Blessed Prez, country, says Saalumarada Thimmakka

Legendary tree lover who planted and nurtured 385 banyan trees reveals why she touched the President’s head

Legendary environmentalist Saalumarada Thimmakka was among those honoured at the second edition of the Karnataka Women Achievers’ Awards on Saturday.

The awards were presented at the Taj, Yeshwantpur. Thimmakka is one of India’s greatest names in environmentalism: with her husband, she planted 385 banyan trees across a highway stretch in Karnataka, and tended to them like they were her children. She and her husband watered the trees for years, trekking long distances with heavy pots of water.

In Kannada, ‘saalumara’ means row trees, and her name has become synonymous with trees.

At 108, she continues to work towards environmental conservation. In a chat with Metrolife, she talks about trees, nature and how she blessed President Ram Nath Kovind when she received the Padmashri in 2019. 

You are a Padmashri Awardee. How did it feel to be honoured by the President?

There were many great people with me. I was sitting with them. They all went up to the stage one by one and collected their awards. When my turn came, the President handed over the certificate and award to me, and I accepted it with a smile. I then put my right hand on his head and blessed him. I told him, “May you be well and may the country be well. I give my blessings because I’m like the mother of this country.”

What do you think about this event that honours inspiring women like you?

It makes me happy. I really love girls, I think girls should be respected and loved. Girls should not be hurt and they should be looked after properly. So an award show like this gives them the respect they deserve. 

What inspired you to start planting trees in the first place?

Even after 25 years of marriage, I couldn’t conceive. My husband and I were distraught, my husband more than me. So I told him not to be. I told him we could plant trees and take care of them like our children. That is why we started planting trees. We first planted 10 trees in the first year, then 15 in the second. In the third year, we planted 20 trees. And then the numbers kept on increasing.

You started this initiative with your husband, how did you continue this after his death?

It has been almost 29 years since I lost my husband. After his passing, I was lonely. I missed him dearly. That’s when I decided to adopt Umesh. For 18 years he has been taking care of me like a son. Now the two of us continue what my husband left unfinished. We take care of the trees. We also travel across the country to plant trees and talk about the environment.

What message would you like to convey to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Plant at least one tree. Take care of it. That’s all I would like to tell you. Because it doesn’t matter if you are a child or a grown-up, you should take care of the environment. If our trees are good, our air quality is good. Good air quality ensures we are healthy.


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