When four college girls said they wanted to end their lives, it spurred a Mysore-based couple to begin suicide awareness programmes among young people. In their nation-wide mission, they have been pedalling on a tandem cycle spreading the message.
Professional ballroom dancers Santhosh MV (34) and his wife Akshatha (33), tired of their monotonous corporate jobs, quit and started teaching ballroom dancing in schools and colleges, in and around Mysore.During one of their sessions in a girl’s junior college in Kollegal, Karnataka, they met four girls who were contemplating suicide. Four other girls had previously committed suicide in the same college. One of the girls they met told the couple that she had changed her mind about suicide, after talking to them.
After this incident, determined to help others, Santhosh and Akshatha decided to cycle across the nation and spread the message of ‘you live only once’.
The couple, who are currently in Surat, started their journey on August 11 this year and have covered various cities across Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. “After this incident, which happened last year, we felt compelled to spread awareness about suicide among the youth,” says Akshatha. “But we are not experts and we didn’t know what we could do, that would garner enough attention. Since we are interested in adventure sports and cycling, we decided to cycle across the states on a tandem cycle and talk to students about suicide.”
Santhosh says, “A cycle store in Mysore sponsored an imported cycle for our trip. We bought the other one and modified it. It took me two months, with almost everyone saying it’s impossible to build one, and finally we were riding our tandem cycle. We have not faced any breakdown so far, but we are prepared in case of a puncture or any other minor problems.”
Akshatha and Santhosh were inspired to cycle in November last year, but doctors advised Akshatha complete backrest, after she suffered a back injury. She says, “I had broken my tail bone, and sitting and sleeping was painful. The doctors gave me a green signal in June this year and in July we began our training.
Finally now we are on the road and on a roll!” To this Santhosh adds, “Once she was better, we trained for two months before we started our journey. We used to cycle 40 km per day and since we are not participating in an endurance race, we didn’t have to worry about our speed or time.
Our aim is to be fit and we don’t follow any diet. We eat before we get hungry and keep ourselves hydrated. Initially we used to cover 40-60 kms per day. Now we cover around 125 kms per day. We just have to take care of the climate and the terrain we are riding on. As for road guides, we prefer local people rather than maps.”
“On the road, whoever saw us had a big smile and we loved their curiosity towards our tandem. Many of them stopped us while riding, wanting to know more about the cycle and us. We are able to connect to people and it is the best way to travel around India,” says Santhosh. “Whenever we go to schools, we just walk into one and talk to the principal. When we were in Mumbai, schools and principals were very forthcoming and they really appreciated our efforts. Only once did a school say no to us, as they were busy with examinations. We have been going to schools and colleges teaching ballroom dancing as well as talking about suicide, telling them that death is not the solution for any problem. Our talk is for 20 minutes and the next 20 minutes is an interactive session. We visit at least one school and one college at every town, we stay in. Also, we prefer smaller groups of students as it’s easier to interact. In our interactive sessions, students themselves come up with solutions and answers.” says Akshatha.
Both Santhosh and Akshatha agree that suicide among youth is a topic that should be discussed time and again. They prefer conducting their classes with students of standard eight and nine, as they are under immense pressure. The couple was in Mumbai for 20 days earlier this month, and they were teaching across schools in Goregaon, Navi Mumbai and Khar. Their message touches a chord and they generally have their food and accommodation taken care of by families in the cities they visit. Akshatha says, “On our trips, we love to stay with families who are willing to host us. We usually get new contacts from friends and well wishers for the places we are going next. Also, this trip is self funded, we earn on the way, wherever we get an opportunity to teach dance in schools. We ask the schools to contribute how much ever they feel like. We don’t want to have a fixed charge.”
For most people, it is not easy to get support for an off-beat career decision. Santhosh has felt the pinch from his friends and family as well. He says, “Support from parents has been bit difficult, since I took adventure as my profession, and it became more difficult for them to accept that their son and daughter-in-law are now dance instructors. Not only parents, even my childhood friends were telling me to look for a regular job, as dancing could only be a hobby. However, now that they know the message for the trip, they are very proud of us.”
Akshatha adds, “Many people ask us, will this trip be successful? Or will the suicide rate come down? For us, this trip was successful before we started, when we managed to change one girl’s mind and outlook, and persuaded her against committing suicide. We hope suicide rates come down; but our contribution towards this is very small. We are not trying to establish any record, the only benefit this trip has for us, is its experience.”
What is a tandem cycle?
The tandem bicycle is ridden by more than one person. In approximately 1898, Danish inventor Mikael Pedersen developed a tandem cycle. The tandem’s popularity began to decline after WWII, until a revival which, started in the late sixties.
Compared to a conventional bicycle, a tandem has double the pedalling power. The front rider is known as the captain, the rear rider is called a navigator. Tandem bicycles are used in Paralympics by blind and partially sighted cyclists.
Various NGOs and organizations across the city are promoting mental well-being and providing emotional support, over the phone or face-to-face, for those who are depressed and distressed.
Aasra: 91-22-27546669, www.aasra.info
The Samaritans Mumbai: 02232473267, www.samaritansbombay.com
Vandrewala Foundation Suicide Prevention: 1860-266-2345 www.vandrevalafoundation.com