|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
He cycles to spread AIDS awareness
Annie Samson in New Delhi | April 12, 2007 17:04 IST
In the age when youngsters are captivated by fast cars and speed, when it is cool to earn a handful of degrees and talk about the latest in mobiles and other electronic gadgets a youth from Bengal has been pedalling across the country with a noble mission of teaching people about AIDS.
Resident of a small village in Sunderban, he was very moved by an article that he read in a local daily newspaper about an old man abandoned and left to die because he was suffering from AIDS. He then made it his mission in life to spread awareness about the dreaded disease.
Lugging around a satchel filled with CDs and DVDs containing educational information about preventing and dealing with the virus, Debnath has criss-crossed the country, meeting and talking to people. He has also been to Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The 23-year-old was in Delhi recently to get clearances for a trip he has planned to Pakistan and Afghanisthan. He said External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has given him a letter that will help him obtain a visa for Pakistan.
"I was 14 when I read about an HIV death in a newspaper," he says. "At that time, the teachers told me they did not know anything about it. It was then that the thought struck me that if I knew I would tell the whole world. That is what I am doing now."
At the age of 18 he gave his first talk to a group from 15 police stations in Sunderban after which people from his village pooled in money to help him travel to Kolkata. From then on he says he has not looked back even once.
From Kolkata he cycled to Bihar, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur before going across to Burma, Mizora and Tripura followed by Bangladesh, Meghalaya and then back to Bengal.
He has also visited Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.
With his slender build and crop of toussled hair, the bespectacled Debnath loved being with tribals of India. "They are so simple and so warm. They helped me a lot in my journey," he fondly recalls.
Being the youngest in his family Debnath had intially met with reluctance from his family members, which soon was grudgingly replaced with acceptance. During his travels he says the State Tourism Department usually chips in with help for food and shelter.
"Otherwise I sleep on the streets, because I need very little for myself," says this Zoology graduate.
Debnath has a diploma in Fine Arts from Kolkata's Government Arts College. He began his sojourn two days after he giving his final year exams.
He claims that his target is to tour a total of 191 countries. So far he has covered over 48,000 kilometers.
As part of his 'educational mission', he also briefs his audience about meditation, yoga, pranayama breathing techniques and controlling the human mind and body to alleviate pain.
"I got to slums, red-light districts, roadside dhabhas, schools, collages and universities. Intially people are hesitant and close-minded about HIV but later they realise the importance of my message," he says.
His travel has not been without some frightening experiences either. He was abducted by ULFA in the North-East because he was wearing boots. The militants beat him after blindfolding him and took him to their leader who was
"I told about them about HIV and then they released me," he says.
His satchel contains apart from the basic neccesities memorabilia like coins and shells collected from different travel destinations. He says he does not want any money or personal gain but wants to meet as many people as possible.