As per a phrase in Kannada, Thanu-Mana-Dhana (one can help with one’s body, mind or wealth, but always only with good intention), a centurion named Saalumarada Thimmakka started the mission of planting trees along with her husband Bikkala Chikkayya, seventy years ago. When the nation is going through a historic mercury rise of 47-500C, this noble “mother of trees” is remembered with profound gratitude. Her name Saalumarada, which means “row of trees” in Kannada, is a tribute to her work.
Born in Gubbi taluk, Tumkur district, Karnataka, at the age of 40, she wanted to end her life because she could not conceive. But then she started planting banyan trees along with her husband, and found a new purpose. Thimmakka is called the ‘mother of trees’ by people, due to her history of planting trees and caring for them like her own children. Her motherhood that grew from her relationship with the saplings she planted and nurtured, proved to be so strong that it overpowered and silenced the
judgemental society in which she lived.
She has planted nearly 400 banyan trees near her home on a 4-km stretch of land on the highway. Apart from the banyan trees, she has planted more than 8000 other varieties. Planting 8000 trees might seem hectic, yet to Thimmakka, it was not a task but an action born out of gentle love.
The BBC, in their 2016 edition, listed her as one of 100 influential and inspirational women. She has also been honoured for her work with the Padma Shri Award in 2019. the National Citizen’s Award, Veerachakra Prashasthi Award, Karnataka Kalpavalli Award, Godfrey-Phillips Bravery Award and many more awards.
During the ceremony, after receiving the Padmashree award, she put her hand on President Ram Nath Kovind’s head as a gesture of blessing. It showed how full of love Thimmakka is. The tweet by the President said, “Today I was deeply touched when Saalumarada Thimmakka, an environmentalist from
Karnataka, at 107 the oldest Padma awardee this year, thought it fit to bless me.”
What is even more heart warming is that after receiving the award, she requested the cabinet minister concerned not to fell the trees planted by her, which is part of a plan ostensibly to widen a road. The motherly request was willingly granted by the minister.
The author is Research Director, Environmental Scientist, and Professor at St. Joseph’s University, Bengaluru.