This is the story of two people who belonged to very different backgrounds but it was love that united them together. While Charlotte Von Schedvin was a blonde, blue-eyed young woman from Swedish nobility, PK Mahanandia was a poor art student from eastern India and an untouchable because of the country’s caste system.
They met in Delhi, late 1975, when Von Schedvin asked him to paint her portrait. Perhaps it was destiny that made the young couple fall for each other instantly and their overwhelming love made him to cycle all the way from India to Sweden to be with her – a massive 3,600km journey covering 8 countries and taking over four months to complete.
Mahanandia promised to marry the woman he loved at all costs so he sold everything he owned to buy a pushbike and with just $80 in his pocket he started his journey. That was the time when only a royal king could have afforded the flight to Sweden so he chose cycling.
He cycled through the deserts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. On the way he slept in Bedouin tents, youth hostels or under the stars by the Caspian Sea. They kept their romance burning through letters.
Mahanandia was just 9 years old when his emotional encounter with Von Schedvin sowed the seeds of love, which they make 17 years later. Born as a Dalit, he was always shunned by villagers, considered even below the dogs and cows. He was forced to sit outside the class in school and was never allowed to be seen near a temple.
Then, one day he was allowed to sit inside the classroom at the back but not to touch anyone, because a British school inspector and his wife were coming to visit. After their welcome, the inspector handed over his garland to a girl sitting in the front while his wife walked to the back and gave hers to Mahanandia. She touched his head and said, “Your lovely curly hair”.
Mahanandia was happy because of her little gesture and he rushed home to tell his mother how he was in love with the inspector’s wife. His mother presented him a palm leaf horoscope and told him that he’d marry a white woman from a faraway land. The woman would be a Taurus, involved in music and will own a jungle.
Then in 1975 when Mahanandia was 26, a broke art student in Delhi, his talent brought him opportunities, making him earn a name for himself painting the portraits of politicians and celebrities, including that of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. He also got permission to paint portraits in Delhi’s central square, Connaught Place.
It was in Connaught Place that he met Von Schedvin, who was 20, a traveler with a longing for India. She had come with friends from Sweden to India as she was always attracted to Indian culture with films like ‘Siddhartha’, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s music, etc.
She asked him to make a portrait of her. And when she returned, Mahanandia realized that Von Schedvin could be the western woman in his horoscope. Then, he came to know that she was a Taurus, she played the piano and she owned forests as her ancestors had been given a portion of Swedish woodland after helping the King in the 1700s. He told her that they are meant to be together; it’s in their stars, which shocked her.
But trusting her instinct, Von Schedvin followed Mahanandia to meet his father in Odisha, where the couple received tribal blessings. She says that she just followed her heart 100% and didn’t think anything. There was no logic behind her decision.
After spending one month together, Von Schedvin returned to Sweden while Mahanandia stayed in India as he had a year left of art school. But their time apart only strengthened his will to see her again and in January 1977 he wrote a letter to her telling her about his plan to cycle all the way to Sweden and make her his wife.
The Hippie Trail stretched from India through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and former Yugoslavia to Europe and travelers didn’t need a visa that time. Also the region was safe and stable.
Mahanandia left Delhi with just $80 on two wheels but by the time he reached Sweden, he had made over $800 by painting portraits for food and money along the way. He says he cycled for love, but he never loved biking.
On some days he cycled up to 70km. However, he took lifts wherever possible and was even gifted a train ticket from Istanbul to Vienna. He finally reached Boras on 28 May 1977, over four months after his departure from Delhi.
Some friends thought their ‘holiday romance’ wouldn’t last but the couple has been together in Sweden for 40 years now and they have two children, Sid and Emelie. Alongside of their story, Von Schedvin’s music-teaching career and Mahanandia’s art have flourished. The couple is also involved in promoting indigenous arts and offering cultural scholarships to Indian Dalits.
Two years ago Mahanandia was awarded an honorary doctorate from his state university, and in the year 2005 he was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
After almost four decades of marriage and two children, their impressive love story was recently shared on Facebook and it got viral instantly being shared tens of thousands of times. And now the couple’s story has also reportedly sparked the interest of film makers.
Article By: Ravinder