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Lessons in cycology

THE ASIAN AGE. | DYUTI BASU
Published : Feb 2, 2017, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Feb 2, 2017, 1:17 am IST

Rohan Sabharwal has come up with an innovative way to spread mental health awareness —documenting a bicycle ride across states.

Rohan Sabharwal
 Rohan Sabharwal

When Rohan Sabharwal first bought a bike in November last year, it was simply something he and his CraYon Impact partner in crime, Rachana Iyer, thought would help pass the time. However, as he began his nightly cycling circuits, he realised that it helped him massively with coping with his own bipolar disorder. After two months, Rohan came up with an idea, which goes beyond simply wearing a T-shirt saying “cycling for mental health” and the concept of ‘Spreading Cycology’ was born.

“You have a lot of events where people wear t-shirts that say ‘running for mental health’, but are they really doing anything that has an impact beyond the one hour that they are running? I wanted to go beyond that,” Rohan explains. What the cyclist and mental health advocate wants to do is to go from village to village along the Malvan and Konkan coast, to gather information about the mental health conditions of people living there. The entire journey, which started on February 1 (yesterday), will cover a distance of over 2,000 km over 22 days with stops at 22 villages through Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala and finally Bangalore.

“You have a number of mental health facilities along the coastline of Maharashtra, whether you look at Murud, Alibaug or Ratnagiri. However, the current state of these facilities is quite dismal. For instance, there are no doctors at all at the Ratnagiri facility. Also, mental health is not just an urban problem. You have farmer suicides, people going into depression over debt and demonetisation, and very little awareness about mental health, especially in rural areas,” he explains.

When Rohan met actor and Bombay Berlin Productions member Arfi Lamba during the production of one of the latter’s plays, he casually mentioned his project.           

Arfi was so excited about the idea that he decided to make a web series out of Rohan’s travels and findings. “Rohan is one of the most dynamic filmmakers that I know. He was doing stop-motion photography before it was even conceptualised. So, I knew that he would be able to execute his plan. As for the idea itself, it really seemed to resonate with the kind of films that we usually make. So, I thought that we would collaborate, to create a miniseries on Rohan’s travels, and maybe a documentary later on,” Arfi elaborates.

The producer is also convinced that this is a story that needs telling. “One of my own relatives has a mental illness and, though I was a child at the time she was going through it, I remember how any talk around therapists or her disorder were spoken about in hushed tones. And, now, here’s a guy who’s all ready to talk about his own struggles with mental illness, and will be talking to strangers about problems in their lives,” gushes Arfi.

A DOP (Director of Photography) and a driver comprise the team that will be going along with Rohan. “I will be cycling an average of around 100-150 km everyday, and will stop at particular villages to talk to people. In many of them, I have spoken to NGOs that are already working there, while in others, I will just have to see how it goes,” says Rohan, who will be living on a budget of `87 per day, the average amount spent by a villager in India.

“We see the dismal statistics that surround mental health in India everyday. I wanted to hold it up to people in a way that it would become more than just numbers, and I think that a web series is a perfect way to do so,” says a hopeful Rohan, who wants to make four such bike journeys spreading mental health awareness and gathering stories through the span of the year.

Tags: demonetisation, bike