He was only 12 at the time. There was a canal near his house. He had to swim down the canal to go to school every day. There was an old boat in his house that he later used to cross the canal along with his friends.
One day it struck him that it was essential to have a bridge over the canal to lessen the sufferings of the locals. He was so young, but talked to the elders and convinced them to build a bamboo bridge.
This is Zahidul Islam, the man who built nearly 500 wooden bridges in various places around Bogura and districts nearby.
Zahidul is now 52. He has lost count of how many bridges he has built till now. He started keeping record in a diary since 2012. These records show he has built wooden and bamboo bridges in more than 197 places since 2012.
Zahidul lives in Haldibaga village of Sonatola upazila, Bogura. He made three bamboo bridges on Ichhamati river for Bathiabhanga village of Gabtali upazila in Bogura last year.
He constructs bamboo or wooden bridges along with the locals at various places. People of some areas themselves call Zahidul for help. He responds immediately and helps them construct bridges.
Prothom Alo published the story of Zahidul’s journey, ‘Need a bridge? Zahidul is here' on 22 November 2008.
"Zahidul is not like others. He helps people with labour and money. I think, he has built at least 450 bamboo bridges so far. He built another bridge in the nearby Nurra-Patal village just a few days back,” said the union parishad chairman of Digdair union, Ali Taiyab Shamim.
Besides building bridges, Zahidul has also been active in preventing many child marriages in his area. He also helps people with money, buys medicines for the ill and plants trees along the roadsides. The UP chairman Ali Taiyab made him a member of the child marriage prevention committee.
Fotu Mia, a resident of Bathiabhanga village in Gabtali said, "We lost hope after waiting for a bridge over the Ichhamati river for decades. Then Zahidul one day came to the village and discussed building bamboo and wooden bridges. He went door to door making arrangements for the bridge.”
“He finally he managed to build the bridge and the villagers Tk 500 to celebrate the success of building the bridge,” Fotu added.
Zahidul told this Prothom Alo correspondent that people from different places call him to build bridges.
It gives him pleasure when people are relieved of the sufferings, he adds.
The Prothom Alo correspondent found 29 bamboo bridges constructed by Zahidul in the past one month in Gabtali, Shahjahanpur, Sonatala, Shibganj and Sariakandi upazila of Bogura. He is now constructing a bamboo bridge on the Kartoa river along with the people of Sujabad-Balapara village of Majhira union of Shahjahanpur upazila.
Zahidul is not well-off. He earns his living by farming on his four bighas of land. As he keeps busy making bridges most of the time, his wife Shaheen Begum takes care of their three children's education and the family.
Zahidul's eldest son Israfil Islam is an Alim examinee this year from the Government Mustafaiah Madrasa of Bogura. Another son, Bayezid Bostami, is also a HSC examinee from Syed Ahmed University College of Gabtali. His only daughter Tabassum Akhtar is in the ninth grade of a local high school.
“Zahidul had to quit studies in the fifth grade. He does take much care of the family. Instead, he sells out rice and cattle to marry off other’s daughters and spends all his money in making bridges,” Zahidul’s wife said.
She goes on to say, "Instead of buying groceries, he buys saplings to plant by the roadside. I get fed up at times. But then when the local people praise him for his goodness, I feel so pround."
According to Zahidul, it costs Tk 30,000 to Tk 100,000 for a bridge. The villagers fund the entire construction.
“I don't contribute much, I try to help with labour. I install tube-wells to earn a little extra. I spend a portion of the money in making bridges,” Zahidul told the Prothom Alo correspondent.
“I made 450-500 bamboo and wooden bridges in 40 years in various places including Bogura, Gaibandha, Dinajpur and Jamalpur,” he added.
Sonatola upazila parishad chairman Minhaduzzaman said, “We are proud of Zahidul. Besides bridge building, he does a lot of social work.”
Incidentally, Zahidul planted more than 50,000 trees in the compounds of mosques, schools and colleges and along the roadsides with his own money.
*This piece originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat