She is a living example to the fact that age is no bar to do good in life. At the age of 101 Thimmakka 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. A “living monument of our times” is how the citation of National Citizen’s award describes Thimmakka 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. Life looked meaningless without a progeny to this couple. They adopted tree plantation. She goes back in time and says” 60 years back I planted these Banyan trees, and showered my time and care.”
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 twenty in the third year and so on. Her poverty did not hinder her plans and every year they planted added a few saplings. Water scarcity was a major problem and the couple used to fetch water from a distance of four kilometres, to water the saplings. They protected the saplings from 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. Her Husband Chikkanna died in 1990, but this did not put a brake to her good work. She poured her joy in her plants.
Thanks to her unusual labour of love, this illiterate woman is the idol of every environmentalist. She is an inspiration to spread greenery.
She is bestowed with titles like Vanamitra, Nisargaratna, Vrikshasri and Vrikshapremi,. She is a reciepint of several awards from the Karnataka government. 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 a forestation. 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. She wishes to open a hospital for the poor in her village and is awaiting help from philanthropists.
She is a native of Hulikal village in the Magadi taluk of Bangalore Rural district in Karnataka.