Extraordinary Indians| Saalumarada Thimmakka: The Green Centenarian
For over 70 years, Saalumarada Thimmakka, now 107, has been planting trees in Karnataka
She was called Thimmakka for 40 years of her life. But by the time she hit 50, people had a prefix for her—Saalumarada (Rows of Trees). That became her calling card.
The moniker stuck after she and her husband, Bikkala Chikkayya, began planting banyan saplings along the sides of the dusty road from her village, Hulikal, all the way to Kudur four kilometres away, in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka. The childless couple wanted to plant trees and bring them up as their progeny. Chikkayya had insisted on it, as Thimmakka had been depressed—even attempted suicide—for not being able to have a child. “He thought planting trees would offer some meaning to our lives. My husband would dig the ditch and I would plant the saplings and water them,” recalls Thimmakka, now 107 years old.
They could hardly make ends meet, labouring in others’ fields and grazing cattle, but they would tend to the plants with great dedication—bringing in water and replacing destroyed saplings. Within a decade, hundreds of trees grew along the stretch. By 1991—the year Chikkayya passed away—the number grew to thousands. The formerly barren road between Hulikal and Kudur was transformed.
Except on two occasions—once in 1958, when Chikkayya was felicitated, and in the ’90s when Thimmakka’s work was recognized by the government—their contribution has gone largely unnoticed, until recently. “My heart fills with happiness when I see the large banyan trees that I planted 70 years ago. Many people may know me now, but that does not give me the happiness these trees do,” she says.
Thimmakka has inspired lakhs of people, travelling to distant places, addressing students and emphasizing the importance of preserving the environment. Says Umesh B. N., Thimmakka’s foster son, “Despite her age, she still travels thousands of kilometres every month to address gatherings.”
Today, Thimmakka features in textbooks, and last year she received the Padma Shri award. Despite her renown, her message is simple: “Respect the environment—it’s the biggest gift you can give this planet.”