The Persistence of Dashrath Manjhi: The Man Who Carved a Mountain
“How wonderful it is,” says Anne Frank, “that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
The remarkable story of Dashrath Manjhi proves that if a man has the willingness to start and see a thing through, nothing can stop him from attaining his goal. Few words rival Theodore Roosevelt’s call-to-action that you should: “Start now. With what you have. Where you are.” George Herbert adds to it that, “The time will never be ‘just right’, start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you have at your command, better tools will be found along the way.”
It was this ability to start, that saw Dashrath Manjhi, a landless laborer from India, carve a 360ft / 110 meter road through a solid wall mountain. His sheer will and determination has subsequently changed the lives of millions of families — from more than 60 villages in Bihar. In 1960, the people of the Musahar settlement — which has a population of over 4 million — had to trek up and down this steep mountain for 75 kilometers in order to get to basic facilities such as hospitals, schools and clean drinking water. The tarred road traversing around the mountain was even longer. Manjhi would climb this mountain every day to get to work where he labored in the fields of a nearby village. His wife used to bring him food daily, taking a more treacherous, but shorter path. On one afternoon, she did not show up at the usual hour. When she did arrive, she was bleeding and in tears and could barely walk; she had fallen down the slope of the cliff and was badly injured. Furthermore, Manjhi could not take her to the hospital because it was on the other side of the mountain and a few kilometers walk.
This was when Manjhi decided to take matters into his own hands. He sold off the family’s three goats to buy himself a chisel, a hammer and crowbars. His goal was to carve a path right through this mountain. “When I started hammering the hill,” he says, “people called me a lunatic, but that steeled my resolve.” He kept digging. Nothing deterred him. He would earn his daily wages in the mornings and by dusk, return to the task of hammering the mountain. Manjhi worked with what he had at hand, which were basic tools, and often lit firewood on the rocks and threw water on them so it would crack, making it easier for him to smash and reduce to rubble.
Slowly and steadily, Manjhi carved the path. Other villagers, seeing his progress, started to help him. They gave his family food and soon began calling him ‘Baba’, out of reverence. As fate would have it, his wife soon fell ill and passed away because she couldn’t be taken to a hospital in time. This only further enraged Manjhi, vowing to complete the path even faster.
It took him twenty two years of dedication and hard work. He finally carved a path that was 110 meters long, and 9 meters wide. The road benefited his village, as well as the surrounding villages, it shortened the distance they needed to travel by several days. As soon as the road was completed, he went to see the then Bihar Chief Minister, to request that it be tarred. It is said that the Chief Minister — upon seeing him — offered his seat out of respect, a monumental gesture. The road was soon tarred the following year.
Manjhi unfortunately passed away a year that year due to cancer, but he had seen his goal through. His will to change his people’s destiny cemented him forever in the record books. Manjhi battled unfavorable circumstances and overcame them, even today, posthumously, he continues to inspire the hearts and minds of thousands of people from his village, and millions across the country.