When I met the Forest Man of India

Posted on November 30, 2018. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Somewhere in the beginning of last year, I got a chance to meet and spend some time with an incredible person.  His name is Jadav “Molai” Payeng and is from Assam. Abdul Kalam called him the Forest Man of India. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2015 for his focussed work over many decades of planting and tending trees thereby creating a forest of over 1360 acres.

Till I got a call from a friend on an evening, I didn’t know who this person was nor the nature of his contributions to the environment.  He was visiting the city as the Chief guest for a magazine’s yearly awards event. I was told he speaks Assamese and some Hindi and English and needed a translator during the visit. Given my average translation skills, I was reluctant. Anyway I agreed after some persuasion.

My assignment was to  receive him from the airport on an evening and take him to his hotel. Next day, he was to meet some of his counterparts in the state and attend the awards function in the evening.

I did my ground work and googled for him to find out who he is. After reading about his work, I was looking forward to meeting him. At the same time, I was thinking whether my language skills were enough to engage him in a reasonable conversation.  I called my friend and told my apprehensions and asked him to find a better person. As he does always, he reassured saying that we have people who can speak the language but need someone who can connect with him with some context on the environment, society etc. I felt even more apprehensive now. I anyway agreed.

Receiving him at airport was the easy part. We had a placard for him and waited at the airport. The flight reached a little bit late into the night and finally he came walking outside the airport.  He was a very unassuming, simple person. He came walking with a simple bag on his shoulder and a non-smart phone in hand. I felt happy for him that he doesn’t have to deal with apps yet 🙂

After enquiries on how his flight was, whether he is hungry, what kind of food he would like to have for dinner etc.,  we headed to the hotel for him to check in. Being the responsible family man, he promptly called up his home and conveyed that he has safely reached. I gave him a gist of the next day’s plan once he had his dinner delivered. I left for the day saying I ll come in early in the morning tomorrow.

Kept my alarm, woke up early and reached the hotel early before breakfast was served. Waited for some time till the breakfast was ready to call him.  That breakfast, I sat at the side of the table translating between him and the people who work along similar lines.

Once that was all done, there were two choices. Either he can rest in the hotel for the day or we could be explorers.  I asked him whether he has been to Chennai before ? He said yes, but only briefly. What places in Chennai did you want to visit but couldn’t ?  He said “Samundar dekhna hai”. He wanted to see the Sea. Off we went to Besant Nagar Beach 🙂

On the way, we stopped at a fueling station for a few minutes.  Loads of people like us of the environmentally careless type were impatiently filling their fuel tanks to rush to nowhere. He silently watched and then looked at me and asked the wisest question I had heard in years  – “who will eat all this smoke ?”

It summed it up. We cut down most trees without planting any, we mindlessly burn fossil fuel and end up consuming the smoke as well. He was so much concerned for all of us. He said that there is nothing we have better than trees who can eat up all this smoke without any complaint.

We visited the beach and the sea. He looked around the vegetation in the beach and collected some seeds for him to take back.

And of course, i managed to take a snap with him 🙂

That evening, he gave a passionate speech to the crowd saying one clear message. “Without trees, we will suffocate. There is still hope, plant more trees and take care of the environment.  Nature nourishes us, we should respect that and take care of her too”

We were happy that we could fulfil his wish of visiting the sea. Thanks to the organizing committee of the magazine & friends, I got to meet a wonderful person and learn some good things. I can say now that I once met the Forest Man of India 🙂

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