The Man

Shramadaan is a seven year long journey of  Sri. Gangadhara Tilak Katnam  who stands as a example to the statement “be the change that you wish to see in the world.

Tilak retired from Indian Railways in Oct 2008 after 35 years of excellent service. During his tenure at Indian Railways he was an epitome of discipline and questioned the status quo and was instrumental in elevating the safety standards of Signaling System. After his retirement in Jan 2010 Mr. Tilak accepted the position of Software Design Consultant at Infotech Systems. This story does not ring too different from many of the middle class citizens who live all over India. They carry on with their lives making the best despite their myriad constraints.

However, what sets him apart is his unrelenting conviction that everyone has to play their part in bringing about the change we wish and hope for. This deep rooted belief coupled with indefatigable actions has propelled the inception of Shramadaan.

On his first day to work at Infotech, he was trying his best to maneuver his Fiat car on road near his home is with full of potholes. As careful and considerate he was to the pedestrians he could not help splashing muddy water from one of the potholes onto the neatly starched uniform of a little girl on her way to school. Her mother walking her to the school was not spared either. Though totally unintentional and unavoidable he deeply regretted his mistake and he immediately got off the car and expressed his apology to the mother and the daughter. The mother and child walked away indifferently paying no heed to his sincere apology.

The condition of the roads has reached such an abysmal state that the grief of failing infrastructure has reached indifference.

The basic amenity has been neglected for too long and too often. However, this cannot be said of Gangadhara Tilak because he did not rest easy after this incident and immediately ordered 6 truckloads of “moram” paying Rs.4200/-  from his own pocket and mended the entire road starting from his home.

Soon after this incident on his way to work Tilak had to witness an unfortunate accident in which a very young man lost both his limbs. Another day a collision of an Auto with an RTC bus damaged the auto and severely injuring its occupants. The reason for these accidents were not carelessness or reckless driving. Such incidents are not uncommon but most have chosen to turn a blind eye and get on with their lives.

We all are aware that damaged roads cause life threatening mishaps but very few of us notice the less menacing problems such as traffic delays, fuel wastage and vehicle damages. This in turn leads to frustration in our already stressful lives. Most of us channel this frustration and resentment towards the government or resign in passive indifference. From the most threatening accidents to the annoyances and inconveniences caused by damaged roads made Tilak restless. It was very difficult for him to come to terms with indifference and carry on with his life. It gave him sleepless nights and diverted all his energy and focus into solving this pathetic roads problem. He was unable to let go of the accidents he watched on his way to work. Working for a software company did not give him the satisfaction of value contribution.

He could not come to terms with the fact that though a simple and easy solution exists which can prevent such life threatening mishaps, no one seems to care or willing to do anything about it. Embracing Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” he embarked on a journey who as comfortably and respectably settled as he was would even care to consider.

Starting on 19th January 2010 filling the potholes became a typical weekend ritual for Tilak. Every Saturday and Sunday morning as soon as he found a pothole he got to the task of repairing the pothole with a crowbar, spade and gravel/tar mix. Thus he spent his weekends filling the potholes for close to two years. He spent hours speculating what he can do to alleviate the problem of potholes on roads and provide a more safe and secure travel road to every citizen. Once he realized what needs to be done, it was evident his weekend contribution was not adequate to solve the magnitude of the problem – where every busy and non busy road is filled with potholes.

On July 31st 2011, this pothole man quit his job at Infotech and made filling the potholes his new job so that the roads WE ALL travel are safer. Instead of resentment, indifference, complaining  and talking , he choose sympathy, concern, solution and action.

Mr. Tilak started his journey on the road less traveled.

Message in Telugu: