Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mountains man loses battle with cancer

Dashrath Manjhi died with an unfulfilled dream on Friday evening at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In his last interview exactly a week ago, Manjhi had said, “When I became Chief Minister of Bihar for one day on July 24, 2006, Nitish Kumar asked me what my wishes were. I asked for my road to be made pukka. I also wished a hospital to be built beside this road, along the Gehlor Ghat, for my people. Both are almost ready. I will inaugurate it as soon as I am out of hospital.”

However, septicemia or blood poisoning, cut short Manjhi's dream at 4.30pm on Friday. Manjhi's slight frame belied the steely grit inside. Clad in a dhoti that was far from being spotlessly white, and hair tied over his head in a bun, Manjhi's occasional efforts to speak last Friday was punctuated by the murmur of his groans.

Having achieved extraordinary feats all his life, including the Herculean task of single-handedly carving out a 360-feet-long, 25-feet-high and 30-feet-wide road by cutting a mountain for 22 years, Majhi was battling his greatest foe till date - the incurable cancer of the biliary tract.

The sadhu baba, as he was lovingly anointed by Bihar's poorest, was by no means the conventional super hero. He did not share fictional Spanish noble man Zorro's love for the cape or Gotham's crusader Batman's antics. But what was common between this real life hero and the reel life upholders of justice, was his undying spirit to fight for his people - the Musahars.

On being asked why Majhi built the road, Rajinder Paswan, Majhi's chela, said, “In 1967, his wife Phaguni Devi was crossing the mountain carrying his lunch, when she she slipped and hurt herself. Agonised, Majhi decided overnight to create a metal road through the hill. Armed with a hammer and chisel, he didn't stop for 22 years. Today the road is used by 1,000 people everyday, as it has reduced the distance between Atri and Vazirganj from 50 km to 8 km.”

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