Monday, January 07, 2008

An Unsung Hero : Girish Bharadwaj...

In India, when we browse the newspapers these days, we read volumes about the story of 'digital divide' and how many of the telecom vendors and other entities are attempting to bridge this gap. To me, to be connected with the outside world, comes in the second level of requirement, after the core essentials for the proper functioning of a developing society are met.

The luxuriant Western Ghats kissing the borders of Karnataka and Kerala are a fascinating series of greenery dotted with hills and valleys, simple people, countless rivers and loads of freshness. Traveling across this stretch in the Indian Railways is the best way to soak oneself with the flourishing vegetation. To an occasional visitor, all these appear charming, a perfect way to break free from the randomness of city life. But come rainy season, this region is completely cut from the outside world, a place where people use boats or coracles in their daily lives to commute and to transport kids to the schools across the water bodies.

Living in cities and towns, we are tuned to getting all the facilities to reach our offices, schools, banks or for that matter any destination at any time of the day. Now think of a scenario in a village where the boats are the only savoir, and with the overflowing river during the monsoons, most boatmen are reluctant to ferry their boats. Life would come to a standstill, kids can't go to schools in time, pregnant ladies needing medication in the middle of the night can't be transported to the nearby hospitals and the problem list becomes endless.

But there is this unsung hero who with his engineering skills and humanistic activities has brought smiles and cheer in the faces of many people. This is Girish Bharadwaj, who hails from a small village Arambur, in Aletty district near Sullia town on the western slopes of Kodagu. Born in Mangalore in 1950, this virtuoso received his formal education from P.E.S. College of Engineering in Mandya near Bangalore. He learnt the classical techniques in Mechanical Engineering, during the 1970's, a time when not much stress was laid on experimentation but rather on the application part of it. During those days, getting a job was considered a remarkable achievement, and Girish took up a part time job while running Ayas Shilpa (sculpture in steel), a small fabrication unit in Sullia town.

It was in 1988, that Girish's career took a dramatic turn, when few people from his native approached him and requested him to build a bridge. Girish replied that since he was Mechanical Engineer and was not at all adept in Civil Engineering and construction related designs, he was not qualified for the assignment. But persistence, tenacity and the people's faith in him, triggered an unusual fire within him and he started studying about bridges. He consulted the technical faculty at two of the top technical institutions in India, National Institute of Technology, Surathkal and Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and thus started his journey.

Today at the age of 58, Girish is the proud architect and constructor of close to 68 bridges in the deep hinterland, the average length of most bridges being 70 to 80 meters. The skeptics who had the impression that bridges, cannot stand without the pillars in difficult terrain, are speechless today with his marvelous creations, the suspension bridges.


I know Girish for a while now and after interacting with him, he shared with me few other facets of his artistry.

Initially big trees were used as pylons, if those were available at the right place as in case of Kodagu district. The trees were the perfect fits, when the bridges stretched from 10 to 30 meters. Concrete pylons are now preferred for longer stretches because of their assured long life. The hanging floor element is quite stable supported by anchors and transoms. On both sides of the bridge, PVC coated chain-link fencing is erected till waist level. Over the years, the bridges have seen many conceptions and engineering innovations.

Girish is supported in his work by a team of 36 members, of which 18 perform the core design and implementation tasks. Since there is no other organized body in India, which is consistently building hanging bridges at a low cost, with uncompromising importance to safety and quality, Girish has to yield to pressures now and then. I learnt that very recently he has got invitations from Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir and Bhavnagar in Gujarat to undertake some new initiatives in those lands.

Because of various reasons such as distance to commute from Karnataka and to adjust in these new lands with different climatic conditions, lack of a skilled team to backup his core team members who are getting old, Girish is more than willing to share his knowledge and know-how's to interested people. He told me that all he needed were a dedicated engineer and a bunch of smart working boys and he would accompany and guide them till the completion of two or three bridges in a new region. Thereafter, the new team can carry on this task all by itself.

Girish, a father himself never pressurized his own children to carry on this tradition, and he is scouting for people interested to perfect the craft and utilize this workmanship for the benefit of the people and society. Although Girish, has not been advertised in the print and the online media much, he has found himself admirers from far and wide like Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Cambodia, etc.

Girish's people-based approach towards his work has always attracted considerable local support and it is very practical. When construction is in progress, his entire team, lives in small tents constructed on the river bed. They share the work and the food, concentrating till the project gets over. Girish recently completed a project in the naxalite terror afflicted, Warangal district in a placed called Laknawaram in Andhra Pradesh. He told me that, at night the common villagers used to come and share the tent with his entire team, providing the much needed security more out of thankfulness and appreciation, rather than his personal petition.

Trifle makes perfection but perfection is not a trifle, these words of wisdom apply to this master artisan who has lived his life bringing goodwill to millions of hearts. A rare individual to find in this bribe hungry bureaucratic world, not bothered about the felicitations, and all that drives him in his selfless endeavor is the gratitude and the warm blessings of the people.

Girish Bharadwaj's story is informative for those uninformed of India's social dynamics and wish to bring about a change by engaging in action-less dialogues and debates in television channels. Much of the exclusive economic growth and development is centered around urban areas and most of us in these concrete jungles, do not have enough time and energy for making a change in the bowels of India. But that hasn't stopped few humble folks from exploring ideas and gathering a core of dedicated people around their passion. Isn't that a miracle ?

Keep reading and remain connected.

(Note: Incase any reader is interested to interact with Girish and wish to learn more about his work, do drop me an email, (its there on my profile) to collect the contact and email details. Doing this to avoid misuse of the contact number and email account with unwanted calls and spam mails.)

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At 8:30 AM, Blogger Ni said...

Excellent post! Reminded me of my childhood days when I had to cross these creaky wooden bridges(a few wooden pillars erected on the river bed and flat wooden floorboards) to reach my grandparents place. Used to scare the hell out of me back then. Now the place is a little more developed and a concrete bridge has been built further down the river.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Goli said...

Great post dude...
I loved reading it. I saw someone doing similar stuff on CNN IBN citizen journalist, I dont remember the name, maybe it was Girish only.

But great post dude.

Hope to keep reading more of them.

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post dude

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Sur said...

Nice post! Kudos to people like him who dedicate their whole lives in doing what they believe in and in the process touch thousands of lives. Thank you for sharing his story.

At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Ram said...

Since when Indians borrowed the term 'dude'? Some Americanisation!
Nice to see one interested in things other than IT and working in IT sweat shops, and doing things really useful. Mandya about 40 miles from Mysore,near Bangalore? Goo luck to him in his quest for apprentices, when the order of the day is to seek internships in Infosys and Wiprod

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Rajat said...

nice post.
good to know there are people doing
great things in life to bring a positive change.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Ramchandra PN said...

Wonder if you know about a bridge build by bharadwaj on the river Payaswini near Puttur... It is supposed to have bridged the bond between two warring neighbors. Would like to hear more about this, if you know about it...

At 8:11 PM, Blogger AJ said...

Hi. I intend to contact Mr Bhardwaj. Would it be possible for you to share his email?

At 12:04 PM, Blogger deep suman said...

We are 200 farmers having land in a village surrounded by Satluj and Pak the fourth we are looking forward to Mr Bhardwaj to help us out with his cheap styles the span is 600 feet and on govt is ready to help with 1.5 crore for a bridge which could carry 15 tonne weight.
Waiting for the reply.
Karan Singh Dhaliwal


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