The Childless Indian Woman Who Mothered Hundreds of Trees

Meet ‘Saalumarada’ Thimmakka, an uneducated environmentalist who, along with her late husband, planted and cared for 384 banyan trees in her hometown of Hulikal village, in Karnataka, India. Now 103 years old, she lives on to tell the tale.

When Thimmakka was a young girl, she married a farmer named Chikkaiah and together they made a living out of tilling land and cutting stones. The couple remained childless for many years, enduring crude remarks from their fellow villagers. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, they decided to make the best of their situation. “One day, we thought why not plant trees and tend to them like we would our children,” Thimmakka said.  

They started by grafting 10 saplings from the banyan trees that grew abundantly in their village. Using their meager resources, they planted those saplings on an empty stretch of land about four kilometers from the village. There wasn’t any water available in the area, so they filled four pails at their home and carried them all the way to the trees every single day. They protected the saplings from the elements, from animals and disease, until they took root. The next year, they planted 15 more saplings, 20 the year after that, and kept going until they planted a total of 384 trees, worth about 1.5 million rupees.


Photo: Wikipedia

Today, the trees line a majestic five-kilometer stretch between the villages of Hulikal and Kudoor, about 80 kilometers away from the state capital of Bangalore. They are managed to by the government of Karnataka. Unfortunately, Chikkaiah died in 1991, but Thimmakka has been honored with several state and national awards, including the National Citizen’s Award in 1995 and the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award in 2006. She has been felicitated by various governments, environmental activists, and grassroots organisations.


Photo: Wikipedia

In spite of all the recognition she has received, sadly, Thimmakka still lives in abject poverty. She owns a modest three-room house that can barely accommodate her various plaques, cups, and garlands. She points out that although people award her with certificates and medals, no one has ever offered her any money. And she sometimes suspects that people use her to raise funds, but do not share them with her. “See my telephone,” she said in an interview with Al Jazeera. “It has been disconnected as I don’t have money to pay a bill of 3,000 rupees.”


Photo: Google Plus

Thimmakka recalls that the land that she and her husband had lived on was snatched away by greedy relatives, but she admits that the government did grant her a fresh piece of land to live on, and a small monthly pension of 500 rupees. She eventually adopted a son to keep her company and he now takes care of her public appearances and events. “My son is inspired by me and is into ecology-related activity in a nearby town,” she said. “He takes care of all my paperwork as I cannot read and write.”


Despite her age, Thimmakka is still passionate about making a difference. “I have been wanting to start a hospital, but no one seems interested,” she said. “But I will keep trying.”

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