The 47-year-old Mallesham’s journey has been one of struggle and tenacity, which has now brought him fame and notoriety in addition to a national honour. Mallesham, a weaver by trade, developed the patented Laxmi Asu Machine to process yarn, which has enabled him to cut the time needed to weave a Pochampally sari from six hours to just one hour and a half. (Pochampally sari is made in Bhoodan Pochampally, Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district, Telangana State, India. having traditional geometric patterns in “Paagadu Bandhu” (Ikat) style of dyeing)
Mallesham was compelled to stop his studies and drop out of Class 6 because he came from a low-income weaving family in Telangana’s Sharajipet hamlet in the Nalgonda district.
His family introduced him to the art of weaving on a handloom, and during this time that the concept for the machine germinated.
A silk thread must be wound on a four-foot framework from a single peg on one side to 40 pegs on the other as part of the weaving process. Using the one peg as a pivot, the thread must be looped through each of the 40 pegs. Weavers were left with sore shoulders and elbows from the Asu procedure, which is tedious and uncomfortable.
“The Pochampally method of weaving depends on the Asu procedure. Whatever the final saree design, it can only be chosen following this procedure. This approach also determines the design itself, “he said.
Mallesham was inspired to create an automatic technique after witnessing his mother through the gruelling procedure when he was a little boy.
“A 12 km thread must be moved manually nearly 9,000 times. I used to think it would be good to automate the entire procedure when my mother would complain. That’s how it all began”, said Mallesham.
Started with nothing
Mallesham’s mother once urged him to leave the inherited profession and take up another line of business. He remained steadfast, though, and made the choice to focus on fixing the Asu process’s one key issue instead.
Mallesham lacked the technical know-how necessary to construct a machine, though.
“I started watching my mother, and I soon noticed that she needed to do five different movements in order to weave the thread. I then started attempting to determine each one separately,”
Mallesham nevertheless battled to construct a functional machine for the following seven years, from 1992 to 1999, despite the repeated advice of his friends and family that he should leave engineering to professionals.
He started with a wooden outside frame, punched holes, and then assembled the pins.
“I was committed. I tried many different things and frequently failed. To try to get the machine to work, I kept buying various things, which led to debt”.
“After getting married, I was in a terrible financial situation because I had even used my wife’s money to fix the machine. So I made the decision to move to Hyderabad in order to get employment.” explained Mallesham.
Mallesham relocated to Hyderabad and started a business installing electrical wiring. After a few months, he returned to his village and transported his machine there.
“I used to work on the machine at night in addition to earning a living during the day. I was limited to thinking about the device. I finally figured out my final piece and built a functional machine after almost two years. I was utterly overjoyed” exclaimed Mallesham.
The first machine prototype made by Mallesham
He returned to his town right away and showed his folks. After some time, the neighbourhood Press took it up, and numerous weavers approached Mallesham to produce further such machines. He smiles, “That’s when I stopped being a weaver and started being an engineer.
Mallesham and his Asu machine have attracted a lot of attention; he earned the President’s Award in 2009, showed Dr. Abdul Kalam, a former Indian President, his machine, and even had a ten-minute coffee session. Mallesham was included on Forbes’ list of the seven most influential rural Indians in 2010 as well. He received the “Amazing Indian” award from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016, and former President Pranab Mukherjee welcomed him as a state visitor to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. He received the Padma Shri, which occupies a special place on his rack of honours. Mallesham’s invention also had an impact on social development and reduced the number of school dropouts because many weavers continued to make sure their children received an education while the machine took care of the tedious task.
“I want to make sure they advance significantly while reducing their labour. I’ve already started working on something, and I’ll do my best to live up to the faith the Telangana administration has placed in me.”
Recalling the ASU device
One unit initially costed Rs 13,000 to produce in the year 2000. Mallesham established a workshop and started creating tools. For the following five years, this persisted. Mallesham’s next obstacle materialised in 2005. The cost of steel nearly doubled, increasing the machine’s price to Rs 26,000 as a result. My acquaintance suggested that I try an electronic approach rather than a mechanical one because many people couldn’t afford the machine. I bought some books about transistors, resistors, microchips, and other electronic components,” he claims. But they were difficult topics explained in English, which I couldn’t understand. I spent another two years pouring through these literatures and buying a dictionary,” he continues. In the end, Mallesham created an improved Asu machine that utilized two motors. He started learning about micro-controllers in 2009 in an effort to make the machine operate more effectively than a human. Mallesham personally codes the Asu machines, he manufactures now in assembly language and employs software code to weave the thread and produce a variety of designs on the cloth in addition to having a microcontroller. Since then, he has established a larger workshop, employed labour, and supplied this equipment to a number of weavers throughout the district.