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Noble Causes, Humble Lives

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It is a fact that we do not know many of those who make our lives easier. They are the silent warriors who dogeddly question inefficiency in governance and suggest workable solutions to weed out inequality in society. But most of them remain unsung heroes, due to total immersion in their fields, their scant regard for publicity, and the mainstream media's obsession with celebrities. For some, the obscurity ends with Inventive Indians, edited by Rita and Umesh Anand. The book celebrates their contributions to society with a comprehensive analysis of their craft and works.
Honest, passionate, engrossing and inspiring, this is a rare book that has been dedicated to individuals who dare to challenge themselves to solve the complex problems that plague our country. With "23 great stories of change", the book documents some innovative, balanced, economical and far-reaching solutions to tackle poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, pollution, water shortage, poor agricultural productivity and increasing urbanisation, to name a few. Collected over six of the eight years Civil Society magazine has been in circulation, stories in the book have been reproduced with an earnest belief that popularisation of path-breaking ideas would inspire many others.
The heroes of this book are simple folks with ordinary backgrounds, which makes their stories all the more interesting. Girish Bharadwaj, a 57-year-old mechanical engineer from Sullia in Karnataka, gave up gainful employment to pursue a small-time business serving the local rural community. For 14 years, he was a mechanic, doing jobs such as machinery erection and general fabrication. The turning point in his life came in 1989, when a range forest officer approached him for construction of a small suspension bridge in Kodagu district. Since then, he has built 66 bridges in South India, extending connectivity, employment, education and an easy mode of transfer of provisions to more than two lakh people in remote rural areas. Bharadwaj encouraged involvement of the local community in his construction efforts. Though he had his own team of 40 to 50 workers, he made himself available at the site all the time while a project was under way.

What makes Bharadwaj stand out is that there is no other agency in Karnataka and neighbouring states that builds suspension bridges. Today, he is much in demand. He has started taking government contracts as well.
The compilation includes Devi Shetty, one of India's best cardiac surgeons, who is working towards the "Walmartisation" of healthcare. "What happened to IBM's mainframes because of the PC will happen to expensive medical equipment… Shetty wants all of his software running out of computers instead of specialised equipment. He is sure that volumes are going to increase, making it viable for companies to produce machines more cheaply." Shetty and Alok Roy set up the Asia Heart Foundation, which runs four hospitals: the BM Birla Heart Research Institute, the Manipal Heart Foundation, the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences and Narayana Hrudayalaya. These hospitals perform 12 per cent of all heart surgeries in India. At Narayana Hrudayalaya, the emphasis is on cutting costs. For those who cannot afford to pay, a trust raises money.

In the near future, Shetty hopes to offer open heart surgery, including in-care facilities, at a fixed price of Rs 40,000. "Shetty's favourite presentation is called ‘Atoms to Bytes'. He is convinced that advances in information technology and communications will make quality healthcare available to everybody." His telemedicine project, run with assistance from the Indian Space Research Organisation, is a big hit. State hospitals in the Northeast are linked to the hospital via satellite. Shetty now wants to extend the telemedicine project to Malaysia, Tanzania and Bangladesh.

There is more. The book introduces us to a network of organisations involved in multiple noble causes, and makes the entire exercise of reading, a journey of revitalisation and rediscovery of the self, motivating one to do more for the society. That is what makes the book your ideal partner to start the new year with.

Editors' Details:
Rita Anand is the co-founder and editor of Civil Society magazine.She has reported widely on development issues and holds a masters in history from Jadavpur University. Umesh Anand is co-founder and publisher of Civil Society. A journalist by profession, he has worked with several leading Indian newspapers.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-01-2012)