Saalumarada Thimmakka was recently by BBC added as one of the most influential and inspiring women of 2016 in their top 100 list.
To be 105, yet so active and selfless is indeed inspiring.
At the age of 40, she tried to kill herself by jumping into a pond, but life had other plans for her as she clung onto a plant and survived. Now 65 years later, people call her vruksha maathe(mother of trees). She has planted over 400 banyan trees in her village and thousands all over Karnataka.
She started planting trees with her husband. they were daily wage workers who would tar the road, working to build them during the day while also digging holes and planting saplings whenever they could. she says, she would go to faraway ponds and wells to bring water to these plants. they would manage to plant 15 trees a year.
In 1958, two village headmen, who were on their way to the Sugganahalli cattle fair, spotted the couple watering the trees. They felicitated the couple with a silver medal at the fair, which is a prized possession to date.
In 1991, after 63 years of companionship, Bikkaluchikkaiah, her husband died. Ironically, he was jailed for cutting a dry branch of a tree he had planted, which led to a deterioration in his health, and ultimately death.This only makes me sad and furious towards our justice department, someone who spends their life in maintaining trees and nature, was probably cutting the branch for the safety of citizens and that goodness led to his death. Thimmakka was left with a dilapidated hut. Unable to bear the harassment of her husband’s relatives—who tried to usurp her land—she sold her four acres for Rs 70,000. That year, rains washed away her home, too. However, with help from a well-wisher, she rebuilt the mud house and applied for a widow pension which is now Rs 500.
In 1994, Veteran Congress leader Shamanuru Shivashankarappa appreciated her and gave her Rs 5,000. Recalls Thimmakka. “For a moment I thought I was dreaming. He mentioned our efforts in his public speech at Ramanagara. Soon, the media and the people started coming to my village to meet me.” Since that day, though she was illiterate, Thimmakka started collecting heaps of fan mail and media reports.
An article published in an English daily drew the attention of Sachidanandaswamy, a Rajya Sabha member, who in turn referred Thimmakka’s name to Justice P.N. Bhagwati, who was heading the selection committee for the National Citizen’s Award. On December 23, 1996, Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda gave Thimmakka the award.
“On returning home, she realized that the man who had escorted her to Delhi and dropped her home had handed over only the medal, Memento, and the certificate, and not the cash award,” writes Indiramma Belur, her biographer. “Two years later, when a newspaper carried the report, the local police summoned her and tried to comfort her with words.”
When Belur approached her for the biography (Saalumarada Saradaarini, published in 2015), Thimmakka agreed, on condition that the book should not read like a film script but remain truthful to her life.
After the national award, there was a steady stream of awards and accolades. Recently, BBC picked her for the Top 100 most influential and inspiring women in 2016. Another high point in her life was when Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced funds for the ‘Saalumarada Thimmakka Shade Plan’ in 2014-15 and again in 2015-16, as part of the mission to plant trees along roadsides. She eats only ragi balls and a special homemade gravy.
We need more people like her in our lives, who work towards nature, if we plant even one tree every year, maybe in a few decades we shall have what our ancestors did, a good tree that provides a fresh breeze, shade, and food.