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Indian inventor who lives in penury

By Amarnath Tewary
Motihari, Bihar

Monday, 3 March 2008- BBC

 Mohammed Saidullah, a resident of Motihari in the Indian state of Bihar, has received many awards and trophies in the last few years for his innovation.

In 1975, when his Jatwa-Janerwa village was swamped under flood waters - an annual monsoon menace - he pleaded with a local boatman to take him to safety.

When the boatman refused to give him space unless he paid for it, the young Saidullah looked for other ways to tackle the floodwater.

Necessity met creativity and in just three days, he made an amphibious bicycle which could easily negotiate the floodwaters.

He modified the conventional bicycle by adding four rectangular air floats to support it while it moved on water. Two fan blades were attached to the spokes of the rear wheel which enabled it to run on both water and land.

The blades were arranged in such a fashion that the cycle could be driven in reverse direction too.

Shining moment

Later, Mr Saidullah demonstrated the prowess of his vehicle before a stunned crowd, which included the then state governor, AR Kidwai, when he crossed the river Ganges in Patna city.

His big shining moment came in January 2005 when the then Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam, presented him with the National Innovation Foundation's (NIF) lifetime achievement award.

In the same year, he was selected as one of the 12 finalists for the prestigious Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Awards.

He was also profiled for the Discovery Channel's "Beyond Tomorrow" programme.

In fact, he has won so many awards that he has lost count of them all.

An impressed NIF took away his bicycle and offered to get it patented.

But three years later, Mr Saidullah has neither got the patent nor the bicycle.

Today, he lives in penury.

Everyday, he pedals about 30 kms on his bicycle to sell honey so that he can feed his family of 16.

But the work brings him a paltry 1,500 rupees ($37) a month.

Grinding poverty

Unable to make the ends meet, he has now put up his roadside half-thatched, half-concrete house and the small plot of land - in Mathia Dih locality of Motihari in East Champaran district - on sale.

His disillusionment is such that Mr Saidullah wants to return all his awards and trophies.

"If you want to destroy someone, give him an award," he says.

After the bicycle, Mr Saidullah also invented an amphibious cycle-rickshaw which he demonstrated before the BBC team in a nearby pond.

"On this, I can take my grandchildren for a joy ride in the water," Mr Saidullah told the BBC.

"But I feel hurt by what the NIF has done to me. They used us for their promotion," he says.

"May I know how many innovators like me have been benefited and how many of us have been destroyed by them?" asks Mr Saidullah, with pain creasing his face.

NIF executive chairman, Anil Gupta, is sympathetic to Mr Saidullah's plight: "We tried a lot, are still trying and will keep trying to explore things being done for Mr Saidullah's amphibious bicycle. But yes his frustration is completely understandable.

"Despite our best efforts, for some reasons we failed to generate any entrepreneurship for his bicycle. We've given him the innovation fellowship of a fixed amount and we are ready to support him in future too," Mr Gupta said.

There is still a chance that things may look up for him.

A senior official in Bihar state's science and technology department, Ajay Kumar, told the BBC he would do all he could to help Mohammed Saidullah.

"Though there is no structured schemes for commercialisation of such innovations in my department but we would certainly help him in getting his product patented after talking with the NIF," Mr Kumar said.

According to Mohammed Saidullah's son, Mohammed Shakilurrahman, the family was not always poor. Mr Saidullah inherited acres of land, orchards, elephants and a big house from his father.

But, the rural scientist sold all his property to pursue his innovations, his son says.

New things

He blames his father's "sheer madness" for the family's poverty.

He too sells honey in the state capital.

However, Mr Saidullah's bitter past experience has not stopped him from moving on to new things.

After the amphibious bicycle, he developed a key-operated table fan which can run non-stop for two hours, a mini-water pump that needs no fuel and a mini-tractor which can run for two hours on just five litres of diesel.

Now, he claims he's making a helicopter which would cost the equivalent of $62,500 and a car that would be powered by air energy.

His dark, dingy workshop is crammed with a hand-made lathe machines and countless corroded nut-bolts littered on long rusty iron racks.

But it's his favourite place. "I love to be here all the time," he says.

Where would he go once his house and land is sold off?

"I'll make a three-storey moving car with folding cots, pack my family in and park it on an open government land by the roadside anywhere," he says.

The maverick innovator says he draws inspiration for his innovations from his everyday experiences. He has named all his creations after his loving wife, Noor Jahan.

"Noor means light and Inshallah a day would come when there would be light in our life too," says Saidullah.

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