The Hermit in His Garden of Exotica
By N V Ravindranathan Nair | Published: 10th August 2014 06:00 AM |
P. Gopalakrishna Swamy has not heard of the Stockholm Convention on the Environment or about ‘Our Common Future’—a report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The 78-year-old ascetic may not be well-read or travelled, but his work speaks volumes. He has converted a rocky hill top, 850 feet above sea level, at Thirichittapara, in Kerala, into a garden of rare species of trees.
“I purchased an acre from a Dalit family,” he says. “In return, I had to buy a piece of land and house for them at a nearby place.” To ensure that he has a regular supply of water, Gopalakrishna dug a twenty-feet deep pit on one side of the rock for rain harvesting. Thanks to Kerala’s healthy monsoon, the pit has enough water for watering the trees and other requirements.
As the rocky hill top was not suitable to grow plants he pressed down a layer of earth on the rock surface to allow the tree saplings to take root, and hold firm against the winds.
The rare trees and plants include koovalam (bael tree), sandalwood, red sandalwood, kunthirikkam (white dammer), pachotti (bodhi tree), neelakadampu, arassu, kallarassu, kattikodi (the plant which dilutes water), kallal, arayal (sacred fig), ithi (Indian laurel), neer maruthu (arjuna tree), and even alien plants such as the African cherry and rudrakasha.
Gopalakrishna lives alone on the hill top.
Some 16 years ago, he had set up a Lord Hanuman temple here. “I wanted to experience the bliss of solitude and meditate under the shade of rocks,” says Gopalakrishna, who retired as an employee of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation 23 years ago. “I rarely leave the hill to meet my friends and relatives.”
But the life of an ascetic is not easy, and he has a hard time meeting his expenses. “I have also not collected any money from anybody,” he says. “So far, I have used my retirement benefits.” To save more, he does manual labour along with the workers.
And he ensures that no pesticides are used in the garden. “I am planting saplings which are found in forests, so it does not need any extra nutrients or pesticides,” he explains.
Gopalakrishna is keen to pass on his knowledge about rare trees. Pointing towards a tree called ‘Punk’, he says sitting under it helps one live longer. He is ready to cut its branches, to hand them out to visitors.
“Even if my plants get destroyed, they will grow somewhere else,” he says, pointing at a dried-out Rudraksha tree. “So I don’t mind giving branches to the friendly visitors.”
But the local people are not so friendly towards him. One reason for their resentment is that Gopalakrishna has been unwilling to part with the control of the temple. The second reason is tragic. A few years ago, a child fell into the water pit and drowned.
“I had to face the anger of the people, although it was not my fault,” says Gopalakrishna. “My aim is to serve Mother Nature without making complaints or demands.”
Despite the difficulties, Gopalakrishna says the panaromic view from the hill top offers him solace. “Standing on the top of the rock, I can see the sunset with the left eye and the sunrise with the right one.”
Eden on a hill
The rare trees and plants include koovalam (bael tree), sandalwood, red sandalwood, kunthirikkam (white dammer), pachotti (bodhi tree), neelakadampu, arassu, kallarassu, kattikodi (the plant which dilutes water), kallal, arayal (sacred fig), ithi (Indian laurel), neer maruthu (arjuna tree) and even alien plants such as the African cherry and rudrakasha.