Tree Guardians
Feature Articles

Tree Guardians

June 1, 2019

Come June and it is the time to wake up and look at our environment. Every year June 5 is celebrated as World Environment Day. Mysuru was at one time called the air-conditioned city. During the peak summer, people were just using pankas (mostly weaved out of bamboo with a thin flat handle) swinging it left to right to get the cool breeze. Sadly, those days are only a distant memory.

Now, the only way to beat the heat is to plant more tree-saplings in our surroundings and appropriately the theme of this year’s World Environment Day being hosted by China is “Beat Air Pollution.” The theme for 2018 was “Beat Plastic Pollution” and the host nation was India.

This Weekend Star Supplement features a few unsung heroes in city, who are contributing to beat the air pollution by planting more saplings and distributing them with Tree Guards.

By N. Niranjan Nikam

The Sardar of Tree Canopy

The sweltering heat condition in the city that everyone is experiencing is definitely due to the drastic change in weather conditions. But listening to the tall, bearded man, who is not a man of letters but with ample native intelligence, is quite soothing because his only aim in life is to see that people get shade under the trees which he designs.

The nearly 313 Honge trees that he has planted at the famous Eidgah Maidan in Tilaknagar, Mysuru, stand as mute testimony to the hard work, passion and commitment to the cause he has been espousing — Manegondu Mara, Oorigondu Thopu (A tree for every house and an orchard for every town).

Meet Hyder Ali Khan, 65, the talented artist from Rajivnagar, who is an expert in pruning and regulating the height of trees like Honge, Kaadu Badami and Cherry (Gasagase). “I always wanted to do something good to the society. My aim was not to make money but to earn a name. The first opportunity I got was at the Eidgah Maidan, when Taj Mohammad Khan, Honorary  Secretary of Rifahul Muslimeen Educational Trust (RMET), which runs Farooqia Institutions, asked me to plant the saplings. The opportunity was Godsend. This was in the year 1999 and I immediately started the work by digging trenches to plant Honge saplings,” said Khan speaking to Star of Mysore.

But how did this interest of planting saplings and pruning branches start? “I was a machinery engineer working with waste cotton, that is, cotton wadding in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. This was in the early 1980s. One day I was carrying some parts from the workshop to a factory. I got a bit tired and stood under the shade of a tree and immediately calmness descended on me. I went into a sort of reverie. I started thinking if I ever achieve anything in my life it should only be for the cause of the people. However, I did not at that time think what I would do,” recalled Khan.

Hyder Ali Khan on his Bajaj M 80 Scooter with accessories.

He returned to Mysuru after his stint in Kolhapur in 1998 and it was the time when the idea of planting trees in the Eidgah  Maidan came up. “Since I also used to attend the mass prayers, I met Taj Mohammad Khan and explained to him my desire to do something good for the people who come to offer Namaz.                                                 

After all, there are people who have invented the borewells, JCBs and bulldozers. Besides I had seen in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where there would be pots filled with water in it for people to drink and there were also newspapers kept by the side. This was such a noble gesture on the part of the Gujaratis there to quench the thirst for both water and knowledge. I started digging the trenches and planting Honge saplings in the Maidan here,” he reminisced.

It took years for the trees to grow and provide shade to the people in the Maidan. Khan decided to experiment with the idea of pruning the branches.          

“Since the trees had grown and they were close to one other, I started my work of joining them which I call the Shamiana type. The material I use for this work is plastic wire called the plastic classic sutli. I tie the branches with this. But I never cut the branches. That is the art of pruning trees. Without cutting them I design the trees,” he said showing the photographs of the barren Eidgah Maidan and the one he had later when he had planted the trees and the shade it was giving.

THEN: The barren Eidgah Maidan in Tilaknagar, Mysuru, in 1999.

Which are the types of trees that suit the work he undertakes? “There are only three types — the Honge, Kaadu Badami (white almond) and Cherry trees from which I can fashion the Umbrella and Shamiana designs,” he said and went on to explain the difference, “In the Umbrella type, there is only one tree that I work on while in the Shamiana type where the trees are side by side I weave them together. I had done the Shamiana type not only in Eidgah Maidan but also in Nanjangud near the famous Srikanteshwaraswamy temple on either side of the road.”

Sadly it is quite some time that he had finished work in both the places but whether it is in Eidgah  Maidan or in Nanjangud, the trees are lying neglected. Asked for the reason, Khan said, “In Nanjangud, the people in charge of the temple keep changing and hence the ones who were interested in getting it done are no more there. I have not gone that side for many years now. As far as Eidgah Maidan is concerned, I had fallen ill for more than a year. Now, there is no one to nurture the trees. As a result we have lost nearly 100 trees and that is how the other trees are standing as mute witnesses. But I will once again take up the work when I have the resources.”

NOW: The green Maidan with shade-giving Honge trees in 2019.

In the last 20 years, Khan has planted 2,262 trees including at Good Shepherd Convent premises, a School in H.D. Kote, Athreya School in Mandya, near Kunti Betta in Pandavapura where 40 saplings have been planted in the Ashram and 100 in the Hill also. “I have kept a record of all the saplings and the variety I have planted because if anyone asks for the proof I can show them. The trees in Mysuru so far apart from Eidgah Maidan include the ones in front of MLA Tanveer Sait’s house in Udayagiri, in front of a shop in Gokulam and on a Road near Mission Hospital,” Khan said.

Trees designed in Umbrella type in front of a shop in Gokulam.

Khan’s livelihood depends on pruning and shaping trees without using any machines but with just plastic wires, survey poles and the accessories he carries including two high iron stools and his Bajaj M 80 Scooter on which Khan perches and travels everywhere.

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“I bought myself a second-hand Bajaj M 80 scooter for Rs.10,500 in 1995 and it is faithfully still serving me. Of course, I want to move up in life but the struggle has continued,” he says with a faraway look.

The Umbrella type trees pruned by Hyder Ali Khan opposite MLA Tanveer Sait’s house in Udayagiri.

He has many new ideas to make the city more beautiful. “I met the RTO East and discussed with him the height of the heavy vehicles. He told me that any lorry or truck is allowed to load goods to a height of 14 feet and not more than that. All I ask for first is to give me one kilometre of Road where I can plant the saplings on the medians and nurture them. This will help the vehicles to drive under shade throughout the day,” he said and added, “A Park in Vijayanagar 3rd Stage near Dr. Mahadevaiah’s house where I have pruned the Cherry trees is crying for attention now. Tree Lovers Club President M.N. Subramani has encouraged me to plant the saplings given free by the Forest Department and nurture them. This again will be a Park in Vijayanagar where people can come for a walk anytime in the morning or evening and walk under the shades of Green Umbrellas or Shamianas.”

To save water he has used drip irrigation method in a few places wherein he punches five  holes in a bottle where one hole is for the water inlet and the other four for outflow of water. Not a drop of water is wasted in this method, he claimed.

However, his greatest wish is to make the Tree Canopy for people participating in Shandies (Santhe) or Fairs. “The villagers participate in Shandies every week at Santhemalas. They have no shade to sit. Most of the Santhes happen on vast grounds. All we have to do is plant the trees and provide Shamiana type shades for the villagers to sell their produce. It will benefit both the sellers and the buyers who visit the Santhes,” said Hyder Ali Khan with a wistful look.

A file photo of a Santhemala where Khan wants to provide shade to vendors with Shamiana type trees like in Eidgah Maidan.

Are his three sons interested in taking up his profession? “Sadly, no. But I am not going to let this unique art which is God-given to me go waste. There are two people who are working under me and I am training them to carry forward the tradition.”

What is it that gives him the maximum satisfaction? “I know that trees give oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and helps in containing air pollution. It also brings in more rain. But the maximum satisfaction is when I stand in the Sun at the Eidgah Maidan and see those offering Namaz sitting under the shades of Honge trees in peace. The same feeling I get when children play under the shade in Schools where my work is appreciated,” said Hyder Ali Khan, who is popular as Hasiru Chapparada Sardar, with a beatific smile. 

TREE DESIGNER: His greatest wish is to make Tree Canopies for people in Shandies or Fairs as they have no shade to sit. All one has to do is plant trees and provide Shamiana type shades for villagers to sell their produce on the vast Santhemalas, says city’s green brigadier Hyder Ali Khan.

Namma Mysuru’s tree designer- cum-guardian Hyder Ali Khan can be contacted on Mob: 98451-59067.

Guarding health & protecting saplings

The urge to earn name and fame is there in every one of us. But how many of us really take the long path to reach there. As somebody has said ‘There is no free lunch in life’ and this is one adage which the reticent philanthropist-pharmacist N. Raghavan of Raghulal & Co., firmly believes in.

“I have been doing my service to the society, especially in trying to preserve the environment in my own way for quite some years. I realised early that it is not enough to just plant saplings but also to see how it can be protected from cattle and other onslaughts. Hence, I decided to give Tree Guards as part of Raghulal & Co’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR),” said Raghavan, speaking to Star of Mysore.

What started in a small way has now grown to such an extent that many individuals and organisations expect Raghavan to provide free Tree Guards. “In the last eight years I have donated about 15,000 Tree Guards. Each guard is made of sturdy metal and it has a wire mesh around it and is painted. The cost is approximately Rs.800 per Tree Guard,” he revealed.

Raghavan with the Tree Guards provided by him for the saplings planted by Corporator D. Nagabhushan near Sunanda School in Yadavagiri.

The problem over the years he is facing is that everyone, who thinks he or she is a half-environmentalist, feels it is Raghavan, who is the go-to man as he is always ready with his purse open.

“It is not only that one should inspire but one also needs to perspire. Just as I give Tree Guards free, I also expect others who have concern for the environment to not just do lip service but also contribute in cash and kind. If I give 25 Tree Guards, I expect at least a few people to contribute four or five or at least one each. This is one way of standing up and being counted. On the contrary, we find in the society that by burdening others they get a vicarious pleasure,” said a sad Raghavan.

It has come to such a pass that when Raghavan tries to recycle the old Tree Guards where the trees no longer need them as they have grown tall, the people in areas like Kuvempunagar, Dattagalli, Chamarajapuram and many other areas refuse to let him take it back.

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Recounting an incidence that occurred just a couple of days ago, Raghavan said, “I took two goods autos, one with the generator to power the axe to remove the Tree Guard and another to load it. The moment they saw the autos, suddenly people appeared from nowhere and called us thieves. It is only when a good doctor-friend of mine, Dr. Balakrishna who identified me that I was saved from being attacked!”

He had to face a similar situation in Yadavagiri and other areas and return empty-handed.

“In fact it is a good idea to recycle. Even recycling costs money as I have to get it repaired and refurbished. The use of a Tree Guard is for three years and then it can be taken out and used in some other place,” he said.

Charity begins at home and everyone must first understand this, said Raghavan before signing off.

TREE GUARDIAN’S WOES: Raghavan tries to recycle the old Tree Guards where the trees no longer need them as they have grown tall but people in many areas refuse to let him take them back. A couple of days ago, when Raghavan went to remove the Tree Guards for recycling, suddenly some people appeared from nowhere and were about to attack him…

Aiming high to counter air pollution

Their aim is very high and the very name of the organisation Koti Vrksha Pratishthan (KVP) speaks about the lofty ambitions they have of planting one crore saplings.

How serious are they? Talking to Shreekanth Bhat, the founder of KVP, instills confidence that they are not only serious but are also walking the talk. “We started KVP in 2016 where we grow plants and distribute to whoever asks for it, rich or poor, freely,” said Bhat speaking to Star of Mysore from his Office in Kuvempunagar.

The main aim of KVP is to create awareness about the importance of growing trees and thus controlling air pollution. “We started this activity at the big park in BEML Layout in Srirampura and slowly we have moved on to having our own nursery. We meet every Sunday since the last two years between 4 pm – 6 pm and we called it the Seed Sowing Festival,” he said.

So far they have grown 45,000 saplings in two years, distributed about 15,000 plants and the aim is to plant 50,000 saplings this year, Shreekanth Bhat said.

However, Bhat strongly believes in some dos and don’ts. “We never give saplings to be distributed in functions, unlike what the Forest Department or the City Corporation believes in, because we strongly believe that when someone is given the sapling, without him not knowing what to do with the plant, it will be a waste,” he points out.

They also never give plants to someone who comes and asks for it at the last moment but will surely keep them ready if they contact them at least one week in advance.

“We ask the people whether they have dug trenches, have tree guards, do they know how to plant the saplings, will they nurture the plants watering them regularly, are some of the questions we ask,” he said and added, “Our volunteers are always there to train the people even visiting houses, schools and organisations free of cost.”

On June 5, the World Environment Day, KVP will plant 1,000 saplings at Hullahalli about 15 kms from Nanjangud on H.D. Kote Road. “Last year we had planted 1,000 saplings and they are all growing healthily and hence we decided to plant 1,000 more to see more green cover,” said Shreekanth Bhat, who will be available at the Park in BEML Layout, from 6 am to 8 am.

CROREPATI’S CONDITIONS: Shreekanth Bhat never gives saplings to be distributed in functions, unlike the Forest Department or the City Corporation. He strongly believes that when someone is given the sapling, without him or her not knowing what to do, it will be a waste.

Every tree saved is a life saved

The health of the environment especially now-a-days is of great concern to everyone and it is heartening to note that a few educational institutions are in the forefront of this drive. The Vidyavardhaka Sangha is one such which is doing yeoman service through its Schools and Colleges.

The President of Vidyavardhaka Sangha Gundappa Gowda is one of the persons leading from the front, involving himself in planting of saplings. An organisation called ‘Sasyaradhana Samiti’ has also been formed with ex-MLC D. Madegowda as its Head and they have been planting saplings in the Hebbal industrial belt for years.

“We have chosen six MCC wards this time where we will be planting nearly 1,000 saplings of Honge, Neem, Mango, Jamoon to name a few. The Forest Department is giving saplings free of cost,” said Gundappa Gowda, speaking to Star of Mysore.

“Our lecturers from Diploma College will visit houses in Hebbal, Vijayanagar First Stage, Mahadevapura Extension, Kumbarakoppal North along with the Corporators and enlighten the house owners to not only plant saplings but create awareness about how to nurture them. There are a few temples which also want saplings to be planted in their premises. Besides, the Tree Guards are being made at our Diploma College itself to save costs,” he said.

However, he maintains that it is Madegowda, environmentalist Dr. Bhamy V. Shenoy and philanthropist N. Raghavan of Raghulal & Co., who are involved in the environmental drive of keeping a part of the city green.

“The other aspect of planting is to see that at least for a year the saplings are taken care of because once they grow into trees then not much of maintenance is required. We also have planted fruit bearing trees like Seethapala (Custard Apple) and Gooseberry in Vidyavardhaka Engineering College campus apart from some medicinal plants whose properties even we are not aware of. The only request we make to the people is to co-operate and also put their heart and soul into maintaining the trees. This is the biggest message that we as an institution always give to the people, as every tree saved is a life saved,” said Gundappa Gowda.

GREENING THE CAMPUS: Vidyavardhaka Sangha, spearheaded by Gundappa Gowda, plants fruit bearing trees like Seethapala (Custard Apple) and Gooseberry apart from some medicinal plants in Vidyavardhaka Engineering College campus. His only request to people is to co-operate and put their heart and soul into maintaining trees as he believes that every tree saved is a life saved.


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