The world habitually and repeatedly turns its attention to people who are marketed well, while the ones of real substance do their job in silence, often, without claiming or receiving a sliver of the fame and acknowledgement we rightfully owe them. All eyes were fixed on the 16-year-old activist as “environmentalists” around the globe hoped that the young Greta Thunberg, best known for her emotionally charged speeches, will have the Nobel peace prize bestowed upon her.
To their utter disappointment, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided otherwise. While we appear to be distressing over the drying up planet we jointly inhabit, we are also guilty of ignoring people who are caring for it, in the aloofness where cameras don’t reach. We run after those who read scripts into a microphone that plugged into high-tech speakers, produces sound-waves of unwarranted decibels.
107 (approx..) years old Saalumarada Thimmakka was honored with the Padma Shri earlier this year. The Indian environmentalist from Karnataka has an environmental research organization in California, US named after her. Though she inspired the founding of Thimmakka's Resources for Environmental Education, Timakka, who had spent the larger part of her life as a casual labor, has had no formal education. That, however, didn’t keep her ignorant of the significance of trees. Together with her husband, Timakka has planted and cares for 384 Banyan trees along the Hulikal-Kudur highway and planted over 8000 other trees.
Just like Thimmakka is loved as ‘Vriksha Mathe’, mother of trees, Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng of Assam has won himself the title of ‘Forest man of India.’ He was 16 when he discovered a treeless sandbar; he started with planting 20 seedlings of bamboo there and over the course of time, have turned that sandbar into a forest reserve. Named after him, The Molai forest encompasses a land area of 1360 acres, and is home to hundreds of deer, rabbits, Indian Rhinoceros, elephants and Bengal tigers today. Decorated with the Padma Shri in 2015, Molai was born in tribal family and grew up to work as a labor, but his financial struggles didn’t dissuade him from leaving his impression on the map of the north-eastern Indian state.
Not many have heard of the tree conservationist Daripalli Ramaiah either. Locals who are familiar with the octogenarian from Telangana, address him as 'Chetla Ramaiah’. Leading a life dedicated to forestry for five decades, he has planted 10 crore seedlings, with the aim of turning Khamman into a shadier district, replete with fruit-laden plants. The concern for future generations doesn’t leave him either, and thus, he invested efforts and time towards bio-diesel plants too.
TNSTC Coimbatore Bus Conductor, Yoganathan, has come to be known as the ‘Tree Man’ for planting over one lakh trees in the past 25 years. Another Indian environment activist from the south, Yoganathan discovered his deep-rooted connection with trees while sitting in their shade in Kotagiri forests and writing poems as a young boy. After fighting timber mafia for felling trees, he now works with children and students to create awareness about the hazards that come with felling of trees.
We can’t wrap up without mentioning the young environmentalist, Arun Krishnamurthy, who relinquished a high-flying career with Google, to establish the Chennai-based NGO, Environmentalist Foundation of India, which has successfully cleaned over 39 lakes country-wide. For his selfless service towards the restoration of water bodies, Arun was accorded the prestigious Rolex Awards at Geneva in 2012.
These are just a few names among the many who have struggled and stay unrelenting in their endeavors to make the air around us breathable, water around us potable, and often go unnoticed. We don’t celebrate them as much. We favor those who crowd up our roads holding placards made from woods and papers, quite ironically, preaching us not to chop trees, and then climb on an expensive gas-guzzler and rush out as soon as the shutterbugs are gone.