Hailing from a village in the Magadi taluk of Bangalore’s rural district, 103-year-old Saalumarada Thimmakka’s story is an extremely respectable and inspiring one, regrettably riddled with misconduct on behalf of different agencies, but we’ll start with the respectable part.
Native of Hulikal village, Karnataka, Thimmakka did not receive any formal education, and worked as a labourer in a quarry early on in life. At a young age she married Chikkaiah, a cattle herder. Unable to bear their own children however, this couple decided to make a difference to the environment approximately 50 years ago.
Owing to the abundance of Fiscus trees in a part of the Hulikal village, this couple decided to graft plenty of small saplings and carefully plant them on the roadside. Thanks to them, the 3 kilometre stretch of land from Kudur to Hulikal is a beautiful sight today, decorated with a green canopy of tall, shadowy trees. Rising towards the sky from either side of this asphalt road, these hefty Banyans (Fiscus) arch to provide shade to the entire street. The young saplings were nurtured, and sprinkled regularly with water from nearby ponds and wells. Over the years, they continued to plant saplings and care for them, and even after Chikkaiah passed away in 1991, Thimmakka continued her work for the environment. Today, over 400 tall, strong Banyan trees owe this woman their lives.
Although her work started off as a journey to give back to the Earth, her cause has evolved. For the last five years, Thimmakka has been struggling to get a government maternity hospital built in her native village - a project that is being stifled by bureaucratic indifference, lack of infrastructure and government allocation of finances, and dwindling support. Her dedicated fight for the betterment of her village is an inspiring social cause. As her concern for society’s and the environment’s well-being have consumed her life and become its purpose, agencies surrounding her cause have been unresponsive and apathetic. Her cupboard may be lined with different, delicate awards all engraved with fancy titles, but it is in a house she rents for herself, as the government-constructed house allotted to her was too shoddy.
“All that this world-famous woman gets from the government is Rs. 500 as old-age pension. A shoddily constructed house was given to her, which she refused to take. She is now living in a rented house,” said Umesh, her adopted son.
Her awards may shine, trophies polished until they glisten, but certificates and medals aren’t any support for her. In an interview with Al Jazeera in 2013, when asked if she knew who was honouring her at an award function the next day she said, “I have no idea. People suddenly come, they ask me to get ready. Then they take me in a car to a function. There they give me an award and bring me back.” She even suspected that people were using her to gain funds, that she never got the chance to gaze upon.
As her name was honoured with a suitable title, ‘Saalumarada’ meaning row of trees in Kannada, other honours fall short of any actual contribution or support. The environment is gifted with the dedication and organic generosity of Thimmakka, a story as inspiring as it is tainted with misconduct which paints a grim picture of the government’s apathy towards the environment as well as the health of everyday citizens that Thimmakka is fighting for, with regards to the hospital.