More than 30 years ago, Uddhab Bharali stopped taking engineering at Jorhat Engineering College in Assam, northeast of India. He had to drop out because he could not afford to pay the fees and at the same time, he had to take care of his family.
But leaving engineering school did not stop Bharali to practice his skills. Through his keen sense of creativity and innovation, he developed new machines mostly made from scrap. This way, he was able to provide for his family and pay his father’s debts.
His first big break as an innovator was when he created a polythene-making machine. The demand is high for the product that time from surrounding tea estates in Assam, which is why the machine was a hit. More than that, it is also cheaper: a branded one costs $5,000 more than his self-made machine.
This product, among others, was what kept Bharali to continue inventing. He saw the need for different products so he became passionate in providing what the people need at a fraction of the commercial price.
Photo by BBC
“I like to solve problems,” he said in an interview with BBC. “I like to make [people] a little more comfortable with themselves, or a little independent.”
However, it took a lot of time – about 18 years – before Bharali got to his respectable status now. Previously, the people around him thought he was “worthless.”
But he persevered.
Much of his inventions now are focused on agriculture, reducing tasks which formerly require back-breaking labor. From de-seeding of pomegranates, peeling cassava and areca nuts, cutting tobacco leaves, stripping canes, to extracting passion fruit juice, all these machines offer speedy agricultural process, as well as a source of livelihood among locals.
Photos via The Better India
Other than agriculture, Bharali has developed machines which are important in construction. He has devices to split long lengths of bamboo and make cement bricks.
His obsession towards inventing things is deep-rooted in his desire for philanthropy. Being already financially stable and still earning from selling his inventions and designing technical solutions for businesses and government, Bharali decided to allot a large part of the profit of his products into his research institute and as support to 21 families (whose main breadwinner is disabled) including health, education, food, and clothing.
“Through my innovations, I want to reach out to those who are living below the poverty line, nationally and internationally,” he said as quote in The Better India.
“I don’t want to make any profits for myself. I have made that clear to my family as well. Sometimes they think I am crazy, but I think it is the want of luxuries that drives you crazy. I believe that if you cannot help society through your knowledge and capabilities, you are living a worthless life,” he added.
This trait of Bharali must also be the reason why that among the hundreds of inventions he has, his favorite is the one that helps people with disabilities – those who have lost their hands. Made from everyday items like Velcro fasteners and a spoon, the simple device is attached to the forearm which helps the amputated person to eat and to write.
Fifteen-year-old Raj Rehman is one of the recipients of this device. He was born with congenital amputations and cerebral palsy. Another favorite device of Bharali, which is worn as a footwear, is also being used by Raj.
Photo by BBC
“I used to worry about myself before but now I feel stress free. I don’t have to worry how I will cross the railway line to reach school as now I can walk without difficulty,” Raj said to BBC. “I am happy that I can take care of myself.”
Bharali is proof that it does not require formal education for one to be an engineer. He believes that the fundamentals of innovations cannot be taught.
“Any person with a restless mind, who is uncomfortable with things in the world, is an innovator.
“Innovation comes from inside you. No-one can make you an innovator, you have to feel it,” he said.
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