Nitant Chavan, a 15-year-old adolescent from the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra befriended the bicycle when he was just a toddler. His bond with the cycle grew deep with age and his escapades in the wilderness connected him with nature. Hailing from a small village called Varavade, located on the edge of the river of same name, Nitant grew around paddy fields and mangroves. The slow pace of village life was conducive for his love for the cycle and environment. It provided a space to Nitant and helped him bond with the trees and the flora and fauna. The expanse around the village enchanted him and he decided to explore it. As he cycled from place to place, he sensed the depletion of the ecosystem and decided to raise awareness about it.
After completing Class 4th from primary school in his village, Nitant had to enroll in a school in the nearby town of Kankavli for further studies due to lack of middle or secondary schools there. When it was time to go to high school, Nitant decided to cycle the distance of 8 kilometer to and fro between the village and school in Kankavali while other children from his village travelled by local bus service. During the weekends and holidays, he started visiting the lustrous countryside regularly.
When Nitant was in Class 6, he participated in a 480-kilometer bicycle rally organized by Rashtra Sevadal – a youth wing of the Socialist Party of Maharashtra, for conveying the messages of equality and fraternity. The rally’s starting point was Meeraj – a town in western Maharashtra’s Sangli district and it ended at Malvan in Sindhudurg district. Eleven-year-old Nitant was the youngest one to finish 480-kilometer cycle rally.
After the rally, he became a wanderer determined to explore the tract without any stated purpose. “He would plan his own route and travel 20, 30 or at times 50 kilometers in a day. On Sundays and other holidays, Nitant wakes up as on the first bell of the alarm at 5 in the morning. On other days, the alarm keeps on ringing while we have to wake him up. But on his planned trip he readies himself in no time and our ‘gypsy’ sets out for his pilgrimage,” shared his mother.
Once in the wilderness his dialogue with the nature begins. Nitant is not merely a wanderer – he’s also a keen observer of the ecosystems and biodiversity. Prior to the monsoon, he makes it a point to toss the seeds collected over days into the mud. He’s also an avid bird watcher. The unplanned development has taken a toll on ecosystems in the Konkan region. The widening of the Mumbai-Goa highway has resulted in felling of ancient trees and mangroves have been destroyed alongside the destruction of the birds’ abodes.
Cyclist Nitant has been witnessing the destruction during his adventure on two wheels. Nitant’s resolve to protect the green gets a renewed impetus with felling of each tree for development activities like widening of the Mumbai Goa highway or for building hotels and car parks. The district of Sindhudurg is known for its natural beauty; it has121 kilometers of seashore where kayaking, rafting and other water sports are organized. However, the tourism has also added to the destruction of the scenic beauty of the costal and marine biodiversity. Nitant is worried that the identity of the district which is associated with its richness of nature and which draws many tourists to the district, will be lost due to the mindless development in the name of tourism.
About a year ago, Nitant got associated with an adventure group called ‘Kankavali Cycle Riders’. He loves taking on a challenging goal set by the group like ‘Competing for 100 K.M. in a day’. Although he likes being associated with the group, he also loves to go cycling alone. The solitude gives him the space to communicate with the trees and the ecosystem. While he’s keenly observing the fauna, trees, the ecosystems, the stones, water bodies, animals; he’s able to notice the changes taking place in them. Still a teenager, he would love to make a career out of his strong inner calling. While striking a dialogue with the moving wheels of his bicycle he’s able to connect with the environment, open sky, birds, animals, trees and plants.
Nitant has earned a name in the district and several children approach him for guidance. He’s become a coach to these children as they have become part of his gathering. Cycling is both healthy and eco-friendly. Lately, the number of cyclists has increased in the Varavade – Kankavali region. People are pulling out their rusted cycles from their backyard. They are using these cycles not only to complete chores but to explore the region. The younger children from the neighborhood have started cycling with Nitant leaving mobiles and televisions behind. Such is the influence of this teenage prodigy. Nitant’s tribe is growing.
The parents of younger children are not worried to send their wards with Nitant for longer rides. His younger sister Maitreyee doesn’t leave her older brother and tries to follow him. She too has completed 25 and 50 K.M. rides. Nitant is also a blogger, after returning from excursion he pens the experiences of his journey. He’s trying to spread awareness about our ecosystems. He is not into the empty rhetoric of – ‘save nature, save tree’ kind of activism and his actions compel others to respond. Nitant is also a National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadet. Nitant has completed 200 kilometer in a day and has broken his own record by completing 300-kilometer journey from Kankavali to Panaji in 24 hours. More challenges beckon him, and he is out to chase his dreams.
The cycle journey is a solitary pursuit – one is all alone in the lows or highs of the passage. One gets to interact with new people, witness the beauty of the forest. The journey allows you get to see the several forms of nature. With each travel, Nitant adds few more names of people to his ‘bank’ account. It’s not a financial bank, it’s a bank of friendship and kindness.
His aim is to get acquainted with the state and the country while on two wheels and he wants to spread the message of ‘Hirve Jagu Hirve Japu’- ‘Live Green, Nurture Green’. Nitant intends to spread this tenet to the entire country. He will soon start his journey to trace every Indian state on two wheels and start a dialogue on environment in every city his visits.
Alka Gadgil and Sarita Pawar