The Man Who Moved a Mountain
September 22, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Dashrath Manjhi is a modern legend in Gaya, India. He resolved to carve a road through a mountain when his wife died on the long journey to the nearest doctor. With only hand tools, he worked full time for 22 years to cut through 360 feet of mountain. He shortened the distance to the nearest doctor from 75 km to 8 km. In recognition of his achievment, the government gave him five acres of land near his village, which he donated toward the construction of a small hospital. He he died in 2007.
posted by gilrain (37 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- Brandon Blatcher

It's true then, love can move mountains. Or at least cut through them.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2012 [16 favorites]

This man did this. I'm honored to have shared some time on the planet with him. And this story is such a welcome relief from the avalanche of hideous, backward and mean-spirited human endeavor that we are faced with every day, whether it's people railing against homosexuals or people railing against some dumbass movie about their prophet or people who are all worked up because they think a little bit of healthcare equals communism or any of that STUPID SHIT.

Dasrath Manji was a great man, and he puts all those miserable excuses for humanity to shame.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:14 AM on September 22, 2012 [94 favorites]

I can't say it any better, so I'll just point to flapjax at midnight's comment.
posted by hippybear at 9:20 AM on September 22, 2012

I can't believe that, after, say 10 years, the government or some private company didn't step in to help. That's incredible.
posted by DU at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when it feels easier to give up on making the world a better place, I read something like this.
posted by HuronBob at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is my awe and amazement face. Wow.
posted by absalom at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2012

I'm not the kind of person who seeks out feel-good stories on the internet or elsewhere, but am always more than happy to learn of a fellow such of this. It reminds me that a dedicated individual is a force to be reckoned with.
posted by mr. digits at 10:05 AM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Holy shit. That's amazing and beautiful.

(I'm trying to ignore the cynical part of myself that says if he tried to start that kind of project here, now, he'd get arrested for vandalism or destruction of property or not having a license or permit or some other stupid-ass reason, and just enjoy).

Anyway, makes it harder to find excuses, eh? Thanks for posting.
posted by windykites at 10:14 AM on September 22, 2012

Thanks for featuring "The Mountain Man" on MetaFilter.
My husband happens to be from Gaya and has been to the place for several times. Dashrath was just an ordinary, landless farmer who desperately wanted his village to be connected with the city. The biggest concern was getting medical help at the time of emergency. And let me share this with the readers that there are thousands of villages in India where there is no electricity, no road, and no basic medical facilities till date.

Dashrath tried all he could to convince his villagers to slit the hill apart but none agreed. So finally, he decided to hammer the hill alone. Then a day his beloved wife died on the way to hospital. The nearest hospital was not more than 2km away but the mountain stood on their way...and the other way that connected them to the city was about 55km long.

It took him over two decades to slit the mountain apart. He would sing keep working throughout the day and night. A couple of years later the villagers started providing him with food and water and he continued hammering the hill until the day he silt the hill apart and created about a kilometer long path.

If you ever visit his village, you will find the villagers to be living the same old life...Nothing has changed except for the fact that villagers can reach the city through the way created by Late Dashrath Manjhi. Several promises were made to them and none has been actualized till date :-(
posted by molisk at 10:24 AM on September 22, 2012 [77 favorites]

A man who was able to say he did something with his life.
posted by bongo_x at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Certainly Dashrath Manjhi was a most remarkable human being, miles above any ordinary Wall Street Corpocrate thief.

Yet, let's not dishonour his memory by taking away a wrong lesson: that he was primarily a rugged stubborn individual, suffering from the loss of a loved one, and that literally no mountain could have stopped him, and that's how everybody should be.

I know it maybe counterintutive, but Dashrath Manjhi was primarily NOT about rugged individualism, but rather he was an immensly compassionate person that evidently wanted his community to never suffer what he suffered ever again. He probably wasn't caught by some form of messianic delusion, but what's absolutely certain is that he wasn't absolutely selfish, which is a primary telltale sign of unlimited individualism.

The measure of his success was NOT in being able to break down a mountain with his own hands, nor in doing whatever he wanted in spite of the will of others, but rather in the fact he tried hard to help others, as well as himself, and he did it.
posted by elpapacito at 11:09 AM on September 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

Thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful human.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:10 AM on September 22, 2012

Inspiring. Simply inspiring.
posted by paladin at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2012

Welcome, molisk, I hope you find this a place worth sticking around and contributing to.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

worked full time for 22 years to cut through 360 feet of mountain

From what I can tell from the articles, he cut through a kilometer of mountain (or ridge), which was 360 feet high.
posted by hattifattener at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2012

All this mountain-pass-chipping has made it awfully dusty in here. (sniffle, wipes eyes)
posted by The otter lady at 1:21 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This made me cry, too. The dedication is both astounding and available to each of us.
posted by vers at 1:23 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

elpapacito: I don't see why it can't be both. Just because the right likes to use "rugged individualism" as a code-phrase for "bootstrap your way out of anything no matter how impractical" doesn't mean that that's not what happened here, and that it's not an admirable quality.

How you could "dishonour" his amazing effort by pointing out that he did it alone doesn't really make sense to me - it reads as reactionary. I think everyone should be like this man, that everyone should strive to better themselves and their world, and that there's nothing wrong for calling for that, one individual at a time. We are a planet of individuals, after all.
posted by Palindromedary at 1:23 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This required a MASSIVE Rita Hayworth poster.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:26 PM on September 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

A couple of years later the villagers started providing him with food and water
If those villagers were sympathetic to him and close enough to bring him food, why didn't they actually help him to build the road, since his efforts were by then understood to be beneficial to everyone (this article talks about thousands of villagers)? There's some piece missing in the story, like for instance local landlords forbidding people to help him, or him refusing to be helped, or some complex caste-related problem. I'm unfamiliar with Indian cultures, so I'm curious about the issues that would prevent some minimal form of cooperation in that case for 22 years, considering that cooperation is often key to survival in rural cultures. This article says that he was first believed to be a madman and that later the villagers were calling him Sadhu but I don't get the long transition. Great story in any case.
posted by elgilito at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2012

Some men move mountains, other men organize a community to move mountains. Each is equally worthy of our respect.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2012

From the Hindustan Times obit: "The mountain man’s only son and daughter in-law are handicapped and the family lives in abject poverty. For his own family, Manjhi could do nothing more than procuring an Indira Awaas Yojna unit."
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:29 PM on September 22, 2012

About his caste (the lowest one):
The Musahars are forced to live some distance away from the village. Nobody wants any contact with them. They are poor, illiterate and have no land. Some work as scavengers; others work as farm labour but are paid much less than the other workers. Often for months together they do not find work. Hunger stalks them at all times. Their occupation at one time was trapping and killing rats. To this day they are looked down upon as the people who live by gathering grains from the hideouts of rats in the fields, who even eat rats. The one Musahar child out of 100 children, who may want to go to school, finds that nobody wants to sit close by.
He carved out a road with a hammer, which he bought by selling his goats. The least they could do is pave the damn thing.
posted by Houstonian at 2:34 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just because the right likes to use "rugged individualism" as a code-phrase for "bootstrap your way out of anything no matter how impractical" doesn't mean that that's not what happened here, and that it's not an admirable quality.

We then may discuss what some of the quality/traits of the good Dashrath were.

If we are to consider "facing any apparently impossible task with relentless determination" as quality/trait, imho that's not a a quality/desiderable-trait we all should have.

Consider this apparently impossible task: jumping to the moon.

We all know that a human being can't jump and land on the moon - but we haven't always had the knowledge needed to state without fear of error that an human being will never, ever be able to jump on his legs and land on the moon. It just appeared impossible to us, but we couldn't tell for sure for centuries.

Neither could the villagers living with Dashrat, probably, tell for sure that Dashrath had a fighting chance of reaching his goal..they possibly and probably looked to him as if he was trying to jump to the moon: he must be crazy, they tought (and indeed, so far we don't have much evidence he was helped but by some compassionate being).

But oh, look at the little lovely Dashrath, he must be batshit insane, but look how lovely his relentless toiling is! Let's not even consider interrupting whatever he's trying to do, no matter how insane it appears for us, for we love him for his admirable trait of facing any apparently impossible task with relentless determination.

Now what if Dashrath wasn't trying hard to build a road for the benefit of the community, or for his personal gain, but was really trying to jump to the moon?

Probably, no matter how crazy his relenteless determination to jump to the moon, (or tunnel through a mountain, from the perspective of the villagers) may appear to be to many of us, some of us would still feel compassion for the toiling of an human being, not helped by any, left alone in his apparent crazyness ... but I seriously doubt that we would praise him for his relentlessness - the dude is quite probably insane, we would conclude.

Now what if Dashrath was a serial killer, would we still empathize with him and with his relentless determination to kill? I doubt it, I can hardly imagine sympathizing with a TRAIT of such a person, or with a single trait. What's to admire in a trait...alas..the hell is a trait anyway? Is it genetically determined? Is it an immutable property of a person that, for instance, for years worked 1000 hours a day, then become a couch potato all of the suddent?

Dashrath was facing an apparently impossible goal with a PURPOSE that wasn't -at all- insane, nor seemed at first to be insane, nor under futher scrutiny. What seemed to be insane was his method ..digging a mountain on his own. Yet I can't help sympathizing with the man for what he endured and praise him for his purpose.
posted by elpapacito at 3:08 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

2044. Int members of pre-Sing community MetaFilter today mourned the loss of elpapacito, who singlehandedly cut his way through a moral mountain of plated beans. He is survived by the eponymous ElPapa SuperTramp, which has been boinging cargo into lunar orbit since 2031. elpapacito refused Sing-int, and his ashes will be boinged to the lith on Wednesday.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:40 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Gotta love 2044 newspeak!
posted by elpapacito at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2012

On seeing Houstonian's post, I'd like to know what it would take for Metafilter to come together and get this man's road through the mountain paved.

It has to be possible. What needs to happen?
posted by vers at 4:20 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Does it need to be paved or just graded compacted and gravelled? Paving costs in the US seem to be in the $50k-$300k per mile range, and of course there's ongoing maintenance. Depending on the soil and climate, which I know nothing about, a gravel or well-packed dirt road might get you to the hospital, school, or market just about as well as a paved road. And you can do it largely with local materials, hand tools, and draft animals.
posted by hattifattener at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would seriously get behind that project. I dont have a whole lot of money but im sure i could pitch in something, and i've got a lot of free time. If you really think we could do it, I'm totally on board. I'm sure mefites could do collaborative fundraisers or something, and surely there are plenty of mefites who do international aid or charity-type stuff that could help figure out the logistics of actually turning the money into a paved (or gravel? Less matintenance?) Road. Feel free to memail me.
posted by windykites at 5:06 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This guy was the original Change - Yes We Can.
posted by spock at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2012

Ambrose Bierce :“Patience. A minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.”
posted by hortense at 5:36 PM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wow. My mind is blown and my heart is full. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by fueling depth at 9:23 PM on September 22, 2012

Well, I had a long conversation with my husband's father. He was in the Indian military in those years. I asked him the same question, "If Dashrath was being provided with water and food, then why some of the villagers did not join him?

Here is what he told me:

"The village back in those days comprised of less than 40 households and almost all of them had little or no land...They would look after the fields of the rich farmers and in return they get some percentage of paddy and wheat. This could be one of the reasons why none joined him. To them, it seemed an impossible and crazy task.

The path created by Dashrath Manjhi wasn't an ordinary one...It is approximately 16 feet wide and about a kilometer long. The hill he slit apart is made up of strong granite stones and the only tools he used were a hammer, a chisel and some ropes, which he traded with some of his goats.

A couple of years before he died, he took another impossible task, he traveled to New delhi along the railway track hoping he would generate enough awareness that the people of India would compel the government to take some immediate actions and complete the school and hospital that it promised to him several years ago.

Nothing much has happened as of now. We recently started a Facebook campaign in his support and we watched the Chief Minister on Bihar promising to speed-fast the pending works.
posted by molisk at 6:16 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really like this photo, which shows exactly what this man did. Amazing. Reminds me of the song:

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land
posted by Houstonian at 10:06 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It probably hasn't been paved because it's 16' wide and 25' high and it would be totally unsafe to have people driving through it on a regular basis. Also there's no drainage so it will erode any surface when it rains, you'd need a grader to keep it in good condition and those are very expensive. Practically speaking you'd need to do a lot of blasting, rock hauling etc to build that into a safe vehicle road from where it's at.

It's an incredible achievement and has made people's lives much safer I bet, particularly pregnant women or anyone who can be carried or ride a cart or mule or jeep down the road safely for which I greatly admire the builder. But to continue his goals it's better to focus money on getting emergency medical care in the village in the short term I think and the road completed in the long term.
posted by fshgrl at 9:52 PM on September 23, 2012

Well, I had a long conversation with my husband's father.
Thanks Molisk (and your stepfather!) for the feedback. I'm reading about historical roots of the peasant situation in South Bihar and it sheds some light on what's going on there.
posted by elgilito at 5:43 AM on September 25, 2012

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