Some drink. Some gamble. Some set out on wild adventures. But 84-year-old Kaamegowda has a unique addiction — digging ponds.
The shepherd and small-time farmer from Daasanadoddi, a village in Karnataka’s Mandya district, has single-handedly dug as many as sixteen ponds in and around his village. It is thanks to this very effort and hard work, that the hamlet has not faced a water crisis in the last four decades.
Recently, Kaamegowda earned praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Mann Ki Baat radio programme. “Kaamegowda ji is an ordinary farmer, albeit possessing an extraordinary personality. He has achieved a personal feat that will leave anyone awestruck,” the PM shared during the show.
But Karnataka’s ‘Lake Man’ is quite unfazed at his sudden stardom and overwhelming popularity. Having chosen to stay away from the spotlight all his life, this octogenarian is patiently continuing his life mission to dig more ponds and lakes.
Moved by The Plight of Animals And Birds
Around 40 years ago, Daasanadoddi, which is located at the base of the Kundinibetta hills, suffered from acute water scarcity. There were no lakes or ponds, and the inhabitants of the village had to face immense hardships during the dry summers. To make matters worse, the village also received an insufficient amount of rainwater, which mostly either evaporated while running down the slopes or percolated to the ground.
But Kaamegowda’s journey began due to personal reasons.
“My father-in-law started this work for the birds and animals,” Kaamegowda’s daughter-in-law Girija shares with The Better India. “While grazing his sheep along the hillside, he spotted that there was no watering hole for the animals and birds. Upon closer inspection, he noticed how the speechless souls suffered in the scorching heat. So, he started digging a pond for them.”
Restoring The Greenery in His Village
Kaamegowda would set out of the house in the wee hours of the morning, and return late in the night after a hard day’s toil. And he kept at it, digging one pond after another, often emptying all his savings into procuring his equipment.
Sometimes he sold his sheep, sometimes he worked in odd daily wage jobs, sometimes he postponed building his own house — all to sustain the expenses of digging the ponds.
His own relatives laughed at his strange fascination and severed ties with him in embarrassment. Some villagers even tried to get him to stop, saying that he was digging government land.
But, nothing could deter Kaamegowda from his passion and the sole ambition of his life — to create a comfortable habitat for the birds and animals who accompanied the lonely soldier all day long.
He didn’t just dig ponds; he also planted indigenous trees like peepal and jamun, as well as sown grass procured from different places. The plants help retain the soil moisture and paint the village green. Cattle drink water from the ponds while birds throng the surrounding trees.
In the beginning, he did all the work by himself. As he grew older, he sometimes commissioned a few other labourers who helped him in the task.
Interestingly, such is his acumen in the task of digging, that all his ponds in the area are interlinked. The man who has never attended school, has also painted some quotes on the boulders lying next to the water bodies, which highlight the need for environmental conservation.
“The Good Shepherd”
“He considers the ponds like his own family members. He has even named some of the ponds after his grandchildren,” reveals Girija. He makes sure to walk around the village and visit all the ponds every single day, even at this age.
His own house, built on a two-acre plot, portrays hints of unfinished construction, because the shepherd has spent his entire life’s savings on the ponds. Even when he was presented with the Basavashri Award in 2017, along with a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh, Kaamegowda used it to expand the network of ponds.
He gained limelight only recently after being mentioned by the Prime Minister in his monthly address to the nation. “Afterwards, he also had a video call with the Union Jal Shakti Minister,” Girija says.
In 2018, Kaamegowda was honoured with the Rajyotsava Award. During the presentation ceremony, he humbly asked for a free bus pass so that he can travel to other places from his remote village with ease. “All I want is a free bus pass,” he had requested HD Kumaraswamy, the former CM.
His wish finally came true about two weeks ago, when the KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) presented him with a free lifetime bus pass.
Film writer and director Dayal Padmanabhan has planned a documentary on Kaamegowda and his lifetime work. Titled ‘The Good Shepherd,’ shooting for the bilingual documentary in Kannada and English is slated to start soon.
While the award-winning director intends to share Kaamegowda’s achievements with the world through the film, the ‘good shepherd’ himself is quite unperturbed by the overwhelming accolades — his sole wish is to continue creating more ponds till his last breath.
Today, to everyone’s delight, the ponds have been dug so efficiently that they hardly ever dry out, no matter how hot it gets. Thanks to the trees, shrubs and grass planted by Kaamegowda around his ponds, Daasanadoddi now looks resplendent in all her green glory.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
Featured Image Credits: Basundhara