Being childless she resolved to raise the plants as her kids- The Green Crusader
109-year-old environmentalist Saalumarada Thimmakka has planted over 8,000 trees in over 70 years. She has earned herself a place in the prestigious list of BBC’s 100 most influential women.
She is the oldest woman on the list for planting the 8,000 trees to fill the vacuum that had been left after she realized she could not bear children, even after 20 years of her marriage. Facing social ridicule, she had attempted to end her life. But God had different plans for Thimmakka.
How did it all begin?
Born in poverty in Hulikal village in Magadi Taluk, Ramnagar, Karnataka, her parents couldn’t send her to school to have formal education. She was known by the name of Thimmakka during her childhood. She started working at an early age as a quarry laborer.
In 1928 she was married to Bikkala Chikkaiah, also a laborer. After several years of marriage when the couple could not have any children, to fill the void in their life the couple decided to plant trees and raise them as their children. This is when it all started.
“I have no (birth) certificate. But I got married in 1928, at the age of 15, and was childless for 20 years. That is when we started planting trees. My oldest tree is 65 years old.” Thimmakka noted.
In 1948, Thimmakka along with her husband made up their mind to plant trees from their village Hulikal to the next village, Kudoor. They chose a stretch of 4 km as there were no trees at all in the region. Since there were plenty of banyan trees near her village the couple decided to plant the trees along the roadside.
Thimmakka and her husband thus began a journey of pure devotion and selfless love of tirelessly planting trees and nurturing them till they matured.
They planted 10 young banyan plants in the first year and increased the number to 15 in the second and 20 the year after. The couple not only planted and managed them to maturity but saved them from cows and goats, by fencing them with thorny bushes.
After finishing their chores every morning, the couple watered the plants daily and when they used to run out of the water, they used to fetch it from nearby ponds and wells. They used to cover the entire stretch on their feet watering the plants while returning home.
When she was about 40, Saalumarada Thimmakka, heartbroken after being repeatedly called barren, jumped into the village pond to end her life. But, luckily, she held on to a plant and survived.
Almost 65 years later, the green crusader beams with pride every time people address her as Vruksha Maathe (mother of trees).
She and her husband planted the young saplings during the monsoons so that they could get sufficient water for their growth. The couple went through a crisis due to their enthusiasm for benefiting the environment and humanity. The couple remained financially weak, but they never blamed their poverty nor boasted about their work.
After 63 years of companionship, Thimmakka’s husband passed away in 1991 but that did not deter her in any way. She followed her mission with the same courage. Unable to tolerate the harassment of her husband’s relatives, who tried to seize her land, she sold her four acres for Rs 70,000.
Though the heavy rain had washed away her house that year, with the help of well-wishers she managed to restore the mud house and applied for a widow pension of barely 75 rupees at that time (now Rs. 500).
In the Kannada language rows of trees are known as Saalumarada. Thus, Thimmakka was given the name Saalumarada Thimmakka, concerning her endeavor towards planting the trees and the adversity the couple faced during the operation.
She planted about 400 banyan trees in Hulikal village and thousands more elsewhere in Karnataka. Today, as you drive about 35km from Bengaluru city (towards Kunigal) and enter the Kudoor panchayat, a soothing breeze passes over the thick shelter of their trees. The management of the trees is done by the Government of Karnataka presently.
In her village, she’s involved in building a rainwater storage tank, and also has a dream to build a hospital for her fellow people, by setting up a trust.
Thimmakka is actively involved in state and national environmental protection campaigns. She believes every human being on earth should plant trees, and she continuously spreads the message of afforestation.
Saalumarada Thimmaka has become a role model for environmentalists the world over. In 2016, BBC included her in its list of top 100 influential and inspiring women. She proved to the world how unlettered women too can help the progress of society. She achieved all these with undaunted spirit and sheer dedication.
In 2019, Thimmaka was awarded Padma Shri, the nation’s fourth-highest civilian award. At the age of 106 the mother of trees received the award, which the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind considers a touching moment.
When the President handed over the award, Thimmakka put her palm over the President’s forehead as a gesture of blessing.
In addition to Padma Shri, Saalumarada Thimmakka is honored with many awards for her untiring efforts toward protecting the environment. She has been bestowed with titles like Vanamitra, Nisargaratna, Vrikshapremi, and Vrikshasri.
“I am now surviving on a widow pension and goodwill of people. I have got awards but have always struggled for a living.”
Saalumarada Thimmakka now at the age of 109 lives with her foster son Umesh.
Her failing health has forced her to leave her one-room house in Hulikal and live in a rented home in Bengaluru with her adopted son, who runs an NGO in her name.
Umesh, 29, is a recipient of the Karnataka state environment award. “He was 15 when he came to meet me from Hassan,” Thimmakka says. “Eventually, I adopted him. He runs a nursery, though he has a bachelor of education degree. Our relationship has grown over the years.”
She is a motivation to every woman society depicts as unfertile. She gave society and mankind her endless love for the environment, through patience and hard work. Even now, she continues her motive to plant as many trees as possible, in schools, colleges, and various public places.
Thimmakka walks towards her trees, caresses her hands on the trunk, and asks: “Why are they felling so many trees in the cities? A good tree produces fruits and seeds for birds and gives clean air and shade to people. But, where are such trees today?”
(The green crusader Thimmakka, with the trees she planted in Hulikal. Pics by Bhanu Prakash Chandra)
An initiative to the green world, an initiative to fight global warming. Salute to the efforts and intentions of the inspirational woman. Kudos to The Green Crusader! Let’s join hands and be a part of the revolution. Let’s fight global warming together and aim for a greener living!
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