The World Environment Day was being celebrated and we were lucky to get a nod from the much awaited guest.
Since the confirmation came late, there was a lot of last minute hustle. Some things needed to be sorted out but as the word got around, there was curiosity, then interest and a surge of affection.
I listened to my students who exclaimed in surprise and enthusiasm, ” She is coming! really! ”
” We know her”.
“I have been to her village a colleague said.”
“I come from her place’.
As the car approached the entrance, we hurried to receive the guest, the Chief Guest, a frail thin woman bent with time but spunky with a spark and a will that one could sense even at a distance.
She is Saalurmarada Thimmakka, the 106 years old environmentalist, tree lover, the mother to many trees, an icon and recently the winner of the highest civilian award in the country, Padmashree.
In her address to the audience, seated at the edge of their seats, the lady spoke at length for about 10 minutes on the subject she knows the best, her life.
Thimmakka got married very early as was the custom in those times. Many years after marriage, she could not conceive and this invited ridicule for her and her husband. Infact her husband was feeling depressed about the issue when Thimmakka came up with a radical suggestion.
‘Why not adopt trees? Plant a few saplings and then nurture them. They even live longer’.
Her husband agreed and together the couple watered, nurtured as many as 800 trees in the village of Hulikkal.
Though the villagers laughed at her initially, they realized the significance of her actions later and applauded her.
In fact the state syllabus had a lesson about her role in conservation of trees and this led to a curious student landing up at her house. The young boy went back to school and shared that he had met the lady who planted trees and then the meetings and sharing began. People invited her to events and gatherings and soon she became very popular in the state.
But what I wanted to share here is the aura that her presence in the campus brought.
After the event, many of my colleagues shared, ‘ there was something different about the place in her presence, did you notice that?’
I had not shared with anyone how I felt overwhelmed and was tearing up every now and then while listening to her.
Men and women who were much accomplished rushed to her side, the illiterate, strong willed woman who engaged their souls with unspoken magic and some how forced them to behave like small children seeking attention.
Yes, there is something about the souls, I realized again. Something that is deep and connecting. Something draws you from the inside, it has to be the power of her being, the purity of her intent, the greatness of her actions, the sincerity that drove her to love each tree, each sapling and make the planet better for everyone including her beloved children, the trees.