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Avijit Chakroborty: Cycling the World, Talking About Sustainability

March 10, 2006
Sanat Mohanty

Avijit Chakroborty has already covered over 38000 KM and 35 countries speaking at schools about greater environmental consciousness and the impact of consumerism as he tries to beat the Guinness record.

This man from Calcutta looks just like any one of us but he has taken on a dream much beyond any of our imaginations. Starting on his bicycle from Calcutta, this athlete has now covered a significant part of Asia and Europe and is on his North America leg before traveling through Mexico, Cuba, Central America, Brazil, and Argentina before he crosses over to Africa and then Australia, and South East Asia to cover about 64000 KM within 20 months.

And as he cycles, he stops in large cities and small towns, meeting with people, talking to children in schools taking the message of one world - and the increased impact of consumerism and pollution on it. CFCs, plastics, aerosols are choking our world, he says. We should be more responsible in how we use them, realizing how this impacts our future.

Increased use of fossil fuels - and its rapid depletion - also worries him and he speaks about the social and political impact of its high use along with the environmental impact. These are the topics he raises where he goes.

In Toulouse, France, as he spoke to some school children, one boy pointed out that there were other aspects of the environment that he should also speak about. For example, in France, people were legally allowed to hunt - and this aspect bothered the boy. Avijit agreed, asking quite rhetorically: "You mean to say that we still hunt animals in our civilized world?" He points to this story as an example of the discussions he generates.

He also points, with regret and disappointment, to the increasing pollution in India. Clean air is becoming a rarity in most large towns and cities and so is clean water. Perhaps, his trip around the world will help spread his message in India as well.

Lance Armstrong is an inspiration, he says. If he could win the Tour de France 7 times, then surely, Avijit feels, he can do this. He seems quite unaware of the size of his dream, modest about his achievement. 38,000 KMs since March 2005, already! His soft spoken demeanor makes it seem quite modest.

He has had his share of interesting incidents. In Yugoslavia, close to the Hungary border, Avijit says, he had stopped for a 10 minute break - as he often does after every two hours of riding - when a young woman stopped by and offered to buy him coffee. As they chatted, she suggested that Avijit must be quite cold and should take her jacket. Avijit refused saying he would get quite warm when he rode and the jacket would only increase the weight he would have to carry. The woman was quite persistent, but Avijit eventually managed to leave without the jacket.

At the border, one of the guards who had been observing this told Avijit he was lucky to have left without the jacket for if he had taken it, the woman would probably have met him on the Hungarian side and asked Avijit to return it. The jacket probably contained narcotics. Aviji was livid and asked the guard why he did not warn him. The guard replied that he may have been shot if he did.

In Florida, some young men and a woman, driving in a car, forced him to pull over and tried to snatch his cycle and take his belongings. However, on learning about his trip - why he was riding, where he was from - they actually chaperoned him over to a diner and got him food, then left him to continue his journey.

In Switzerland, he stopped on a bench outside a house to pull out a snack from his pack and grab a bite. A woman from the house had him come in, her four year old son soon became his buddy and when her husband got back, they had him stay overnight.

Quite philosophically, in his own way, Avijit says that he has learnt that people around the world are kind-hearted. You can avoid bad people, he says, but you cannot avoid good people.

He has to report to a police station every so often to record his distance and often he sleeps in the police station. Sometimes they put him up in a church. And once in a while he stays at the home of a stranger.

We have been privileged that he happened to stay with us last night.

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Avijit Chakroborty: Cycling the World, Talking About Sustainability

 

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#1
Sujatha
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March 10, 2006
07:44 PM

Wonderful story, Sanat. What a guy!

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