You sometimes hear of ordinary work transcending to extraordinary. You start to explore the story of its creators. You realise if you begin to use words to describe this, it will still limit the magnitude of what’s been accomplished. You know that they have become a re-source, flowing directly from that Source, an invisible energy, that connects them to something much larger. You have nothing to give, and so you decide to receive. You decide to receive their guidance, their advice, and hear directly from them what they have to say. You make space for them. You decide to listen. You know that listening connects you to the message behind their words far more deeply.
Before that, you are just given the background, the context, so it becomes easy to dive into their words. You are now lovingly invited to listen.
Two men. Two stories. One connection. Nature.
Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, from the Mishing tribe of Assam is today called the `Forest Man of India’. He is now about 55 years old. In 1979, at the age of 20, he was hired as one of the labourers for an afforestation project on the sand banks of the River Brahmaputra. Within 5 years this project was abandoned, but not by Jadav Payeng. Planting one sapling at a time for over 30 years, today this `Molai Kathoni’ (Molai’s forest) located near Kokilamukh of Jorhat, Assam, is about 1350 acres, and is home to rhinos, elephants, tigers, several species of birds and in itself carries a diverse species of plants and trees!
Jadav Payeng won the Padma Shri Award in 2015
Jitu Kalita, a Jorhat-based journalist and a wildlife reporter for Prantik, an Assamese magazine, discovered Payeng in 2009 while chasing a story about vultures. A man with a deep passion for nature, he became the selfless vehicle to introduce Payeng to the outside world. We owe to this man, for finding Payeng and for relentlessly pursuing him and befriending him.
Both are creators. One of them creates a forest, tree by tree. The other creates responsible journalism, story by story. This symbiosis in nature is essential, as each thrive in the process.
If air is the invisible energy that connects all of us, the ‘Molai Kothani’ air is very powerful, as it allowed me to connect with both of them through phone and emails, and they graciously agreed to reply to my questions, once again with Jitu Kalita being the vehicle to bridge the language and distance gap with Jadav Payeng.
Let’s hear Jadav Payeng:
1. How did your childhood shape who you are today?
I have hardly remember about my infant stage. Still I remember about walking here and there with my parents in natural environment. When the River Brahmaputra washed away my habitat, my parents went to another place (Majuli), but I didn’t go. I survive as daily worker in nearby villages. Next I used to live in a basin, at the middle of the river with a cow and till then I used to plant trees without thinking. After 33 years I got the recognition.
2.What is your advice to parents & teachers on how they should connect children to the Earth?
Parent should teach to live and play with the natural environment is my advice to today’s parents. If possible, occasionally, the teacher’s should share there knowledge with student in a natural environment. Me, too teach the same thing to my child.
3. What made you show up to plant trees everyday?
I want to rebuild my village full of trees, which was washed away by River Brahmaputra in my childhood. All the emotions, feelings entangled with my village I have seen in my childhood, I want to establish the same village giving everything I have with me.
4. With fears of climate change, global warming, how to change our thinking from fear to hope?
For several years people are destroying the natural resources. But now a days it is important to plant trees to preserve the environment. It is like a medicine to cure the disease of environment. Nothing to worry about, medicine will cure disease.
5. What’s your advice for a student of nature like me?
I am happy that from your busy schedule you have spare time for me to share my works with the people of the world. May God help in your work. I also appreciate Mr. Jitu Kalita for helping you. As he is a naturalist , only that’s why he took me from the forest to a renowned figure.
1. What made you choose nature journalism over commercial writing?
According to me journalism is not only a career where we want recognition and money, it is a service to me. I am not thinking about what I will get, but my aim is give something to the future generation, mainly in the field of forest conservation.
2. Is there a lot of conservation happening in the North East, we are not aware about?
North East is a God gifted places full of natural beauty as well as resources. Common people has not seen any threat to nature as we have enough resources, therefore there is lack of interest on conservation among them. I think gradually they will change.
3. There’s so much talk about climate change & global warming. What can be each one’s ‘little brown job’?
Take care of nature, than nature will take care of you.
4. What is the one thing that stood out in Jadav Payeng when you first met him?
I was shocked to see him with his family residing within the forest. His nature loving quality and his courage attracted me. I thought that people should know him and I started my work.
5. What do you wish to be known as amongst your people?
I follow the sayings of Bhagabat Gita that without worrying about the result, we should go on with our works.
You stay with each of these words. You ponder over how just planting trees is the medicine to today’s diseased environment. Wow. You wonder can Jadav Payeng speak at the next UN meet. You ponder over how if you take care of nature, nature takes care of you. You wonder how profound simple words can be. You introspect how many times you teach children in the natural environment. You wonder if connections to the earth can be made sitting at home. You introspect how you read books and articles on climate change. You wonder if all it takes is stepping out and planting a tree. You introspect, and you hear them, and you cannot help but act on your `little brown job’.
Sanctuary Asia, The Mint and several other publications have written beautiful articles covering the length and breadth of Payeng’s work. The engaging documentaries give us a chance to enter Payeng’s forest and celebrate his creation. The soothing narrative of Jitu Kalita on one of the documentary reveals the beautiful intention he carries.
I have given links to each one of them, and request you to read, watch and engage in their ‘little brown job’, and check if `Molai Kothani’s’ air connects to you as well:
- Documentary by William D McMaster (done by crowdsourcing funds using Kickstarter). It won an award at the Cannes in 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkZDSqyE1do
- Documentary by Sumanta Baruah: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmtVsxGbEJk
- Aarti Shrivastava, the national award documentary film maker, has also made a documentary in 2013, `Foresting Life’ on Jadav Payeng. Please try and access it, if you wish to learn more about him.
- Write to Jitu Kalita if you want to thank them, or know anything more: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Plant a tree if your landscape allows for it, OR support people who plant trees through active participation. Don’t worry about planting a forest. Just that first sapling.
- Learn about the trees that surround your home and how they contribute to the food chain. I need to do that too, and this is a good reminder.
- If you are a teacher or a parent, plan teaching your children outdoors. Allow them to get dirty. Let their feet touch the earth. Let their hands touch the trees. Let their ears listen beyond your words. And when they do it, please do it yourself too. They are more connected than we are, as they are less conditioned.
- Above all, let us together take a bow to Jadav Payeng and Jitu Kalita, the two extraordinary men, who transformed a tree to a forest, a story to a legend.
Thank you for reading. Please share this story with everyone who would love to become inspired.