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Foot bridges as keys to some village futures[continued]

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Movie and media splash:

Work began more or less simultaneously in the two villages with enthusiastic participation of the villagers. The bridges cost about Rs.100,000 each but in a revolutionary break from the habit of looking up to the government, villagers subscribed the whole sum in cash and kind. Bharadwaj had built in no profit. He also contributed his time and all the construction equipment. Many villagers laboured for no pay. Women served tea and snacks. Children gambolled. They had a party.

There were emotional scenes on the day the bridges opened. People simply, endlessly walked up and down the 87 m long Arambur foot bridge. Many choked with delight unable to speak. "I was at an extraordinary moment," says Bharadwaj. "A middle aged housewife embarrassed me no end: she wordlessly fell at my feet, in thanks and looked up with her eyes full of tears." He had not quite realised how much a bridge can mean.

The bridges at Arambur and Amchur became media darlings. There were public meetings convened to honour Bharadwaj. A full length Kannada movie --"Swati"-- was scripted around the two bridges and became popular throughout Karnataka. And Girish Bharadwaj and his firm "Ayas Shilpa" ["Sculptures in Steel"] have had no rest since then.

He is a changed man, changed by the bridges he builds. And he sees the changes his bridges have wrought. Children target universities now and grooms are in plenty for village belles. Trade in village produce is booming. As these bridges have built in ducts for power and telephones these services are stable. Health emergencies are easily handled. And best of all these bridges don't permit cars! A suspension bridge can be completed in 3 months as against the standard Government designs in concrete that take 3 years to build, cost ten times more and are ugly to boot.

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