It's all about the bike
There’s more to Seshadri Dixit, a 60-year-old priest in Teerthahalli, than meets the eye. Behind his calm, sagely look is a story of adventure. Lakshmi Sharath meets the man who cycled the country non-stop for 55,000 km for three years and two months, way back in 1978. Today, this once-upon-a-time local hero has a row of cycles in his porch and nostalgia for company.
The sky is growing dark by the moment. The roads get narrower. The journey seems long and never ending. We traverse across regions that are sparsely inhabited but most of the time, I have just age-old trees for company on the road. The hills part ways for us, the forests are enchanting, the rivers whisper along their course, while the roads meander around quiet sleepy villages.
I am in Karnataka driving towards a little town called Teerthahalli, sandwiched between the spiritual Sringeri and the wild Agumbe.
The evening lights have already come up as we enter the town. It is well past sunset. The empty roads suddenly burst into a vibrant market as we jostle for space amongst mopeds, cycles and cars whizzing past us.
A herd of cattle is lost somewhere in the medley of shrieking horns. I leave the town behind me and head to the highway leading to Sringeri, looking for a man who is a priest in a local temple here.
Seshadri Dixit greets us at the entrance of his home. Draped traditionally in a simple white dhoti with a white cloth slung over his shoulder, he had just then finished his duties at the temple next door, which is owned by his family for generations. His smile is warm but his face does not register any emotion.
But behind that calm and sagely look is a spirit of adventure that can now be seen only in the twinkle of his eyes.
Wheel of time
In front of the porch is a row of cycles, one of them is his prized possession. “So you are here to ask me about my cycle expedition?” he asks, giving me an amused look as he scratches his beard.
And so the story begins — an inspiring tale of courage, adventure and fortitude that started way back on May 31, 1978. For three years and two months (1,145 days), as he recalls with precision, Seshadri Dixit pedalled all over the country non stop for 55,000 km besides walking for 45,000 km, the ‘padayatra’, as he calls it.
His story started with a loan of Rs 750 that Seshadri borrowed from a local bank in Teerthahalli to buy a cycle that took him all over the country.
“I still have the cycle here,” he says, slowly showing signs of childish excitement as he gently tugs at his companion of 35-odd years and pulls it towards him. And then, as his wife brings steaming hot cups of coffee, Seshadri Dixit steps into the world of nostalgia, reliving his adventurous years. It is the story of a young restless man with a streak of daredevilry who wanted a sense of achievement in his life.
“I was about 24 years old then and not married. It was an obsession that I wanted to do something adventurous in my youth,” he says nonchalantly. Inspired by the ‘Shiva Purana’, a mythological episode, he initially wanted to see all the pilgrimage centres in the country, but that soon developed into a grand All India Tour.
His friends helped him collect money. Some local organisations and institutions supported him. He managed to collect about Rs 5,000 for a countrywide expedition on a cycle. With a bundle of clothes weighing about 8 kg, he set off from the agrahara (neighbourhood) in Teerthahalli and travelled all over from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. “I also went to Bhutan and Nepal but could not go to Nagaland and Tripura then,” he laments.
“People, mainly the local policemen, were helpful everywhere.
Someone would stop and feed me, some bought me clothes, took me to various places to stay, connected me with influential people who would give me money. I slept on newspapers on the ground, sometimes would go to a dharmashala or sleep in temples,” he reminisces, adding that getting vegetarian food was never a difficulty anywhere in India.
He kept in touch with his family in every town. Telegrams were sent and received.
Nostalgia lives in an old coloured file where he has stored almost every bit of communication between him and his family. He was a local hero then. Dusty newspaper articles show a bearded young man with unkempt hair riding a cycle. He was written about in almost every state.
“Someone would introduce me to a local reporter who would then do a small interview,” says the man who now speaks multiple languages and has a taste of many cultures. His English is impeccable.
All they wanted was his cycle!
But what about the cycle? It was a faithful partner, taking him places. “There was a lot of wear and tear, but people helped me fix it. I never had any problem with it,” he says, except once,” when he nearly got killed.
“No, it was not an accident. I was in interior Madhya Pradesh when I was attacked by a group of tribals.
They had bows and arrows and were standing behind trees and I did not notice them. I was hit by an arrow and was later beaten up. I was unconscious. “The next thing I know is that some local forest guards found me. But it was actually the cycle that saved the day for me.”
Seshadri told us that the tribes seemed more interested in the cycle than in him and they left him unconscious there and started playing with it as if it was a new toy. The guards, on hearing the commotion, fired a bullet in the air and later found him bleeding and treated him for his wounds. In another incident, he was kidnapped by a few dacoits who later let him go after learning about his expedition. “Everywhere I went, people only respected me and took care of me,” he adds.
We look through the newspaper clippings in Kannada which shows a triumphant hero returning home. But that was almost 35 years ago. Today Seshadri, close to 60 years of age lives a quiet life in his village, educating his daughters — one girl is doing her post graduation, while the other is still an undergraduate.
As we leave, he shuts the file and closes a chapter in his life. Today, he seems like a much different man, his restlessness reigned in but his spirit remains undaunted as ever.
He barely looks his age and his eyes sparkle, showing an urge for yet another adventure in his life.