Dhanjibhai Kerai (31) hails from a middle class farmers’ family in Mundra taluka, Kutchh region of Gujarat. He has not gone to school but later on by on his own wish, he went to “Praudh Sikshan Kendra” – Elders’ Education Program of the Government for three months and learnt reading and writing to some extent. Dhanjibhai was born physically challenged. Yet, he displays tremendous determination. Standing hardly one and a half feet (0.5 M) tall, he weighs just 19 kg. His movements are excruciatingly slow. At the age of two years, a severe attack of polio left him disabled permanently and ever since he has no use of his legs and one hand. But unfazed by this disability, he is full of zeal. Though he does not having formal education or training, he has also acquired knowledge of repairing electrical and automobiles appliances. He is reputed as an excellent mechanic in his area. The speed at which he can drag himself on his own may not be at more than three metres a minute. Still undaunted, he designed for himself a special scooter with which he can travel 150 km in a day. This self-taught young man is always on the look out for ways to make his life more useful and more comfortable. Dhanjibhai is unmarried and lives with his parents. He has 20 acres non irrigated land and his father is looking after the farming.
Dhanjibhai recalls that he used to travel on his mother’s back, wherever she went, until he was 15 years old. It was at that point in his life he decided to take matters into his hands and literally so. Since then, he attends himself to all his personal chores. Not stopping at that, he was also determined to become self-reliant and to earn his own living.
Dhanjibhai’s maternal uncle staying in London had sent him a two-in-one radio set cum tape recorder. After a few days, Dhanjibhai dismantled the tape recorder and decided to put it back again. But he did not succeed in doing so even after trying for three consecutive days. Then he left the tape recorder at that stage and concentrated on fixing an engine of a moped to his bicycle. One of his friends Kamalbhai Singhal helped him in welding the engine on his cycle. The moped-engine-powered bicycle was ready in four days and once again he returned to the tape recorder. After carefully observing the wiring he started reassembling it and this time he succeeded.
Dhanjibhai had always wanted to drive a scooter but it seemed practically impossible for a man who was unable to use two feet and a hand. Gradually, his desire turned into determination. To fulfill his dream, he started collecting a number of items with which to retrofit a scooter in a way that his handicaps would not be impediments in riding it.
The first predicament was that he could not hold the handlebar of a two-wheeler with both hands and keep his balance. So he decided to convert the two-wheeler into a four-wheeler. This was to be a unique experiment. He bought two old auto rickshaw wheels and picked up a fairly strong steel pipe. With these, he set himself on the job and succeeded in modifying the scooter and customizing it as per his needs for his day to day conveyance so that he could drive the vehicle himself.
Basically this is an assembled scooter with the chassis and engine being that of Bajaj Priya and the outer body of Bajaj Chetak. The scooter has two support wheels (Modified Luna supports) on either side for balancing the vehicle. A removable seat has been fixed in front of the usual driver seat for Dhanjibhai to reach the handle bars. A lever has been attached to the rear wheel brake, for the driver to be able to apply the brakes with his hand. The rear two wheels are kept a little higher so that the vehicle does not skid. With this set up the driver is able to conveniently drive the vehicle and reach a maximum speed of 60-70 km/ hour.
His friend, Kamalbhai, first test-rode the scooter for two days before giving Dhanjibhai his go-ahead for trying it. This whole experiment had taken about three months and it took Dhanjibhai three days to learn how to drive this scooter. Around Rs.3000 was spent on this experiment. The only problem he faces is in starting the scooter for which he requires somebody’s help. A person lifts Dhanjibhai and places him on the seat of the scooter and he positions himself and holds the handlebar. The person then starts the scooter by cranking the kick pedal after which Dhanjibhai rides away merrily on kuchcha and pucca roads. The most significant fact of the innovation being that it frees this physically challenged person from dependence on other people and restores a degree of normalcy to his life as well as extends his utility to society as a contributing member.
From Hobby to Profession
The success with his aunt’s two-in-one gave Dhanjibhai the confidence to repair electrical and electronic appliances. Soon, he was trying out his skill on television sets, radio sets and other electrical and electronic gadgets. He bought a few old tape recorders and radio sets to work on in order to perfect the art. “Many people willingly gave away their old gadgets to me," he says. He repaired them, and sold them off to those who could not afford brand new items.
Gradually, he found enough work to keep himself busy. Thus he took to repairing electrical gadgets as a profession and this provides him with a decent livelihood.
Dhanjibhai relates his learning and exploratory experience: “There was nobody in our village to whom people could take their tape recorders, radio sets or watches when they developed some problem and they had to be simply abandoned. I first bought a repairing kit and started work. I kept my charges very reasonable. Also, I put my most sincere efforts in getting things working. Then, I started mending and vulcanizing bicycle and scooter tyres. By and by, I graduated from audio to video. I got a VCR from a relative, studied its mechanism and learnt to repair that too. As soon as I mastered one skill, I began looking for another to study and master.”
From repairing to assembling…
Dhanjibhai eventually started assembling new tape recorders and television sets out of components sourced from the electronics market. He has assembled and sold 150 tape recorders, 80 radio receivers and 50 television sets, 20 colour TVs and 30 black-and-white TVs. He does not assemble the sets for stock but starts work only after securing an order. He earns Rs 200 to Rs 300 per day on an average and that makes him financially self-reliant. Owners of electronic-goods shops in Bhuj, Mundra and Mandvi vouch that Dhanjibhai is a reliable and skilled mechanic. They often pass on the repairing jobs they get onto Dhanjibhai. “Sometimes, they even insist that I should carry out repairs on sophisticated and latest gadgets. That is the time when I realise that the sky is the limit for a person to keep learning,” Dhanjibhai declares proudly. The users of ‘Dhanjibhai-assembled machines’ are very happy with the performance of the products and claim that these are even better than branded goods from established companies.
Looking to the future with hope…
Dhanjibhai is very grateful to his friends who always helped and supported him. As he cannot start the scooter by himself, he has to always take a friend with him wherever he goes. He is not very comfortable with this ‘dependence’ and so is all set to incorporate a self-starting mechanism in the scooter and he plans to develop it himself.
It is a pity that many scooter companies when contacted by SRISTI, which honoured him with SRISTI Sanmaan in 1999, did not give much response as yet. But sooner or later, the industry will have to respond. There are enough Dhanjibhai like young people in this world who want to be independent and self-reliant. Markets will have to eventually respond to this un-met need of handicapped people.
Dhanjibhai Kerai, has demonstrated that where there is a will, there is a way. He has mastered the art of repairing various electronic items such as televisions, VCRs, radios, tape recorders and is a sought after technician in his area. With only one functional hand and undeveloped legs due to polio attack, he has shown that physical handicap need not constrain the mental capacity and vision. His desire to be independent in his movements led to a design of four wheeler scooter that he can drive as his own. Once somebody kick it and put him up on a seat modify by him.