This is an inspirational, true story about one man’s indomitable spirit; and yet, it has nothing to do with God, or religion, or spirituality. It is about a desperately poor and inconsequential man’s determination to make life a little easier for his wife, his family and his neighbours.
Manghi, a landless farmer, lived in a tiny village in India’s heartland. Like many villages, a few decades ago, this one had no electricity, no motorable road and just one public telephone. What it did have was a 300 foot high, rocky hill, plumb in between the village and the fields where these marginal farmers cultivated their meager crops – not to mention, the nearest source of drinking water.
Back in 1960, Manghi was in his early twenties (exact age unknown, since few villagers had their births registered in those days) and recently married. His wife had been chosen for him by his parents, as per tradition, but he loved her in his own way. It pained him to see her climb the hill, several times a day, to fetch potable water for the family. The return journeys were even worse, since she would be carting a three gallon water pot. As was almost inevitable, one day she slipped on the rocks and broke her ankle.
That day, something snapped inside Manghi. He had to get rid of that mountain or, at least, find an easier way to cross it. Manghi may have been almost destitute, but he was no fool. He knew that approaching the authorities for help would be futile. Even assuming they condescended to listen to him, bureaucratic red tape would ensure that nothing happened for years.
It was then that Manghi embarked on his glorious quest: the kind that is usually reserved for legends and Don Quixote. And Manghi did not even have the assistance of a Sancho Panza; just his two hands and a lion heart. He got a chisel and a hammer and started chipping away at the mountain. He was going to cut a passage through his tormentor if it killed him – and it nearly did. Soon, desire became an obsession and he hammered away almost sixteen hours a day.
Not surprisingly, his fellow villagers considered him stark, raving mad. They mocked him daily; and little boys threw pebbles at him and shouted pagal(madman). His family tolerated it for a while, but began to get worried when he sold his only goat for a bigger chisel, a better hammer and some rope.
It was only after ten years of arduous labour that people began to notice a change in the shape of the hill. Instead of a defiant rock face, the hill had a depression in the middle. Climbing it became a little easier. It dawned on the villagers that the “madman” was on to something. Some even chipped in to help – literally.
In 1982, twenty-two years after he started, Manghi’s odyssey came to a triumphant conclusion. On that memorable day, Manghi walked through a clear, flat passage – almost 16 feet wide – to the other side of the hill. Ironically – and tragically – his wife, for whom he had dreamed his impossible dream, was not at his side to share in his triumph. She had passed away in an illness – because he could not get her to a hospital in time.
Even the lethargic authorities finally sat up and took notice. There are plans to develop the rough passage into a motorable road. The Chief Minister of the state has promised that Manghi will have the honour of laying the foundation stone for the project.
Men like Manghi are the true heroes in an imperfect world. Manghi’s brief moment in the sun will quickly become yesterday’s news. Manghi will not go down in legend, nor will songs be composed in his honour. He will quietly disappear into the oblivion whence he emerged. However, maybe he will have the satisfaction of knowing that – for one brief, shining moment – a destitute man with nothing but will power and immense faith created his own personal Camelot. Faith did, indeed, move a mountain. For that same brief, shining moment, Manghi made the rest of us proud to belong to the human race.