“I“ didn’t know what iron was. But you have to find your passion when you are young and take an interest in it. After that, you put in countless hours and never let it go. You’ll conquer it. And no matter what, never stop,” says Bhimrao Patil, a 72-year-old mechanical engineer, looking back on his struggles.
Poverty closed all doors, but Bhimrao did not let that stop him from becoming an engineer. He decided to learn on the job by choosing a path less travelled – one of tremendous struggle.
“I am the first person in my family who managed to pass grade VII,” says Bhimrao as he introduces himself to me.
Bhimrao was 15 when he discovered his passion for engineering. Born into a poverty stricken family, fate continued to be cruel when he lost his father and then had to take on many responsibilities.
Talking about his in days in grade seven, Bhimrao says, “I could only attend school for four months and didn’t even have the money to fill the exam form. I worked for 12 hours on a farm over the weekends and earned Rs 1. However, there was a teacher named Mr Chavan who gave me books to study and made me take the exams, which I managed to successfully clear .”
Bhimrao had no money to continue his education. After passing grade VII, he started to cut sugarcane for Sugar Mill Bawada, 25 km away from his home at Sajani village in Kolhapur district in Maharashtra. He then worked as a labourer in the fields of others for a year.
Eventually, he got a job in the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) where he fixed electricity lines.
“After two years of back breaking labour, I was offered the job of a permanent wireman by MSEB. But it was in Pune, where I could not relocate because of pressing family reasons.”
However, the inability to move to Pune changed Bhimrao’s life, bringing him closer to his destiny. He started working as a helper in a local lathe machine factory in Ichalkaranji town. Bhimrao walked 22 km to and fro every day to learn the basics of machines.
The turning point was when his boss refused to let him work on a machine. Humiliated by the experience, Bhimrao says, “That was the day I became passionate about machines. At the time my salary was not more than Rs 20 per month. But I felt one day I could buy many such machines.”
He moved to a different company where he was paid Rs 30 every month for 16 hours of work. Later he worked at the Panchganga Sugar Factory, where he was given the role of fitting boilers and maintaining machines.
At the factory, he was paid a daily wage of Rs 2.5 daily, and only offered a permanent job after two years.
In 1969, his ex-boss came to him desperately asking for help.
“He placed Rs 300 at home and offered me a salary of Rs 90 per month, and begged me to join immediately to solve the crisis,” recalls Bhimrao.
Bhimrao worked two jobs, one during the day and the other into the night. “I did two jobs for a month which involved 19 hours of work every day, and I used to walk 11 km to reach my home at 2 in the morning,” says Bhimrao.
“In those 8 hours, I managed to complete work that would take two days, and for this month long project I was offered Rs 250,” added Bhimrao.
He proudly says that for more than 50 years now, he has never worked less than 16 hours and says his hard work is the reason behind his success. Working under much pressure and tight deadlines, Bhimrao recalls, “Somewhere around 1984, our company got an order to deliver 30 engines. However, by the 15th of the month, only 15 engines were ready, and the boss asked me to complete the rest in the next 14 days. I toiled from 8 AM to 3 in the morning, managing to assemble all the engines by 28th.
Over a period of 52 years, Bhimrao has never worked for less than 16 hours a day which gives him more than a quarter of a million hours of technical experience. Bhimrao has visited more than 20 cities to assemble and design machines at several international mechanical expos.
During the 80s there was a special machine called the Honing. The USA was a leading manufacturer of the machine.
“No Indian company used to make the system. Its delivery from the USA would cost a lot and take at least six months. One day my boss asked me to design the machine by opening it. We had no computers back then. With the help of a few engineers, I took a month to open the machine and draw the corresponding parts. Meanwhile, I made a mental note of all the information. In three months, we were able to design that machine successfully,” says Bhimrao.
Today, Bhimrao works at a factory in Mangaon, has more than a quarter of a million hours of technical experience and has visited more than 20 cities to assemble and design machines at several international mechanical expos.
He attributes all his success to his 68-year-old wife, Mrs Shalan Patil. He proudly addresses her as the agriculture minister of the house, since she was the one who managed the family’s land over all of these years.
Shalan says, “Sometimes Bhimrao wouldn’t return home for months because of work. But I never feared and managed the agricultural work.”
Bhimrao has designed more than 5000 machines till date and is working on his dream project – an automobile. He says this can help keep the environment pollution free.
He believes that knowledge comes from everywhere. People just need to chase their curiosity.
Whether attending several international computer expos or travelling to various states, Bhimrao follows one basic principle:
“Remove the word ‘no’ from your mind, fuel your passion and never feel sad if you don’t know enough. Keep learning and work without any age barrier.”