Kenyan cyclist Peter Ngugi in conversation with Indian explorer mountaineer Anindya Mukherjee who has cycled solo (and twice) about 7k kilometers across Africa. Exclusively on Dream Wanderlust.
Peter who is cycling the leangth of the country was in town recently.
He carries an important appeal as he rides 'Mandela', "STOP RACIST ATTACKS ON AFRICANS IN INDIA".
Anindya: When I heard the news that someone from Africa is riding from North East of India to all the way to Kannyakumari I felt very excited. And then, when I read the cause, spreading awareness against racism, I felt thrilled. When the African students were attacked in India, sometimes in Bengaluru and recently in Delhi; I personally felt hurt. Tell me about your reaction. How does it feel when you hear that a fellow African is being mobbed and attacked?
Peter: That is stripping off our dignity. It feels like someone is literally stripping off the dignity of Africa and not just a person. When an attack is on a black man on the basis of his color then it's not an attack on one individual, it's an attack on entire Africa. So, it's not a person to person, it's person to the entire country and it's not a shock only, it's very painful. It's a painful experience to see a video based on that and people are sharing it and at the same time passing racial comments and some of the people are praising it. So it's extremely painful.
Anindya: It is simply not acceptable that such incidents keep happening in a country like India. How can we do that? Are we not aware about the genocide in Rwanda? We should learn from it. Whatever little I know about Africa is that people have high respect for India that the education system is good and you can really do something. People come to India with a lot of dreams and this is what is happening. But let us come back to our conversation. Please tell us something about yourself. Which part of Africa are you from? And how did you end up India?
Peter: I am a Kenyan, from the city of Mombasa. I came to India on June 14th 2013.What brought me here is my passion for computer programming. The quest to learn and gather wisdom and knowledge as portrayed by the Indian Bollywood movies. Before I came here I watched "Three Idiots"; so this has galvanized the entire ideology that India has a perfect education system. But what was quite unexpected was the ground reality for me. So I came here as a computer science student in Tamil Nadu. But in the first month after admission I was very disillusioned, because my whole idea and expectations were not what I got. So I dropped out and I started exploring programming all by myself, by going for programming workshops in Bangalore and getting to interact more with programmers, because I wanted more experience opposed to theoretical knowledge. So eventually, on 2014 October I got to participate in a "Hackerthon". I managed to top among the programmers over there and I had a project which was selected by IBM and I got to work on it. So I am a software engineer by profession and a traveler by nature.
Anindya: This idea of cycling through India from the North East to the Southern tip, how did this originate in the first place?
Peter: The idea was influenced by a gentleman Che Guevara.
Anindya: So much common ground.
Peter: Yes. His love for travel was first and second the idea of revolution. So I used it to associate myself along with him. He did a bike tour on motorcycle. I also wanted to do something along the same line in terms of travel. Only I wanted to do it on a bicycle. If ever there will a book to be written about me then it will be of a bicycle-man. The first thought of travelling came to my mind, it was back in 2016, when I wanted to do a road trip from Shillong via Europe to Chile and also be the first African explorer. I would rather be known as a first African Cyclist. So the idea of cycling came back then, but I could not realize it due to financial crises. So this year, I needed to do something apart from coding and then when I came across a video that surfaced, an African being beaten by a mob in Noida (Delhi), that was the most painful thing I have ever seen and that is when I decided that something needs to be done. The person was killed in a simple auto rickshaw disagreement, a day before his birthday. It portrayed that the life of an African is very cheap. It can be thrown away any time and out of my own experience in India, being here for almost 5 years, I have not faced any such experience. I find myself lucky for that. It was then I decided that my passion for cycling will be used as a platform to start creating awareness.
Anindya: From where did you start your cycling?
Anindya: How did you get to Shillong? Did you fly there?
Peter: I was called to go and volunteer there in Shillong for a month as an English and dance teacher. I went there for a month and eventually Shillong found a way to keep me there. I taught there for 3 months. I was organizing workshops in various schools in Shillong because I have different ideologies about teaching practices. It all happened this year in May.
Anindya: Okay, I understand your connection with Shillong now. But is the idea of cycling across the country with a message originate just then and there?
Peter: When I saw that video, I wrote emails to a few of the African Embassies in India and asked why is this happening and I didn't get any response. Then I went to Delhi, I met the president of African Student Union and I wanted to know what is happening. But when I came to know that no one took responsibility of these events, neither African Government nor the Embassy, not even the Indian Government; then I became more aggressive in terms of social media posts etc. That was July - August. Then I went to Delhi again to meet the president (of ASU) and discuss what can be done regarding the issues. They first asked me to represent Africa in International Youth Committee and I made a very strong speech about racism and why it needs to stop. I also mentioned that, how in Africa, India is known for it's hospitality. When I went back to Delhi, again, we formed this movement called "Indo-Africa Union Youth Committee," where I am the president. I was appointed as Youth Ambassador of Indo-Africa relationships. So that's my current post.
Anindya: It's nice to have someone with a portfolio representing Africa and who is actually on the field and doing meetings, making first line contacts with the local Indians. It's much better than sitting in an office and giving statements or making social media posts. Now tell me, how was your trip from Shillong to Kolkata?
Peter: It's 1400km. The experience is diverse. From Shillong to Assam the response was overwhelming.
Anindya: It is great that you are getting an overwhelming response. In cities a lot of youngsters are coming to meet and greet you with their bicycles. All of them want to have photos taken with you and then post in facebook or twitter or wherever and then get a lot of likes. But do you really think that by this you are really achieving your mission, like is it really raising an awareness against the racism?
Peter: There was one place in Assam where 1600 people were waiting to hear me. They came there to find out why I was doing this. In Assam racial discrimination is called "Boisommo".
Anindya: It's the pretty same word here. It's originating from Sanskrit.
Peter: But when I asked them about discrimination they don't have any clue about discrimination in India.
Anindya: They may not have any clue about it, but historically they have been practicing the ritual of discrimination. Historically we have shown how shallow we Indians are, how poor we are when it comes to mutual respect. So that's why I ask that does anything really happen in India? Does anybody really care about a cause other than cricket or bollywood? As you can probably sense by now that I have turned a cynic. I am distressed and irritated by a lot of things happening around me.
Peter: Yes, I can understand how painful it must feel and so does your experiences in Mauritania hurt my feelings. But, in Assam, I met a group called "Guwahati Cycling Club" and they hosted a gathering where they asked almost everything including my expenses and funding regarding this campaign. When they came to know that I have left with very little amount of money in my bank account, first they took my bicycle and they fixed everything and second they gave me enough money to travel ,from their own pockets. They made sure that I have a host at almost every check post from Assam to West Bengal. They have shown their support towards the cause, it was magnificent and overwhelming. I can assure you that the campaign has attained it's desired goal. We have met the right people and it has shown that it is promising, that soon enough this will be able to change the behaviour towards an African in India.
Anindya: So, maybe, we can say that it is the beginning. At least someone has started to do something; someone has thought that we can do it. So these are all the good sides, but have you had any unpleasant experience while travelling so far?
Peter: Yah. Though I didn't share it with anyone else earlier. When I arrived somewhere near Shantiniketan (30km from Shantiniketan), I was really tired, I had cycled almost 180km, it was dark and my torch light went off and the sun sets there around 4.35pm . So, I decided to take a hotel there and chill for the night. My host was at Shantiniketan whom I could not reach. I found only one Lodge there and I went there and asked for a room. I checked the room it was decent, so I paid in cash (300rs). But when I switched on the light, it was covered with insects. So I called the guy and asked him to clean it up or else I will leave. So he said "ok" you can go but I can't give you the money back. There were two guys there. I asked them to reconsider. One of them left and the other guy with a bigger figure came and pushed me. Then I asked him to calm down and give me my money back. The guy again tried to push me, so this time I made my point by showing him some of my martial arts and he gave me my money back and made a phone call. So when I was about to leave the owner came with about a 100 people. I knew if I tried to be aggressive that will be the end and I am on a campaign for peace, so I have to handle the situation with peace. The negotiations went well.
Anindya: See, all these are experiences, we learn from this right? I think, we have this general idea that it all happens due to illiteracy, lack of education, but at the same time when you look at the newspapers you see other equally bad and racist things happening and these things are done by some so called educated people. Then are we really educated? So you can't simply come to the conclusion that it is lack of education that is causing the racist attacks. It has somehow gone into the blood, into our thinking, that someone is lower than us and we can get away with anything. But let me clarify once again that we are very glad that you are doing this. Your journey is generating a lot of positive vibration and that is simply wonderful. So where are you headed next?
Peter: From here I am going to Bhubaneswar and from Bhubaneswar to Hyderabad for four days. In Hyderabad we will have art workshops and also we have Indo-Afro poetry fusion. The team I met in Assam, are helping me financially for the campaign. And now we are planning for funding campaigns because after this I might be going to an United Nations meet in New York. In February 12th-20th we will visit United Nations to discuss about this.
Anindya: Thank you Peter. I am glad we met, but I dearly wish the circumstances were different and happier. May your journey be safe. May you stay healthy and above all, may your mission be successful so that we may stop being ashamed of ourselves.
Dream Wanderlust too says, "thank you Peter, for sharing your thoughts and pictures. We wish you Godspeed and success in your endeavors. One of our ancient Shlokas says,
Ayang nijah paro veti ganana laghuchetasaam
Udaaracharitaanang tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam
The shallow of mind calculate yours and mine For the liberal, the world is of kindred brethren.
At the end of your journey may you and all Africans, be able to say,"
Asante sana India, Hakuna matata."