Melethuveettil Sasi has never heard of Dashrath Manjhi, the Bihar mountain man who single-handedly carved a road to his village. But the 63-year-old disabled man from Vilappilsala in Thiruvananthapuram district, has nearly achieved an equally impressive feat, carving a 200-metre road through the hill in front of his house.
It took him three years to finish the arduous work that gives his family and five others a straight road to reach the wider world.
Sasi had been a coconut tree climber since the age of 15. “Besides that, I did whatever work I could find. That is how I bought these five cents of land and built this small house,” Sasi says pointing to his modest dwelling. Until he built his road, the only way to reach Sasi’s house was by a path that wound around the hill in front of the house.
But tragedy struck 18 years ago, when he fell from a tree. “I was good at climbing trees, but that day, somehow I slipped. One side of my body was paralysed. My legs and hands were broken. I spent days and months in bed, not even able to move,” Sasi recalls.
Following the tragedy, Sasi’s two sons had to quit their education and start working. “It took years for me to even be able to stand up. But I wanted to walk somehow. So I slowly taught myself to walk,” he explains.
It was a struggle for him and his family to meet treatment expenses.
Some years ago, Sasi hit on the idea of buying a three-wheeler scooter so that he sell lottery tickets and help support his family. “I hoped to buy a scooter so that I could work despite my disability. I applied to the Panchayat for some money to buy a three-wheeler scooter.”
However, when Sasi went to the Panchayat office for help, some of the officers laughed at him, and asked him if he would fly the scooter over the hill blocking his house.
“For almost ten years, I knocked on all doors to get a road to my house. I gave a number of petitions to Panchayat officers. But nothing and no one helped me,” he says.
In 2013, seeing that none of the authorities would help, Sasi picked up a pickaxe and a shovel to carve the road himself.
“I never thought about when I would finish the work. I was just determined to have a road. Every day, I would begin my work at 5am, then stop at around 8.30am when the day began to get hot, and resume the work at around 3.30pm or 4pm in the evening and work till the sun went down.”
The enormity of the task was not lost on Sasi, whose hands and legs had never healed properly from the fall, and who had immense trouble in even simply walking. “Initially, I got injured many times. I couldn’t balance well when I swung the pickaxe, and fell often. But eventually I managed to tame my body,” he states matter-of-factly.
When the neighbours and other locals saw what Sasi was doing, they couldn’t believe it. But as they saw what he was managing to achieve, they became more supportive, says Sasi. “Some of them taunted me when they saw me working, but later they all understood.”
Working for almost six hours a day, Sasi has come within feet of his impressive goal in three years. But a final obstacle stands in his way. “There is an electrical pole in the way that has to be removed to complete the road to my house,” Sasi explains. So Sasi is once again frequenting government offices with requests to relocate the electric pole. “There is only few metres of work left. All the rest is done,” he says.
But even as Sasi hopes and prays that he can bring his three-year mission to fruition, he points out that the Panchayat is yet to do its part. Though Sasi has painstakingly carved his road to self-reliance, he is yet to receive the scooter that will let him travel along it and achieve his dream.
Photos by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair