Dashrath Manjhi was a landless Indian peasant with nothing to his name but a couple of goats, a job as a laborer, and a wife he adored. They lived in the minuscule village of Gehlaur in India, remote and blocked from the nearest towns with any facilities to speak of by a steep mountain ridge slung between them like a giant’s speed bump. Travel from Gehlaur to that next town over was only five or so miles as the bird flies, but was only traversable for the inhabitants of the area by a treacherous climb along rocky and thin ledges, winding some fifty miles.
And in 1959 his wife, while bringing him lunch on the other side of the mountain where he worked, fell and was badly injured, dying later that year. Her death was largely because it was impossible to get her to the hospitals on the other side of the ridge. The love of his life gone, Manjhi did not wallow, though he mourned. Did not give up, though he gave up everything else. Did not turn to hating the world, but instead embraced a love for it.
He made the mountain his crusade.
Manjhi sold his goats for a handful of tools, quit his job, and then climbed to the top of the mountain and began chiseling. He beat the top of the mountain with a few bits of iron, all day, every day. He was mocked, he hurt himself at times, but always he returned to hammer at the stone. For 22 years, he carved a channel out of that immortal ridge, until his work was done. He received no help but an occasional donation. The government shrugged in indifference that a man was singlehandedly doing what they should, though the forest ministry considered arresting him since damaging the mountain was illegal.
Thirty feet deep and wide, three hundred and sixty feet long, there was a road where once there was only rock.
The nearest hospital was now five miles away instead of fifty. The children of the village could now attend school, suddenly only a couple of miles away instead of dozens. All told, over sixty villages now had a road to the wider world.
The government honored him once it was done. They gave him some land, which he donated for a new hospital. And he asked them repeatedly to tar the road so that it would not go to waste.
It took them 30 years to do that. Longer than it took one man to break a mountain with his own hands.
There are heroes in this world, men and women who are driven mad and channel it into something beautiful. The shame of our world is that we cannot believe that a mountain can be moved a pebble at a time, when in fact, it’s the only way they ever do. The long eons of rain can level the vastest mountain, can carve out the Grand Canyon, and wash it all away to the sea. We know this, we accept it as a truism. If only it didn’t take a mad man to realize that each of us is a river unto ourselves, then all the mountains might be leveled.