“He that planteth a tree is a servant of God, he provideth a kindness for many generations, and faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.”
— Henry Van Dyke
He is a man on mission to plant trees and bring back the green cover. Wherever he sees a barren spot, he takes seeds from his pocket and plants them there. People say he has planted over one crore trees. He recollects that as a child he saw his mother saving the seeds of ribbed gourd for the next planting season. He learnt his first lesson from her. He says, “Seed is the secret of evolution. God has given life to it and it proves to the world its existence by giving birth to a plant which is wedded to soil, during the monsoon. The plant withstands several onslaughts by the humans around her, and finally to grow into a mighty tree and saves the same people who tormented her. Not satisfied with just her own survival, she strews seeds on the ground to create the future generation and continue with her good work.”
Meet Daripalli Ramaiah of Khammam district in Telangana. People know him as Chettla Ramaiah, where Chettu means ‘tree’. Riding a cycle, holding the handle with one hand and sprinkling seeds on the sides of the road is how he goes about his mission of greening. “Of all the species that consider the earth as their home, the most exalted is the human being. He supposedly has intellect, can think, can do and can get things done. Nature has bestowed her choicest blessings on this form of life. Therefore, we have a duty towards Nature. Protect nature; protect everything created by God, for posterity,” says Ramaiah. What does he get in return? Satisfaction, contentment and sublime peace on seeing the saplings taking root to later stand erect as mighty trees.
Passionate about his mission, Ramaiah has collected native seeds such as Bael (Bilva), Peepal (Bauhinia Racemosa), Kadamba (Nanclea Cadamba), Nidra Ganneru (Albezia Soman), Kanuga (Pongamia), Neem (Azadirechta Indica), Erra Chandanam (Red Sanders), and many more, and chose the canal banks from Khammam, Palleguda Bridge and started greening the four kilometre stretch on both sides of the path. He has raised plants on every piece of barren land, which have now become huge trees saluting him with all their humility. He planted trees in the local library premises and the local temple. He knows the history of almost every tree there. He recollects with satisfaction how he requested an MLA to plant a tree. He makes it a point to request any dignitary visiting his area to plant a tree. This nature lover also paints on the walls of the villages slogans and messages in Telugu about the environment and the need for trees. His slogan is “Vrikshio Rakshati Rakshitah” which means, “If you save the trees, they will save you”.
“One who smears sacred ash is a priest, one who wears Khaki is a policeman and one who adorns a green scarf is Ramaiah,” is his reply to his critics who feel that he is wasting his time.
Ramaiah doesn’t just plant trees, he also knows their uses. This profound knowledge was acquired by reading old books purchased from second-hand bookshops; it makes him a walking encyclopaedia on plants.
Lack of money does not deter him from pursuing his passion. A relative who knew the commercial value of certain trees advised him to cut and sell the red sanders trees in his courtyard. Ramaiah replied that he was developing a seed bank for posterity and his trees would only help in producing more trees. “I do not believe in people who cut trees but prostrate before a stone. For me, Nature is God and God is Nature.”
Ramaiah collects seeds every season, raises a nursery of red sanders plants and distributes them for free. He takes whatever money people give for his plants and uses it to raise more plants.
Ramaiah also became a sculptor by accident. When he was chased by children while on his cycle, he fell and sustained a fracture. This immobilized him for a few months. His undying spirit told him that while his legs are immobile, his hands were free. He learnt sculpting with the help of nails and hammers. He painted and sculpted stones with slogans and images of leaves, plants and trees.
Breaking the shells of teak seeds was painful and time-consuming for Ramaiah. So he made a seat for his wife using a bag of the seeds. Her constant movements while sitting on the bag and cooking before the fire, helped break the shells, making his task easier. This shows us how involved Ramaiah is in his task. His wife has played an important role on his journey, standing by his side through thick and thin and helping him fulfil his passion. Ramaiah has developed his own green philosophy: “Instead of giving a fruit to children, give them a plant. Let them nurture the plant into a tree and enjoy its fruits forever. This way, they learn to love nature. Today’s children are tomorrow’s citizens. Similarly, today’s plants are tomorrow’s trees.”
Ramaiah is highly honoured in his area. He adorns himself with crowns and scarves with slogans on them and parades around on his cycle like an emperor. Those who heckled him once adore him now. He has spent his entire life greening the land like a soldier who spends his life protecting his motherland.
Ramaiah was the recipient of the Padma Shri Award in 2017 for his invaluable contribution to extending tree cover. The administration has been paying the environmental activist 1,500 a month to support his mission. Officials, he claims, have promised to enhance it, but it has not materialized so far. A nursery to support his mission is what he dreams of.
There are many people who have done their jobs with passion, but Ramaiah chose his passion as his unpaid job. There may not be another Ramaiah when it comes to raising trees. He is a model of humility and devotion to work and an inspiration to many.