The day having reached the pale of eventide, rolled over to sleep the sleep of night. Nelloor slumbered, blanketed in a magical darkness. The moon hid its brilliance behind clouds which seemed to soak its luminance and floated about the vast expanse of the night sky like bloated, brightly lit paper lanterns.
The twittering of birds, mooing of cows, and the rustle of leaves dancing in the restless breeze was all the sound one could hear on this still peaceful night. Even the honking of vehicles in the night traffic seemed to have ceased, and a kind of soft hush fell over the sleeping town.
Yakov, one of the elders of Neloor, whom the people fondly called the ‘plastic man’ slept soundly emitting regular snores which seemed to resound softly against the walls of his little room. He was called the ‘plastic man’ because of the wondrous changes he had activated in the town of Nelloor, inspiring the whole community with his fine example and persistent hard work and tireless effort, till Nelloor was a plastic free zone. Its rivers had begun to flow freely and its streets were some of the cleanest in Tamil Nadu.
There existed an environmental society known as ‘The Cleaner and Greener Rural Society’ which had assisted the Nelloorians in a tremendous way before the town achieved this healthy state. The whole community had in fact worked hand in glove with the Society members to achieve these fascinating results.
In fact school and college children from nearby villages and towns were brought here on field trips to see for themselves the benefits of maintaining a clean, plastic free zone and the manner in which the Nelloorians went about it as an united community.
Yakov’s thoughts now centred over how he would get his people to grow more trees and make Nelloor greener. He sweated in the still night air, inspite of the fan whirling above him. The heat of the night was getting to him.
He walked a while outside, in the court yard. He was a little bent with age. His wife had died a few years ago. His young son Inban awoke to the sound of footsteps in the courtyard and walked towards his father in quiet concern. Yakov paused at the window and pointed towards the horizon where stood the startling, black silhouettes of the distant hills against the dark blue watery sky .
There were more buildings by way of houses, offices and shops in the foreground, than any kind of vegetation. And in the background swayed the fronds of coconut trees in scattered scanty groves. A few neem, gulmohar and ponka trees dotted the horizon protruding between the houses.
Inban knew something was troubling his father and resolved to put his mind at ease, the first thing in the morning. Yakov had given him a city college education, and Inban had done a few computer courses as well, before he settled in his native town again.
oo was sweating profusely and his bronze body glistened in the light of the moon. He whisked a cloth from the clothes line and dabbed the sweat from Yakov’s face and neck and said,
“We will talk about it in the morning, father. Go to sleep now…”
And gently led Yakov back to his bed. He covered him with a light cloth and returned to sleep.
When dawn finally spread its gorgeous wings of morn, the sky lit with vermillion, and saffron. Thennar turned to gold, reflecting the splendour of the skies as women moved chattering towards its gurgling water, laden with pots at their hips, to collect water.
Dhobies were already at the far end where the river curved away from the village and the sound of clothes beaten on flat rocks could be heard by sleepy folks along the row of houses at the tether end of the town.
Patches of coloured cloth lay already upon the clean sand along the river’s bank where they were being spread to dry. Clothes were left to dry upon the tall reeds and grass along the river bank. From some of the clothes lines swinging from widely spaced trees, fluttered clothes of various shades, sizes and designs, like large bird flapping restless wings. The air had caught a breeze. However, it was a warm sultry breeze devoid of the early morning chillness.
Inban, Yakov’s only son with whom he was residing, watched the sunrise through the slender iron bars of the windows. His wife Meena and their two children slept soundly beside him. He watched the early morning vendors shout aloud their wares and soon everybody awoke to the bustle of a new day.
The sweet smell of coffee from the kitchen drew Inban to his wife. She served Yakov the first cup and now she sipped her tumbler of coffee along with Inban, as they shared a quiet moment before the day’s hectic schedule descended on them.
Soon breakfast and lunch was hurriedly cooked; lunch was packed and the children fondly dispatched to school in the big yellow school bus.
Inban was forty five years of age and imbued with his father’s passion and enthusiasm for safe guarding the environment. He cultivated paddy in a half acre patch, of the farm land he owned. The remaining he had turned into a mango orchard and a coconut grove, finding it less time consuming and less work and cost intensive, now that the trees were mature and yeilding. The river Thennar irrigated his field and fed his orchard and grove, as were most of the Nelloorians’ orchards and farmlands.
The people loved their river and protected it from garbage plastics and sludge. And Thennar, reciprocated by feeding Nelloor with its sweet clean water, most of the year. It was only in the extreme heat of May and June when Nelloor’s water was reduced to a sad trickle that the people resorted to their bore wells for water.
At this time of extreme heat and a parched river, many water birds vanished, to return only during the monsoons which started in July. Sailing like paper boats upon the surface of the water of Thenaar were black, white and brown ducks and ducklings. Egrets dotting the green fields of Nelloor, snacked on frogs, small reptiles, field mice and snails. They were frequent visitors of Thennar as they fed on small fishes and insects which sailed along the currents.
Land birds like the bulbul, crows, pigeons, mynas, parrots weaver birds, Green Bee eaters and, sparrows, however, still nested in the trees growing along the river’s edge and the large banyan trees, neems and pungas that vegetated the town.
And then again,thanks to the love of the Nelloorians for their land and environment, the clean plastic free earth and harvested rain water together, rewarded them with stored water from undergroung springs which helped them tide over the dry spells of the bristling summer months when Thennar ran dry.
Selvi,one of the vivacious and active members of the community, was now fifty six years of age still teemed with robust health, and kept a watchful eye on the men and women of Nelloor. None of them dared disrespect the environment. She dutifully briefed the new settlers of Nelloor of its rules and regulations regarding the disposal of plastics, maintainance of Nelloor roads and bylanes.
She dropped by to see Meena, making inquiries about the price of vegetables in the market and to stay awhile longer indulging in friendly gossip. Yakov welcomed her genially. He valued her sincerity and effort in making Nelloor a clean place. In fact he gave her full credit for insigating the populace of Nelloor toward a healthy environment.
“I want to speak to Muthu,” said Yakov, to Selvi and Inban when Inban came forward to wish Selvi.
“Mr.Muthu of the Cleaner and Greener rural Society, father?”
“Yes. It has been a while since he visited us, isn’t it?”
“It has,” said Selvi nodding towards Yakov.
“Shall I send for him, father?”said Inban,” He will come if we call, I’m sure. What’s on your mind, father? Tell me.”
“Oh, just a few queries…. I’m wondering why, in spite of our beautiful river in full spate, we have such heat. Should’nt the presence of water, cool our nights? Its unbearable at nights.”
“It is, it is,” said Selvi agreeing with Yakov, wiping the sweat off her forehead and fanning herself with her saree pallav.
“We turn on the fan to its highest speed and we still sweat!”
“Thankfully our maintinance of the surrounding areas has minimized the breeding of mosquitoes!” said Inban trying to see the brighter side of things.
“Thats true, but we need to cool the town!”
“Haha,” said Inban, “only God can do that!”
“There must be some way,” said they all eventually, and soon Inban made the call to Mr. Muthu on his cell phone.
Mr. Muthu, was an Educationist, who along with the members of the Cleaner and Greener Rural Society had helped and guided the Nelloorian community to preserve their river and land.
Meanwhile Inban cruised through various web sites until he found the reason why Nelloor suffered from a heat overdose.
“Did you know father, we dont have enough trees in Nellore? It says here that trees are the only source of clean oxygen which cleans and cools the air!” said Inban reading off information from the computer screen.
“It also says here, two and a half acres, that is, one hectare of land planted with trees can produce eight hundred kilograms of oxygen!”
Everyone was astounded. Though they hardly knew how many people could actually benefit by this amount of oxygen, they were quite sure it would be beneficial to many.Moreover, Nelloor’s population was steadily increasing.
Just trees?” said Yakov thinking the solution sounded simple and easy.
“Don’t we have trees here in Nelloor, already?” said Selvi. Meena ans Selvi had been peering over Inban’s shoulders at the computer screen.
“Yes, we do. But not enough for our growing population! Did you see most of our fields and groves now house colonies of flats and houses?”
“Yes, when the surrounding acres were filled with paddy fields and orchards it certainly was cooler, now that you’ve said it Inban….”said Yakov, ruminating over the facts said.
“Thats very true, father!”, said Inban, glad to have convinced his father.
Yakov smiled at his dear son and thought,
“He does me proud!”
Selvi and Meena also thought it was a very simple solution.
“Lets ask Mr. Muthu about the type of trees we should grow, then,” said Selvi.
In her fertile mind she was already mobolizing an army of ladies to go on a tree planting spree.
As the result of Inban’s phone call, Mr. Muthu arrived the next day. His hair had turned fully white as though he wore a wig of flax on his head. He looked wiser than ever.
He beamed at the gathering of his friends at Nelloor. He inquired about everybody’s welfare. Many boys and girls came bounding to wish him and he patted them on their heads. He knew most of them by name.
Having tutored, guided and set the Nellooorian on the right track toward cleaning and maintaining the town of Nelloor, he often visited them to see how they fared or simply to see the fruit of his and the people’s labour. Therefore he was a familiar, much loved figure and friend of all the folks in Nelloor. When he returned after his visits, he always left with bananas or mangos or vegetables, gifted by the friendly farmers.
Soon Yakov and Inban brought up the topic of heat in Nelloor and what could be done about it? They provided him with the tree planting informtion they had gleaned from online.He readily agreed it really was the only solution.
“What are the trees we should be planting, sir,” said Selvi, coming directly to the point.
She stood armed with a note pad and pencil, as was Inban.
“Well, in our state of Tamilnadu, the most popular trees grown are the neem, banyan, ponka, casurina, tamarind, mango,cotton and parasu,” said Mr. Muthu.
“Look at that banyan, will you! Isnt it teeming with birds? Did you know, birds are the barometer of nature? If the environment is incongenial, birds just disappear! Then you have to watch out! Yes, we simply have to plant trees, trees and more trees!”
He then continued naming the trees.
They jotted down the names of the trees, and shrubs, and the names of nurseries where it could be bought. In fact, Mr. Muthu promised to get them the saplings himself, having good contacts at numerous government nurseries which actually propagated tree planting.
Soon lorry loads of tree sapling arrived at Ramu’s nursery. Ramu was the stout owner of the only nursery of plants and tree saplings in Nelloor. He took all day, with his group of men to unload the young trees. They built more thatched roofed sheds to house the large influx of saplings which began arriving, at Inban’s orders.
A meeting was again arranged, with an autorickshaw blaring to the Nelloorians to gather at the school playground. Most people turned up and those who did not, eagerly gathered the news from their neighbours.
Mr. Muthu had taken the stage and had greeted them all amicably. He had sounded them off about certain areas in the town where he had sighted plastics still fluttering over the soil or the presence of plastic bottles thrown over fences. He, however cheered them with words of encouragement, for they had indeed maintained their environment in an eco-friendly manner.
But now he had something important in his mind which he had anyway been meaning to tell them. However he gave Inban the credit for having started the process. The Nelloorians sat silent and eager to know what this was all about.
Muthu spoke of the warming in climatic temperatures which warms the earth, globally. Soon he talked about the climate in Nelloor. There were quite a few speaking aloud, voicing the invasion of heat at the hours of night and of course the extreme heat of the day.
Here Muthu expounded the benefits of tree planting and the tremendous influence it would have in changing the climate of Nelloor.
One of the women said, “I need some privacy at my home, anyway. I might as well plant some trees around my house as a green screen!” Meena thought it a good idea indeed, as did many of the others.
“Our homes will be more becoming with the trees around! Imagine a mango tree! A chickoo tree! I will have seasonal fruits right around the house!”
“You know, I cant stand the sight of the garbage dump across the other side of Nelloor! Yes, I will grow trees right along the garden wall! Ha, I will block out the unsightly view! And my house will be cooler too!”
“Do not forget folks,” said Muthu, “Each tree you plant will improve the quality of the air you breathe!
“Ah, yes, we will have our houses in the shade of trees and feel the cool, as the glare of the sun gets filtered by our trees!”
“Will the trees we plant conserve water?”
“Certainly! All plants need to conserve water since the climate is quite arid, especially in the summer months. Plants naturally store rainwater in their leaves and roots to wad off dehydration during the dry seasons.”
“Since we have been sensible about disposal of plastics, and have helped the soil to let water seep in and retain it, the roots will find under ground water to feed and sustain itself even during the dry weather!”
The Nelloorians were pleased their efforts in safe guarding their environment, was really paying off.
The meeting came to an informal end and all the exchange of ideas and chatter subsided. The Nelloorians bade farewell to Mr.Muthu, as he sat waving from his old brown jeep, with a bunch of bananas, sugarcane, and a basket of brinjal, drumsticks and greens, freshly picked by the cordial farmers.
The next day was hectic with the bustle of the Nelloorians heading for Ramu’s nursery. More hands had been employed. Women flocked to buy mango, guava, papaya, chickoo, coconut, drumstick, amla, and teak saplings.
Meena bought ten teak saplings – two for each member of her family. Some of her neighbours were curious and wondered aloud to Meena, since the teak tree gave no fruit as such.
Meena’s reason was simple enough.
“Well,” said she, ” I have five members in my family, including old Yakov. I am planting two trees for each of us. In fifteen to twenty year’s time, with my regular pruning and watering of the saplings, these teak saplings will grow big in girth, height and strength.”
“In my grandfather’s orchard, in the village, I remember he had planted a row of almost twenty teak trees. Each time he needed a large sum of money, say, as capital for my father’s new cloth shop, or my brother’s college education or for my sister’s or my wedding, he would fell a tree. They were very sturdy tall trees, almost twelve to fifteen years old. The timber merchants chopped it, loaded it into their trucks and took it away to be made into doors, windows and furniture for houses. They paid my grandfather handsomely, and the amount always tided him over all large expences!”
“So my teak sapling are actually savings for our future,” she said, tenderly packing them into a wide basket where already stood a few mango, neem and drumstick saplings.
Her neighbours thought Meena was indeed a very prudent woman, and began picking up teak saplings themselves, to be planted straight away in their houses or farms. In fact, Selvi hearing this made it compulsory for all houses to have as many teak saplings as the number of members living there, and the Nellorians willingly complied with this sound order.
If a baby was born, the women gifted the mother with a fruit or teak sapling, along with other gifts. People even gifted a sapling for birthdays, anniversaries and other auspicious occassions. The parting gift bag at weddings, know as the thambulam, was now almost always accompanied by a tree sapling or few packets of vegetable, herb and greens seeds.
This made Yakov very happy as were the members of the Cleaner and Greener Rural Society, each time they visited Nelloor. They were genuinely astonished by the dedication of these simple folks.
Almost all the houses in Nelloor had new saplings of neem, ponka, teak, or mango planted around it, depending on the space available. Patches of vegetable gardens growing chilli, brinjal, tomato, greens, gourd, ladies finger and other oft used vegetable lay around almost all the houses in Nelloor. Jasmine creepers and shrubs stood in the gardens, giving off a sweet intoxicating aroma as the evening breeze blew in.
As the people of Nelloor became more self sufficient it resulted in the farmers trading more often at the nearby towns and city shandies, bringing in a substantial income, thus bettering their standard of living.
However, the true value of trees dawned on the Nelloorians only when someone had to sell a house. They found, that a house with trees around it, was much more valuable than one without trees. Therefore the value of a landscaped house, encouraged the citizens to cultivate more trees, especially teaks.
Of course some from the labourer class or those unemployed and in the low income groups, did not bother with buying nor planting trees for the simple reason, that they were unable to afford it. Moreover, they mostly lived in rented houses and didnt fancy planting a tree in someone else’s plot.
Some of the women in Selvi’s team of co-workers, stood around talking at the bazzar where they had gone to shop. They wondered what could be done regarding this unfortunate and unconcerned group.
Finally one of the women said,
“Let each member plant a tree along the highway or the vacant spaces along roads winding through Nelloor. I will buy ten sapling, for a starter, and distribute them free of cost to the poorer members of our community. Yes, I will give them ten fruit tree sapplings!”
“Me too!” said a few more women buying vegetables at the grocers.
“I will buy them twenty saplings,” said some of the housewives with more income.
Some could afford just two or three.
“But then, even one tree could make a difference, ladies!” encouraged Selvi, who later reported the generosity of Nelloor’s women folk, to Yakov and Inban that evening.
Meena, contributed twenty trees and soon more than a thousand saplings were being given away to the poorer folks of Nelloor, by the geneous women folk. These were accepted gratefully and they began planting them along the roadways and highways, happy to be doing their part in making Nelloor greener. They guarded the tree saplings from grazing cows and goats by erecting thorny sticks around the saplings until they grew to a good height. They never failed to water the young trees.
Some of the people living in the far end of Nelloor, closer to the river had planted casurina along the windward side that faced the river. The strong winds coming from the river often brought in a storm of dust which contaminated uncovered food, and filled their home with fine sandy dust which needed constant cleaning.
The tall row of casurina now standing like proud sentinals, served as fine wind breakers. They not only checked the speed of wind from the river, the direction of the winds were changed as well.
The trees had been closely planted, so the thick ash- green needle leaves filtered the dust from the banks of the river. People living here now hardly complained about the dust and grime.
Almost every member of Nelloor commented on the cool in spite of the heat of the summer months. The trees planted few years back, were all, now more than eight to twelve feet in height. Of course they had yet a long way to grow!
Yet, within four or five years, Nelloor had begun sprouting thousands of trees of various sizes, and shades of green. The orange flowers of the gulmohar, (or the flame of the forest) vied with the dazzle of dusk, as it blazed with the setting sun!
People were seen resting under the cool shades of the banyans, tamarinds and neem. So too the herds of goats and cows, and the sound of birds chirrping were constantly heard. Cowherds and goatherds lay munching on the guavas, mangos or chickoos picked from the way side trees on hot summer noons. Children returning from school happily pelted down the mangoes or guavas for a healthy, vitamin and mineral packed evening snack!
But Mr. Muthu and his team of The Cleaner and Greener Rural Society were enthralled at the visible results. Mr. Muthu, being well -read and an educationist, once quoted to the small crowd of people gathered around him, when he chanced to visit Yakov and his family,
“He that plants a tree is a servant of God.He provides a kindness for many generations and faces that he has not seen shall bless him. So said Henry Van Dyke, an American author, educator and clergyman!”
The people listened to the words in silence and agreed solomnely with the profound wisdom of these words.