In­dia’s 105-year-old mother of trees

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Be­ing un­able to have chil­dren is a heart­break­ing sit­u­a­tion for any­one who wants to con­ceive.

But in ru­ral In­dia, in­fer­til­ity car­ries an added stigma for women, who can be out­cast from their fam­i­lies and so­ci­ety. When Saalumarada Thim­makka and her hus­band Sri Bikkala Chikkayya found them­selves child­less af­ter 25 years of mar­riage, she dealt with it in an un­usual way.

The il­lit­er­ate farm la­borer from Kar­nataka, south­ern In­dia, planted hun­dreds of trees, which the cou­ple nur­tured, wa­tered and cared for “as chil­dren.” “It was my fate to not have any chil­dren,” Thim­makka told CNN. “Be­cause of that, we planned to plant trees and raise them and get bless­ings. “We have treated the trees as our chil­dren.” The wood­land is said to num­ber al­most 300 trees -- a re­mark­able achieve­ment in an arid, dusty land­scape with lit­tle rain­fall.

It stretches for four kilo­me­tres both sides of the road from Thim­makka’s vil­lage of Hu­likal and Kudur, the next. Her ef­forts have earned her nu­mer­ous awards and recog­ni­tion as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, with a foun­da­tion cre­ated in her name and fre­quent in­vi­ta­tions to tree plant­ing cer­e­monies all over In­dia. Never hav­ing at­tended school her­self, she’s now even fea­tured in the In­dian na­tional cur­ricu­lum, with a poem ded­i­cated to her honor. What’s more, the bless­ings Thim­makka sought ap­pear to have come her way -- though there are no birth cer­tifi­cates to con­firm this, the pas­sion­ate na­ture lover says she is 105 years old and is “very happy” with life’s out­come. “I am very happy see­ing all my chil­dren. We have looked af­ter the trees with love and I am happy and proud.”

A child

It has also brought bless­ings closer to home. At­tracted by her out­stand­ing con­ser­va­tion work, then 14-yearold boy Sri Umesh ap­proached Thim­makka to in­tro­duce him­self. “I was en­cour­aged by Saalumarada Thim­makka’s thoughts and ways and came to meet her,” he told CNN. “I shared my views with her of con­ser­va­tion with she was very happy and she adopted me. “I feel this was a very happy and lucky mo­ment in my life.” Pas­sion­ate about the en­vi­ron­ment from an early age, Umesh was granted per­mis­sion for the adop­tion by his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents -- “It is a very dif­fi­cult ques­tion. To tell you the truth all three are my par­ents.” He has since fol­lowed in her path, act­ing as pres­i­dent for her or­gan­i­sa­tion and run­ning a nurs­ery that dis­trib­utes trees to farm­ers.

“I didn’t want her to be alone,” he said. To­gether, the pair now urge oth­ers to do the same -- plant trees for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“I have a sug­ges­tion to ev­ery­one: We are born as hu­man be­ings and will die as hu­man be­ings, but to live we need to con­serve na­ture. We can­not live with­out the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Umesh. “How we planted and took care of the trees, ev­ery­one from chil­dren to the el­derly should plant and grow trees,” Thim­makka added. “It will be ben­e­fi­cial for all of us.”

105-year-old Saalumarada Thim­makka has bat­tled the arid con­di­tions of South­ern In­dia to grow nearly 300 trees on the road by her vil­lage.

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