The Sunday Guardian

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Duo on a lifeline drive along India’s borders

Harsha and Prabha Koda in Leh
any of us may remember this from a geography lesson that India has a land frontier of over 15,000 km and shares its borders with six nations. While some of us will simply discard it as just another trivia that can be Googled when required, a few would be adventurous enough to venture out and check the authenticity of this fact. But that is not what the husband-wife team of Harsha and Prabha Koda from Chennai had in mind when they set forth to drive along the entire borderline of India in 2011.
In this age of exponential spending powers and with the best of muscle cars gleaming in their garages, India's youth is taking the meaning of travel to an entirely different level. Flights, trains and buses are giving way to self-driven road trips, and guided tours are being replaced by self-navigation with the help of GPS, Google Maps and directions from local auto-wallahs. And while most of these trips are undertaken for the sheer thrill of it, some, like the Kodas, manage to affix a whole new dimension to it, one blanketed in social responsibility that can reap benefits for the society at large as well.
For this duo, the cause of spreading awareness on public stem cell banking was the driving force behind their ambitious drive. The couple embarked on 'The Borderline Drive', as they call it and quite appropriately so, to generate an interest in the concept of preserving blood from the umbilical cord after childbirth. Cord blood is known to contain stem cells which have the potential to divide, grow and specialise into any of the other cells of the body, and can thereby be used to treat hematopoietic and genetic disorders later in life.
"Most 'cures' for cancers today are so toxic that if the cancer does not kill you, the chemotherapy will," says Harsha. "This is a truth we have experienced over the last decade when we have lost numerous family members and friends to different cancers. We believe that the only hope of a cure that can change the odds in favour of the patient is the use of stem cells." Thus, they set off from Mumbai in September 2011 with the aim of creating awareness on India's first public stem cell bank at Jeevan Blood Bank in Chennai.
However, after covering about 17,000 km on some of the toughest roads of the Himalayas, some of the most notorious stretches of the Northeast and escaping a few bandits in Central India, they met with a life-threatening accident in Orissa, which rendered them incapable of travelling for the next seven months. But their never-say-die spirits led them to re-start the drive from the exact point where the accident had occurred, and earlier last month they set off on the second leg of the journey.
Now, with the completion of 'The Borderline Drive' and having driven over 22,000 km, these avid travellers have become one-of-their-kinds to have charted the entire borderline of India by road. But more importantly, they have not only managed to make people sit up and take notice of stem cell banking, they now themselves stand wiser on similar traditional practices already prevalent in the rural hinterlands of India.
"While we were in Gujarat, we had the opportunity to talk about stem cells to the local women there. The interesting part, though, was what they told us — that they already preserve the umbilical cord of the newborns in the family, keep it tied to the cradle and when the baby falls ill, they tie the cord to the baby's leg or hand which heals the child!" says Harsha. "So when we explained the significance of stem cell banking to these women, they understood it as an extension of what they have been doing all along."


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