THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The battered blue bicycle looks as if thieves have had a go at it.
It has no seat, no chain, no bell or brakes. Laxmikhanta Maity, its wiry, sun-burnt owner, places his feet on the pedals and his chest on the cushioned handlebar. He reaches out with his hands and propels himself and the bicycle forward by rolling the front wheel along.
Surely, not a comfortable way to ride, but Maity - who has come all the way from Rajnagar village, Kendrapara district, Odisha (formerly Orissa) - is on a mission to warn of a more threatening danger - the danger of AIDS. And in this ambitious campaign, which hopes to cover the whole of India, the social worker is accompanied by his wife, Monorama Maity, a diminutive woman riding another battered, but normal bicycle.
‘’It has been eight months now since we left home. We’ve covered 16 districts in Odisha and 18 each in AP and Tamil Nadu. Thiruvananthapuram is the first in Kerala, we hope to cover many more districts before crossing over to Karnataka,’’ Maity eagerly explains his plans.
Both bicycles sport the national flag and Monorama’s are also laden with small bags carrying their meagre possessions. The couple spends the night at police stations and travels by day. Maity says he launched the campaign after two men in his village died of HIV/AIDS. Maity dabbles in Ayurveda back home, but no amount of treatment at various hospitals could save them.
The couple meets people, hands out pamphlets and info on how HIV/AIDS is spread. ‘’There’s practical difficulty for me talking about these things to women. My wife does that,’’ Maity explains why he brought his wife along on the difficult and potentially dangerous trip.
Maity does not have much of an opinion of the Kerala State AIDS Control Society which, he says, did not offer him much help. ‘’But the people of Kerala and the police too are very good. We met the Police Commissioner and the Chief Secretary. We also hope to meet the Chief Minister,’’ he said, before cycling away to the nearest school with his wife for another awareness programme.