She belongs to the Swedish nobility and he, to a family of weavers considered as outcasts in Odisha. It is a tale of commitment, romance and perseverance with an happy ending.
P K Mahanandia is famous for his 4 months and 3 weeks journey by a second hand bicycle from New Delhi to Gothenburg in 1977 to meet his love Charlotte.
Renowned Bollywood filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and acclaimed production house Warner Bros from Hollywood are planning to make a film on this incredible love-story.
P.K. Mahanandia was born on 1949 in an Odia weaver family, in Kandhapada village of Athmallik Sub-division in the district of Dhenkanal, Odisha, India. He did schooling at Mahendra High School, Athmallik and then joined Visva-Bharati to study art, despite his selection at the art school, it became impossible to pay the fee and he had to return home. He later joined Govt college of art & crafts, Khallikote, Berhampur to study art. To satisfy his quest for art he joined College of Art, Delhi to study Fine Arts in 1971.
Pradyumna fondly called as PK was an expert in making portraits. While studying in Delhi College of Art, he shot into fame as portraiture by drawing the portrait of Indira Gandhi. He sought permission from authorities to sit under holy fountain at Connaught Place and draw portraits.
It is here that he met Charlotte in Sweden and was a student in London who had driven all the way to India on a van in 22 days went to visit PK, to make a portrait of her. Making of that portrait changed the life of both as they fell in love with each other and married after. Charlotte had to return to Sweden and asked Pradyumna to come with her, but he decided that someday he would go on his own, but the reality of what he had said soon struck him. Not the one to go back on his word, he sold his belongings that came to a shade over Rs 1,200, bought a second-hand bicycle for Rs 60, took his pack of paint and brushes, and set out from Delhi.
It was 1977 and Pradyumna started from Delhi and passed through Amritsar and reached Afghanistan. From there he proceeded to Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Germany and Austria, Denmark and then Sweden. PK remembers how difficult it was for him to travel in these tough mountainous regions.
At the Sweden border, Pradyumna was stopped by the immigration authorities, who wanted to know the purpose of his visit to Sweden. The poor fellow showed them his marriage photographs and letters with Charlotte which the officials refused to believe. The official found it unbelievable that a woman from Swedish Nobility would marry to an ordinary man from India. They feared that the man was lying and therefore they called her.
It was only after Charlotte informed that that the said man was her husband that the authorities decided to let him in. It was remarkable that Charlotte had never referred to her family background to Pradyumna which is unlike our stiff traditions where family background and father’s business become bigger subjects than the individuals getting married.
For someone whose caste proved a roadblock at every step, Charlotte’s concern for nothing but her emotion left Mahanandia humbled. He apprehended whether or not the woman from the highest ranks of the European society would accept him. To his amazement, she drove 70km from Boras, her hometown, to Gothenburg to claim him as her life’s partner.
Charlotte’s parents were equally effusive in their concern for the man who had cycled all the way to Sweden. They accepted him in their family but not without violating their tradition. “A traditional written law has it that black people are not permitted to stay where nobility stays. This means they had to break the racial rule to make space for me in the family, which they did gleefully for their daughter,” Mahanandia says.
The couple married again in 1979, this time as per customary Swedish rites. Mahanandia, now 64, never thought of returning to the land that had given him nothing but insults. Today, a sought-after person on peace that forms a major part of his work, he is not angry at the degrading treatment he received at the hands of ‘higher castes’ in his village. “Love gave me the pardon power.” This is what he teaches his children – daughter Emelie, 27, and son Siddharth, 24.
Pradyumna is well known in Sweden as an artist and is working as an Adviser, Art and Culture, under the Swedish Government. Swedish Government in honour of their love has made films to document this immortal love of the century. His paintings have been exhibited in major cities of the world and have found places in the prestigious UNICEF greeting cards. On 4 January 2012, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.