Long before India began discussing global warming, Kollakkayil Devaki Amma with no formal education started to do her bit to save the environment. The result is a story of change that we all can learn from.
9-year-old Gouri is both anxious and excited to know the status of the sapling she had planted in December last year. She rings up her great grandmother Kollakkayil Devaki Amma for answers. Not wanting to reveal the result yet, Devaki Amma tries to avoid answering and instead tells her to get ready for a new plantation at their ancestral home in the upcoming summer vacations.
Narrating this incident to The Better India (TBI), Devaki Amma smiles and reminisces about the first ever sapling she had planted four decades ago.
For generations, my family and in-laws have been working in the agricultural industry. While the men are involved in corporate jobs, women of the house have predominantly handled the paddy cultivation, she explains.
Devaki Amma joined her mother-in-law to cultivate paddy post marriage and continued until 1980. That year, she injured her leg severely in an accident and was advised to avoid walking for a couple of years.
As she was injured and her mother-in-law too old, the family had to discontinue the paddy production.
But her undying love for farming did not cease. Devaki Amma planted one sapling in the backyard of her home three years after the accident. One sapling led to another, and before she knew it, she had created a lush green forest spread over five acres of land in her private property in Onattukara region in Alappuzha district of Kerala.
From the time his wife started her mission till the day he died, Devaki Amma’s husband Gopalakrishna Pillai—a teacher by profession—brought her different varieties of seeds every day. Her children and relatives also supported her immensely either by morally encouraging her or by gifting her several species of plant saplings.
“Four generations have contributed to my mother’s journey of planting trees. During school vacations, Amma’s grandchildren and their children visit the house to see the status of old plants and to plant new ones. The enthusiasm and fervour around planting trees are almost like a festival,” Prof D Thankamani, Devaki Amma’s daughter, also Head of Environment Department at Thiruvananthapuram Engineering College tells TBI.
One of her granddaughters is currently studying Botany so that she can take Devaki Amma’s love for all things that grow forward.
Neutralising Carbon Footprints, Migratory Birds and More
Located close to the beautiful backwaters of God’s Own Country, Devaki Amma’s house is spacious, abundantly supplied with natural water and climatic conditions conducive to plant growth.
With a couple of private ponds, a wetland and animals like cows, buffalos and oxen, Devaki Amma has been single-handedly nurturing her forest for years.
She uses greener options to sustain the forest. For instance, she uses organic manure to grow teak, mahogany, tamarind, mango, bamboo and pine. Shrubs, creepers, medicinal and exotic plants are also a part of this Devaki Amma-made forest. Close to 1,000 trees now supply fruits, flowers and vegetables.
This has led to multiple positive outcomes, one of them being the presence of exotic and migratory birds in the forest.
Instead of restricting the birds and animals by putting nets, I have made water and nest provisions for them. As a result, you can see peacock, monkeys and exotic birds like Amur Falcon, Bluethroat, Black Winged Stilt and Emerald Dove in the forest, says the 85-year-old.
Well-versed with the problem of global warming and environmental degradation across the world, Devaki Amma wants people to neutralise their carbon footprints.
Planting a tree is the most effective and feasible option. Our family is cancelling carbon footprints by planting trees for four decades now, she says.
She is also taking care of water problems by practising Rain Water Harvesting in the forest.
Age No Bar
Though physical challenges have made her hire people to look after her beloved forest, Devaki Amma still strolls around her forest and takes care of the plants like a mother.
“Covering five acres of land is no easy task. But every morning she makes sure she walks even if it is for five minutes. Since there are very few occasions when she plants a sapling, she talks to the trees. This way she doesn’t feel that she is neglecting her forest,” says Thankamani.
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind recently awarded Devaki Amma with the Nari Shakti Puruskar for her enormous contribution towards the environment and congratulated the forest warrior on his Facebook timeline. The President said,
Devaki Amma has been relentlessly working toward protecting biodiversity by planting and nurturing plants from various parts of India. Her contribution toward the environment has been a driving force of change and has raised awareness and consciousness of people.
The Nari Puruskar award is her second national award, first being the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra award. Besides, she has won several awards from the State Government including Vanamitra Award and Harita Vyakti Puraskar.
With so many accolades and awards in her basket, the biggest happiness for Devika Amma is to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren developing a safe environment for future generations.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)