Thimmakka, aged 101, is a native of Hulikal village in the Magadi taluk of Bangalore Rural district in Karnataka.
She has an unsurpassed credit to her name – some 1000 plus sturdy banyan trees, which she has lovingly tended against all odds, from mere saplings to a sweeping canopy.
Saalumarada Thimmakka (“saalumarada” – “row of trees” in Kannada – is an honorific people have added to her name) and her landless labourer husband Chikkanna did not have children. So one day more than 60 years ago, they started planting trees.
The road to the next village Kudur (Kudoor) was a dry hot one. Ficus (banyan) trees were aplenty near Thimmakka’s village. Thimmakka and her husband started grafting saplings from these trees. Ten saplings were grafted in the first year and they were planted along a distance of 20 kilometres near the neighbouring village of Kudur. Fifteen saplings were planted in the second year and 20 in the third year and so on. She used her own meagre resources for planting these trees. The couple used to carry pots of water for a distance of four kilometres to water the saplings. They were also protected from grazing cattle by fencing them with thorny shrubs.
The saplings were planted mostly during monsoon season so that sufficient rain water would be available for them to grow. By the onset of the next monsoons, the saplings had invariably taken root. They covered the whole stretch. The saplings grew to become trees, the trees grew tall, and the couple rejoiced in their children. Chikkanna died in 1990, but Thimmakka continued her life’s work.
Thanks to her unusual labour of love, this illiterate woman is the idol of every environmentalist.
A “living monument of our times” is how the citation of National Citizen’s Award describes Thimmakka.
Titles like Vanamitra, Nisargaratna, Vrikshasri and Vrikshapremi, an award by Karnataka government, among many others have been conferred on her.
For one who barely set out of her village once a year, Thimmakka now finds her way to Delhi and Mumbai for tree planting ceremonies. Thimmakka is busy spreading the message of afforestation. She unassumingly suggests that everybody should leave behind some asset for humanity.
She barely ekes out a living from various awards and a monthly pension. But nothing stops her from dreaming big. Now, she has made her will to open up a hospital in her village, so that no poor is affected.
Saalumarada Thimmakka, Hulikal-561101, Kudur, Hubli, Magadi Taluk, Bangalore-Rural district.