A Road Trip, By Chance

The first time I learnt about Mallesham was via an email that was copied to me. Curious to know more about Mallesham, his invention and why he was featured in the Forbes list of Rural Innovators, I started reading all the articles about him online. On more than one occasion, a retired Brigadier’s name popped up. Turned out that Brigadier Ganesh Pogula and his organization, the Honey Bee Network, were instrumental in identifying and promoting Mallesham, a grassroot-level inventor.

The Invention:
Mallesham, who is from the weavers’ community, saw his mother toil day in day out weaving the Pochampally sarees. Instead of quitting the tradition or asking his mother to do so, he started thinking on the lines of why a machine can’t be used to do all the manually intensive work. After years of struggle, which included not just spending countless hours of time and effort, but also money, he invented the “Aasu Machine” in 2001. However, he soon realized that not only was this machine difficult to operate, it was also a huge maintenance burden as it had too many moving parts. He still didn’t give up, he went on working to improve this machine, made umpteen visits to the nearby industries to study machinery and he finally struck gold. In 2007, he re-invented the Aasu machine.

Work Of Art:
The Aasu machine is work of art. With no moving parts, with no noise at all and with no expertise required to operate it, the Aasu machine is a savior for the weavers. It was carefully designed and manufactured to capture every single step in the process of “Aasu”. A typical saree would need about 9000 rotations which took almost 5 hours, the machine could do the same rotations in 1 hour. Each machine could benefit at least 4 families.

The Aasu machine is a real-life example of how useful and practical education can be, for Mallesham learnt everything hands-on, in the process, unlike the pure academically-oriented education in schools and colleges. Simply put, the Aasu machine is Beautiful!

The Brigadier:
A highly decorated retired military Brigadier, who could have chosen to spend his post-retirement life basking in the glory of his service to the mother land, instead chose to go back to the villages and work with the rural community in an effort to try and make a difference. He and the Honey Bee Network were instrumental in identifying and promoting Mallesham and other inventors of his ilk, to get them the recognition they deserved. The Brigadier is the “Unsung Hero”. When I met him and was discussing about the current situation about weavers and farmers in particular, I remember him saying that his generation has miserably failed, for it produced no role models. And that we still look up to the Mahatmas, the Bhagath Singhs, the Subash Chandras et al. So no Sir, you are wrong, you are a role model to many of us youngsters. You never failed us. It is those who are controlling the reins of this country that failed us.

The Road Trip
During my recent 10-day trip to India, I had planned on meeting Brigadier Ganesh and also collect a few Pochampalli sarees so I could get some feedback on the sarees from my wife in particular, and also my friends. So the plan was for Mallesham to deliver the sarees at the Brigadier’s house. As always, not all the plans are executed as planned. Only this time, the change of plan was actually a better one. Thanks to my friend Usha, who within no time agreed to come along with me. Next day, at 5:30 in the morning, our road trip began. A delicious plate of idli, a madras cup of coffee and a 3 hour drive, that’s what it took us to get to Aler. We had informed Mallesham about the change of plans the previous night, so he was waiting at the ZP high school, which was right off the national highway. Since I knew Mallesham from before, i.e. through the online articles, I was at ease with him and so was he with me. Very down to earth and very humble! He led us to his house, which was right behind the high school. This was where he had a little shop floor, the manufacturing unit, where Aasu machines were built.

The Awards don’t mean a thing
Mallesham’s determination and dedication, combined with the Brigadiers efforts, Mallesham shot into the limelight in 2007. Mallesham received the Presidential award, various State-level awards, media coverage and he also made it the Forbes list of Rural Innovators. While I was talking to Mallesham, at the back of my mind, I was wondering why he hasn’t managed to get any funding from the government. The answer was right in front of me. I saw the awards, the certificates, the medals, all lumped under the TV Stand. Just like the awards don’t mean anything when essentials are not addressed, all the promises the government made apparently didn’t mean anything.

The Weavers
A 10-km drive from Aler on the local roads took us to the weavers. We visited four families. All of them had similar houses and set-ups. They had 2 looms each, with men doing the weaving for the most part and the women preparing the warp and weft threads for the weaving. And then there was the Aasu machine doing the Aasu in about an hours time with no manual intervention. They were highly skillful and very hard working. Their lot is nothing much to speak of yet no one in the entire trip complained nor did they express any regrets. They were still a proud bunch of weavers.

The weaving process has been described in detail in this presentation titled “Hands That Weave Magic, Now Seek Help”

The Professional who refuses to accept: While I was interacting with the weavers and Mallesham, Usha was silently working with her camera. She is good at capturing emotions, expressions through her camera. In fact, to me, she is a professional. The pictures she shot were used in making the above referred presentation. With the help of these pictures, I was able to convey the weavers’ situation in a way that helped people living abroad easily connect and relate with them. So Usha, those pictures were truly a work of a professional who believed in the work.

The Cry Wolf:
Mallesham summed up the whole situation in a sentence. In 2002, YSR, the then chief minister, was visiting all the villages and he happened to visit Aler as well. He had tears in her eyes when he heard about the plight of the weavers. Mallesham said “It was that day when we all started crying and haven’t stopped since”. Up until 2002, they had a weavers’ society which was under APCO, a government body, that would buy the sarees from the weavers and then sell it in the market. But in 2002, when governments changed, the policies also changed and the rest is history. So the tears started in 2002 and haven’t stopped since.

We can’t immediately stop these tears, but at least we can try to reduce them and may be in the near future, we can stop them. It’s not easy, if it were, they would have done it themselves. All they need is an opportunity and we are in a position to create opportunities for them, so why not we do it?

Had it not been for the Road Trip, I would have never been able to connect with the weavers, their problems nor be able to convey and convince my friends about their situation.

The actual project details: Weavers1 (2) (1)


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