The avenue of tall, sanguine trees amidst the harsh, dry environment of Magadi taluk on a well-laid road, makes you wonder about its genesis. When you approach the road between Hulikal and Kudur, you can see rows and rows of trees with thick green canopies and gnarled hands that beckon with warmth and peace. Standing as green sentinels, there are nearly 300 trees, mostly banyan (Ficus) on a 4 kilometre stretch of the highway which has provided succour to many a tired travellers in search of a haven. Thanks to Saalumarada Thimmakka and her late husband Chikkaiah who planted, nurtured and raised them as their own children, more than half a century ago. This was an ordinary couple’s extraordinary mission to raise trees as their own children.
On the occasion of World Environment Day on June 5, City Express salutes this living legend who is one of the greatest environmentalists of Karnataka. Unlike others, Thimmakka neither took part in national debates, seminars nor participated in global forum discussions on environment. A simpleton and illiterate, she has done what others could not do in all their activist life.
“I never had children and I used to feel very lonely, and these trees are in fact, my children. I have raised them with all the love and affection and therefore, they have flourished all these years. During those days, it was very difficult, I had to walk a lot, carrying pots and pots of water to nurture them. Even a single day, I could not sit idle as in this harsh, dry weather, the saplings easily died. Out of the 1,000 saplings, both me and my husband had planted, only 400 remained as it was a fight for survival,” Thimmakka recollects with nostalgia when we dropped by to visit her at her humble abode.
As we moved around the village that had sparse vegetation, we walked almost a kilometre to see her invaluable possessions. With childlike enthusiasm, she proudly displayed her ‘children’ and added that she had meagre resources to look after them especially after her husband’s death in 1991.
However, recognition for her selfless work poured in from the country and she earned the sobriquet of Saalumarada (meaning rows of trees) Thimmakka. Earning many national and international laurels for her untiring work, she also has a US environmental organisation named after her, Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education. She has displayed a few of her awards and titles but most of them are wrapped in plastic file covers and packed away in trunks which she lovingly exhibited before our cameras and gave a running commentary on when she was awarded and on what occasion.
She may not be literate but she correctly knows the year of the award and who presented the award.
She is now in her eighties but her zeal for greening the environs is still strong. She continues to take part in afforestation programmes in nearby villages and even Delhi and Mumbai.
Apart from constructing a rain fed water tank in her village, she still dreams of building a hospital. But Thimmakka, today, is a content person with her vast green wealth and signs off by saying ‘one must leave something for the future generation be it trees or anything else’.