Jadav Molai Payeng, fondly called “Jadav Khura” in Assamese, is today not only a storyteller of inspiring forest tales, but a much celebrated man for his indomitable spirit!
People met India’s “Forest Man” for the first time last week at the TEDx Bangalore conference, as the organisers had gone to great lengths, taken a few flights and travelled over crazy terrain to track him down in his forest and bring him to the city. People heard first-hand from a simple 55-year-old Mishing who has single-handedly planted a 1,360-acre forest that today houses 5 Royal Bengal Tigers, is home to over 100 migratory birds, is a huge biodiversity hotspot and has helped many villagers with viable livelihood options.
Watch a 15-min documentary made by Canadian Will Macster, narrated by photographer Jeetu Kalita, on how Payeng rejuvenated an entire wasteland near Majuli into a thriving forest:
From the years 1917-1960 it was discovered that Majuli’s landmass had decreased by half. In the world’s largest river island that was constantly being eroded by the fearsome Brahmaputra, what Jadav has sowed through really pragmatic and eco-friendly ways is truly extraordinary.
He says rather sadly, “The education system of India is such that children are acclimatised to money-making and no attention is paid to the grave ecological concerns of our times. Kids are promised motorbikes and cars if they score good grades but nothing is done to ensure they harness plant life. Environmental education is prescribed in some syllabi but students voluntarily coming out of their classrooms to plant trees seems far-fetched. That is what we need to change:
Every child should plant a tree and take care of it until they leave school.
In Kokilamukh of Jorhat district, Assam, Jadav has taken a bow to bring back the forest reserve and prevent erosion of soil to the best extent possible. He opines that if we are able to reclaim our green cover, a lot of problems will find their own route to solutions. Perhaps he is right; Molai forest is a proud shelter to some of the most endangered animal and bird species of the country. He dedicates most of his time planting trees and educating the neighbourhood about planting the right kind of trees to save the river island. He says:
Cocunut trees, are the best saviours, as they can help prevent soil erosion.
Jeetu Kalita’s words rang loud in my mind, much after my interview with the humble Payeng: “Sometimes I wonder what ten Payengs, a hundred Payengs, or a thousand Payengs can do for our country.”