White hair, bespectacled, born in a farmer's family in Yernaduem village in the West Godavari district. Sixty-six year old Gangadhara Tilak Katnam is a man on a mission.
Since 31st July 2011, the retired senior section engineer of the Southern Railways has been travelling the city and filling every pothole he spots. Tilak has filled a staggering 1,124 potholes so far.
"After working for the South Central Railway for 35 years, I retired in October 2008 and spend some time off in 2009, also travelling to the US to meet my son. In January 2010, I came back and settled down in Hydershakote in Hyderabad and took up a job as a consultant in a software agency," says Tilak, talking about his beginnings.
It was during his job with the software firm that Tilak's idea for his future initiative called 'Shramadaan' or 'Offering physical help' grew and took root.
"I was driving to my first day of office when I ended up splashing dirty mud water on school going children after my car fell into a pothole on the road. Then a few more accidents followed at various places," he says.
At each accident, Tilak kept telling the police that the accident could have been avoided if the pothole was fixed but it was one incident that made him take matters into his own hands.
"It was near Langer House in the Old City area and I had already seen an accident occur there four days ago. An RTC bus rammed an auto, crushing one person to death immediately. I was horrified by what I saw and realized that if someone had filled the pothole after the previous accident, a life could have been saved," he adds.
From then on, there was no turning back. Some spare empty gunny bags were always kept in his car and he collected tar lumps from foot paths and started filing potholes as he traveled to and fro from work.
After one and half years, it had got to the point that Tilak could not sit at work and used to skip lunch to fill potholes during his lunch break.
"After that, I quit my job and for the next one year till June 2012, I spent my pension money on fixing roads. This naturally upset my wife, because she didn't want to see me work in the hot son and she called my son down from the US to talk some sense into me," says an amused Tilak.
But the son saw his father's determination and decided to help him out instead and even created a website and Facebook page for Tilak's cause.
That was the birth of 'Shramadaan' - a voluntary initiative run by Tilak where students and young adults meet and repair potholes. They even have a helpline where people can call and inform them of potholes in a particular area.
(The Shramadaan team at work)
Tilak's son also approached the GHMC commissioner and told him about Tilak's work. The Commissioner tried dissuading Tilak with an assurance that they would fix the problems. However, Tilak refused to budge and the GHMC joined hands with the initiative.
From June 2012, The GHMC is providing Tilak and his initiative with resources and materials required to fill potholes.
Tilak agrees that there is a serious change in mindset required in the general public with their attitude to their surroundings. It's the 'nothing can be done now' attitude that limits a lot of people, he says.
(The Hyderabad traffic police also occasionally join in with Tilak's efforts)
Tilak also adds that though his initiative has grabbed the attention of the media, it has not drawn any attention from politicians, who are supposed to be the real people who bring change.
Tilak also does not accept any donations or funds and does everything from his own pocket. He has also been given the title of a "Doctor of Roads" by those familiar with his work
"I used to spend Rs 25,000 per month but after the GHMC started providing materials, I only spend around Rs 15,000 of my total Rs 20, 000 pension. My son takes care of my household financial needs," Tilak adds.
(Tilak with his wife)