When Saalumarada Thimmakka’s name was announced at Rashtrapati Bhavan for her felicitation for Padma Shri, the claps roared the Darbar Hall. Her arrival to the stage was slow due to her limped and slow walk courtesy of her age and especially because of her hard work which she had endured for 107 years of her life. Her life was never easy, yet when you look at her, you feel like you are looking at a child with crystal heart and a pleasant smile. She walked to President Ram Nath Kovind with her hands joined in Namaste, depicting a cultural attribute respected in an era gone by. As she stood next to him and was conferred with Padma Shri, everyone in the Darbar Hall was in awe with the innocence of this child in the body of an old lady. President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi even smiled at her innocence and those who haven’t yet heard name of her fell in love with her. She is Saalumarada Thimmakka, fondly known as Vruksha Mathe – Mother of Trees.
In Magadi Taluk of Bangalore district is Hulikal village. Before independence of India, Saalumarada was born in Hulikal in a poor peasant family. Saalumarada had to work day in and day out in field for bread. She was unable to go to school due to her family condition and her poor economic background. At the age of 20, she was married off to Bikkalu Chikkaiah, a cattle herder.
Her days post marriage were more difficult than what she had experienced before. She had to manage all her household chores and then had to help her husband in field. But her husband was her ray of hope as the love he felt for her was something that made her face any difficulty. Later as days went by, Saalumarada hoped to become a mother. But unable to conceive, the prospect of leading a childless life shanked Saalumarada and she went into depression. The depression and behavior of her family and her village became so worse that she decided to kill herself. Again it was her husband Bikkalu who stood by her and they decided to start a new life away from all the worries.
While giving interview to MINDIA, Saalumarada said, “For 25 years we were not blessed with children. If we stay childless, we won’t get respect in society. So we thought that by at least planting tree, we will get some salvation.” Thus Saalumarada and Bikkalu started a change which is still giving shades to coming generation. They initially planted 10 trees in first year and cared for them relentlessly. They protected them as their children. From caring them and watering them, to keeping them safe from carnivores’ animals who would eat them, Saalumarada and Bikkalu did everything possible to watch their children grow. At many times they had to fetch water as far as from 4 km away.
Such is her struggle that President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted,
Saalumarada Thimmakka represents the resilience and determination and perseverance of the ordinary Indian citizen, especially of women in our country. May her example, and that of every Padma awardee, inspire our India to greater heights #PresidentKovind
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) March 16, 2019
They planted 15 saplings in second year and 20 in third. After 65 year of their endeavor they have planted more than 8000 tress with around 400 banyan trees. The saplings that the couple planted 50 years ago have grown to be big trees and provide shade to the passerby, and the view of this line of trees is a majestic view to the eyes which is why she is called as ‘Saalumarada Thimmakka’ which means ‘row of trees’ in kannada. This shows the immense respect they have for her amazing work.
Bikkalu passed away in 1991 after their 63 years of marriage. Thimmakka who misses her husband, still remembers him with her innocent smile whenever she walks by the row of trees she had planted.
Saalumarada’s and Bikkalu’s effort won them many accolades, out of which her recognition by BBC as the TOP 100 most influential women of 2016 was what brought international attention. This was a moment of great pride and joy not only for Saalumarada Thimmakka but also for the Indians world over.
In 2015, ‘Saalumarada Saradaarini’ a book on the life of Saalumarada Thimmakka was published. This biography written by Indiramma Belur carries all the truthful incidents that Saalumarada Thimmakka has faced in her life. It’s a must read. Saalumarada is now of 107 years and we at TerseBox pray for her longevity. Whenever you will drive by highway stretch between Hulikal and Kudoor villages in Karnataka, which I advise you must, remember you are walking under the shades of one of the most determined women on this planet who did everything to care for Mother Nature and needs no proof for fertility. Walking under those shades will trance you to a peaceful moment which we will get to share with Saalumarada – an evergreen environmentalist.
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