When there are so many problems in the world, what can one person do? As it turns out, quite a lot.
The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested.
Payeng, now 52, gave up his home, his education, his village. He moved to the sandbar and planted bamboo. Under his careful watering and pruning, it grew into a thicket. Then he began to gather seedlings and grow “proper trees”. Birds came. Wildlife inhabited Payeng’s forest.
Payeng was completely devoted to his conservation work. He married, fathered children, and supported his family through the sale of milk from his cows and buffaloes. And he tended his trees.
For 30 years the government knew nothing of his forest. Then in 2008 a heard of wild elephants smashed their way through nearby villages. Government officials investigating the rampage discovered Payeng’s dense forest.
The Mulai Kathoni or Mulai forest, named for Jadav “Mulai” Payeng, now spreads over what was once a 550-hectare barren sandbar. According to DNA India, “Payent now plans to upgrade another 500-hectare sandbar on the Brahmaputra into a forest.”
One man, with no education in forestry or conservation, has patiently transformed the world around him. The video below was shot by Amrit Nath on behalf of A Positive Media and may become part of a documentary. In it we see Payeng setting out to plant trees. When he returns home, he faces the camera and says, “Not me. It will depend on you.”
It will depend on all of us, but Jadav “Mulai” Payeng shows that our destruction of the environment can be reversed, one tree at a time. He gives me hope.
See photographs of Payeng’s forest on Flickr.