The story of a common man, Dashrath Manjhi, who overcame all odds and single-handedly carved a 360 feet long road through a 300 feet tall mountain. Or so they call him, the Mountain man.
In 1960 Manjhi’s wife was fatally injured while trekking for about 70 kilometres around the rocky terrain of a mountain on the Gehlaur Hills. Manjhi had to rush her to the nearest hospital, thereafter, he started his legendary work to breakdown the mountain.
Initially he was considered crazy for cutting and breaking rocks on the mountain, however, 22 years later his work had proven benefits for his community after carving the 30 feet wide and 360 feet long road with hand tools.
“When I started hammering the hill, people called me a lunatic but that steeled my resolve,” recounted Dashrath Manjhi.
The story of the Mountain Man:
Dashrath Manjhi came from a small village in the Gehlour Hills in Bihar, India. His goal was to make sure his people had easier access to health facilities, schools and infrastructure.
He used to work for a landlord on the other side of the mountain, he would till the fields and quarry boulders. During the day his wife Falguni Devi would bring him food, she would trek for hours across the rocky mountain to get to her husband.
One day as usual Manjhi would wait for his wife to bring him food. Falguni packed her essentials, wrapped ‘riotis’, a container filled with thin curry and a small pot of water, and started off her journey.
While waiting for his wife to come, she was getting late and he was getting hungry and angry, but would he have known, it was that ill-fated day that he would have history rewritten. His wife Falguni showed up empty-handed, limping and sweating from the heat of the sun. she had tripped down on a loose rock and got fatally injured. Slid down several feet, food scattered and pot shattered. Seeing tears in his wife’s eyes, who later died due to the injuries, this became a turning point for Manjhi, which gave him the impetus to work hard on the mountain.
“That mountain had shattered so many pots and claimed so many lives. I could not bear that it had hurt my wife. If it took all my life now, I would carve us a road through the mountain,” recounted Dashrath Manji.
Manjhi armed himself with common hand tools including, a sledge hammer, chisel and a crowbar, and began his work to cut through the 300-feet mountain. Just like many endeavours, people would always ridicule and disappoint the idea.
“People told Manjhi that he wouldn’t be able to do it, that he is a poor man who just needs to earn and eat,” recalled Dahu Manjhi, Manjhi’s nephew.
Manjhi would start by working very early in the morning to chop down the mountain for a few hours before going to toil in the fields and later return to work on the mountain in the evening and throughout the night, he would barely sleep.
He eventually quit his day job and focused on carving the road through the mountain.
He would often get hurt by the rocks but he would never quit until he reached his goal. He would take a breathe and then start again.
To support his family he would help people carry their stuff across the mountain for a small price.
After ten years people saw a cleft in between the mountain and some volunteers came to help.
“Though most villagers taunted me at first, there were quite a few who lent me support later by giving me food and helping me buy my tools,” Dashrath Manjhi recounted.
His work that commenced in 1960 ended in 1982, taking a whopping 22-year hard work. Manjhi had developed his own skills and technique to improve his work, he burned firewood on the rocks, then sprinkled water on the heated surface which cracked the rough boulders making it easy to break them down.
After 22 years of hard work, the crazy man they had called, had completed carving the road, 360 feet long and 30 feet wide. Locals from over 60 villages in Atri could now use his road, and Manjhi was revered as ‘Baba’.
To many people they thought, at last he would retreat after he finished carving his road, but to Manjhi it was not yet over. He continued fighting for his people by petitioning to the government to tar the road and connect it to the main road.
He began his long journey along the railway line to New Delhi and submitted a petition for his road, a hospital for his people, a school and water for his people.
The Indian government would later reward him with a plot of land, which he would later donate back the land for a hospital. He was also nominated for the ‘Padma Shree’, however, the Indian forest ministry officials fought against his nomination and calling his work illegal.
“I do not care for these awards, this fame, the money. All I want is a road, a school, and a hospital for our people. The toil so hard. It will help their women and children,” responded Dashrath Manjhi.
On 17 August, 2007, Dashrath Manjhi, the legendary mountain man, succumbed to his death due to gall bladder cancer, at age 73.
“I started this work out of love for my wife, but continued it for my people. If I did not, no one would,” recounted Dashrath Manjhi.
When a movie on his life was announced, Manjhi was on his death bed. He put his thumb impression on an agreement and gave away ‘exclusive rights’ to make a film on his life.
52 years after he started breaking the mountain, 30 years after he finished and 4 years after his death the government finally tarred the road to Gehlaur in 2011.
His impact in the society
After the completion of the 360 feet long road, the 70 kilometres distance through the mountain was significantly reduced.
After he died of cancer in 2007, Bihar’s Chief Minister gave him a state funeral. He did not receive the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honour that would acknowledge such “exceptional service” in the community, however, many people believe he deserved it.
Despite having made it easier for his people to access important services across the mountain, his people still live in poverty. Manjhi’s lifelong friend has committed to opening a trade school in the village, setting up the Dashrath Manjhi Welfare Trust to inspire the youth and offer meaningful education to change their lives.