderlust by nature. 
I visited different places of India not only for mere travelling but to know about the people of my beloved country. Travelling to historical places, pilgrimage, seaside, forests, different towns, mountains helps know me about the varied culture and rituals of this vast country.
India is really a place of pomp and grandeur but what I noticed common among all the inhabitants of India — irrespective of any culture and religion — is “addiction to tobacco”: from east to west, north to south. I was in a state of confusion that why this particular from of “addiction” is so common and popular from rural to urban India.

After a study, I found that “tobacco”, a tall perennial herbaceous flowering plant and belonging to the solanaceae or nightshade family, is used in different forms of addiction from the early 1600 AD. The main culprit was “nicotiana” (Nicotiana Tabacum), a toxic colourless or yellowish oily nitrogen containing chemical (C10H14N2) is chief active constituent of tobacco .Then I decided to criss-cross my country on a bicycle for an anti-tobacco campaign.
I chose the northern part of India because there live the highest number of tobacco-consuming population.

Why bicycle
Bicycling is considered to be one of the most effective low-impact exercises that also allows a person to be close to nature. It has been observed that with increasing level of pollution, cycling could be the most viable alternative for commuting within a city and also saves on gas consumption. For many, bicycling may be a race against each other or to win distances in a rally or simply the pleasure of adventure. It has been proven beyond doubt that bicycling is the mode of transport of the future.

I started pedalling when I was in school. With my bicycle, I travelled in West Bengal and learn how to make simpler life, don’t worry how much money you have if the path is beautiful, confirm where it leads but if the destination is beautiful, don’t bother how the path is — just move on. This has been my motivation to travel more and more. I planned a trip from Kolkata to Kashmir and I chalked out the total expedition distance of 2,500 km across 10 states and 35 districts that would keep me nearly one and a half months out of home.

On the saddle, at last
It was a sunny morning of November 18, 2012, when I started my ride from Kolkata my hometown enthusiast by a cluster of friends with warm hugs. After leaving the city, my first stop was Burdwan. The origin of the name, Burdwan (Barddhaman), dates back to the 6th century BC and is ascribed to Mahavira (599-627 BCE) the 24th Thirthankar of Jainism. In Burdwan, I met the additional district magistrate and superintendent of police, talked about cancer, regarding my awareness campaign. They reciprocated my enthusiasm, when they came to know that I am bicycle traveller. That night they arranged the irrigation bungalow as my resting place at Burdwan.

My next destination was the city of Durgapur, which is about 68 km from Burdwan. The steel city was developed around 40 years ago as an industrial hub of West Bengal. On my way to the city, I stopped at various dhabas, shops, roadside dwellers to raise awareness against use of tobacco.

That night, I stayed at a local resident’s hospitality. Next day, I covered a distance of 45 km and reached Asansol. This city, once inhabited by the Dravidian and the Australoids in centuries ago, has turned out to be a mining city with a cosmopolitan culture. Here, tobacco addiction rate is quite high. I met the block development officer and local inhabitants to tell them about the harmful side of this particular form of addiction. A local friend of mine helped me a lot regarding my campaign. From Asansol, I visited Kulti, a small sub-divisional town just on the border of Jharkhand.

(Revisit this blog on September 18, 2014, for the next part of Anirban's journey)

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