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Foot bridges as keys to some village futures[continued]

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Researching the Golden Gate:

In 1975 Engineer Graduate Girish Bharadwaj set up a small workshop in Sullia and instantly rose in everyone's esteem. It was a time when India dreamt of becoming an industrialised nation and mechanical and civil engineers were held in awe. His was a modest repair workshop. The first break came when he got a contract to erect extruders and rollers for the rubber factory that Karnataka Forest Development Corporation was establishing nearby. The simple villagers employed as labourers saw the factory as a modern wonder. And Bharadwaj was seen as a wizard. Slowly, news of the young man spread.

Early one morning in 1989, a delegation from Arambur arrived at his house. As Bharadwaj heard with that sinking feeling you get when people grossly overestimate you, the village head-man said they had heard of his knowledge and skill. They had a request he must not turn down: the village wanted a foot bridge over their river Payasvini to lead them out of isolation. Sridhar Bhatt a village techno of Amchur --heading his own delegation-- suggested as a starting point, the Lakshman Jhoola, a rope bridge across the Ganga in Haridhwar. Both villagers wanted stable versions of it with no yaw. They took him to Amchur where there was the rope bridge mock-up Bhatt had rigged between two windows across the street. There was no saying no now. The villagers had been smitten. They had their dream and they had their man.

"I came back overwhelmed by my sense of inadequacy," says Bharadwaj. "My education had in no way prepared me to design and build a bridge. I was in panic." He began to study bridges for the first time in his life. We have to imagine him in a small town in remote Karnataka, way back in the seventies when engineering education was 'formally-British' rather than 'inventively-Yankee'. And there were no libraries to research in. He browsed a few civil engineering text books and quickly had a grip: he needed to build a 'suspension bridge'. That was the most viable solution. And the only such bridge on which his books had some usable design information was the Golden Gate, San Francisco! Nothing less! That was the moment that spawned the suspension foot bridges of western India.

Bharadwaj got a hang on the design and worked out sizes and strengths. The pylons would be reinforced concrete and the suspension cable would be multi-strand industrial steel rope. The verticals were steel and the deck would be wooden planks, stayed against swaying. He approached the Regional Engineering College in Suratkal to go over his design. "Professor Lobo spent a lot of time over my design, made some changes and helped wholeheartedly," he says.

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