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A school dropout from a poor family in southern India has revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads.
Finding volunteers to test his products was no mean feat. His sisters refused, so he had the idea of approaching female students at his local medical college. "But how can a workshop worker approach a medical college girl?" Muruganantham says. "Not even college boys can go near these girls!"
He managed to convince 20 students to try out his pads - but it still didn't quite work out. On the day he came to collect their feedback sheets he caught three of the girls industriously filling them all in. These results obviously could not be relied on. It was then that he decided to test the products on himself. "I became the man who wore a sanitary pad," he says.
He created a "uterus" from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat's blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever he was going to kill a goat. Muruganantham would collect the blood and mix in an additive he got from another friend at a blood bank to prevent it clotting too quickly - but it didn't stop the smell.
He walked, cycled and ran with the football bladder under his traditional clothes, constantly pumping blood out to test his sanitary pad's absorption rates. Everyone thought he'd gone mad.
My wife gone, my mum gone, ostracised by my village - I was left all alone in life”
He believes that big business is parasitic, like a mosquito, whereas he prefers the lighter touch, like that of a butterfly. "A butterfly can suck honey from the flower without damaging it," he says…
He was once asked whether receiving the award from the Indian president was the happiest moment of his life. He said no - his proudest moment came after he installed a machine in a remote village in Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where for many generations nobody had earned enough to allow children to go to school.
A year later, he received a call from a woman in the village to say that her daughter had started school. "Where Nehru failed," he says, "one machine succeeded."
That kind of commitment and attention to detail is probably why he has a President's Medal and you and I don't. From what I understand, while the necessary material needed to do the job correctly (think "wicking" and "trapping") is mostly cotton, a good pad requires other materials processed into it. He was checking for "absorption" and other desired qualities.
Unbeknown to him, the IIT entered his machine in a competition for a national innovation award. Out of 943 entries, it came first. He was given the award by the then President of India, Pratibha Patil - quite an achievement for a school dropout. Suddenly he was in the limelight.