A group of school children is on a visit to Tapovanam, a mini-forest spread across five acres of land in Kandaloor in Alappuzha district, and Saranya, a post-graduate student, is busy explaining them about the rich source of medicinal and exotic plants and rare trees of the man-made forest.

Saranya is among the third generation family who toiled to make a dry sandy land into a serene forest. Chattering birds, occasional appearance of small creepers and colourful butterflies add to the beauty of Tapovanam. Trees carry names and a footpath has been earmarked for visitors with cloth pieces. Three generations toiled to build this. “I want to keep the flame alive,” said Saranya.

Even at the ripe age of 88 Devaki Amma has a massive appetite for green- she, her daughter, granddaughter and family members are busy cataloguing the precious collection of trees and plants for the generation next. Despite her failing health she makes a couple of rounds to the forest every day.

“Devaki Amma has been relentlessly working towards protecting biodiversity by bringing and nurturing plants from various parts of India. Her contribution toward the environment has been a driving force of change,” said former President Ramnath Kovind while presenting her Nari Shakti award in 2018.

True, people talk about carbon emission and climatic change feverishly these days but Devaki Amma has been telling about the need to neutralise carbon footprints and need to expand green cover for four decades.”My love for planting trees blossomed in 1980 when I met with a car accident which restricted my movement. When I started planting people laughed at me saying it was a futile exercise as soil near coast was sand-laden and ground water was also salty. I took it as a challenge and nurtured my trees,” she explained.

Her daughter Prof Thankamony D, a retired environmental engineering teacher from the College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram, said whenever relatives and others come from foreign countries her mother asks only for saplings. “Mother’s undying spirit and enthusiasm forced me to take environmental engineering, a new subject those days,” she explained. “My mother taught us nothing is impossible if you really crave for a cause. Now Tapovanom is home to more than 3,000 different trees and saplings,” she said. Now Thankamony conducts lectures and seminars regularly to uphold green cause held tightly by family.

Mahogany, tamarind, gulmohur, pine, silver oak, bamboo and many medicinal plants and creepers form part of the lush forest and Amma uses only organic manure to aid their growth. A couple of ponds, an old kavu (temple) and a big cattle shed with many cows add to the serenity of the man-made forest. “Planting trees is an effective way of minimising carbon foot print. My mother popularised the concept long back and continues to strive for green cause,” she said adding that people will have to change their concept about preservation and development.

“For many, a vacant land is a favourite dumping yard. At times even water bodies were not spared, sewage waste was often dumped at my place. Everyone should think nature belongs to all and all are duty-bound to protect it,” said Devaki Amma adding she was not against cutting trees but at the same time one should plant at least double the number of trees cut and preserve them. She said like planting, preserving also matters a lot.

“Due to lush forest many water bodies in the area rarely gets dry and quality of water also improved. It is a selfless and non-remunerative service and many youngsters imbibe true spirit from it,” said N Rajagopal, a lawyer and former panchayat vice president of Kandaloor.

“It was a sandy soil and nutritional content was very low. Literally the family made impossible possible through their dedication and hard work. Green warriors, they are a role model for many,” said agricultural scientist G S Unnikrishnan Nair.

Besides Nari Shakti, Devaki Amma is a recipient of many honours including Indira Priyadarshini, Vrikshamitra and the state government’s Vanamitra awards. With so many awards and honours in her basket what makes Devaki Amma happy is that young generation of her family is keeping her flame alive.

By Shadab

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