Lanky P. Abdul Kareem could be dismissed for a common Keralite. Clad in white shirt and dhoti, he is no different from an average Malayali who goes about his daily chores in houses sheathed in green leafy surroundings.
What sets him apart is his 32-acre forest that he himself has grown around his snug villa. Most Malayalis choose to raise a garden around their houses. Copious monsoon rains help them all realize their dream for a green haven. But Abdul Kareem had set his sight elsewhere, i.e., to contribute his own bit to the environment and grow a forest full of jungle trees where wild bees would set up their hives with snakes slithering all around and birds singing in gay abandon.
Having worked as a typist in Mumbai and later as an entrepreneur in ensuring jobs in the booming Gulf region, Kareem had begun to detest a life divorced of nature. 'What is the fun of life, if we destroy the mother earth from whose womb springs the life and all the bounties of nature', Kareem told this scribe who had traversed a distance of over 500 kms from Bangalore to see a forest grown by an individual in the once desolate, rocky terrain of Puliyamkulam village in Kasaragod district. During his myriad trips to sandy wastes of the UAE, he saw the stupendous effort being invested in greening the land. An inner voice compelled him to return to his sylvan state and initiate efforts to protect the environment being threatened by the Gulf boom and altered lifestyles.
Kareem is today a contented man. Contented with his personal ambition of raising a private forest on a 32 acre land having been realized. But cribbing at the disregard with which forests are being replaced with posh villas built with concrete, glass, timber and steel in the God's own country with Gulf remittances. “Urbanisation is robbing Kerala of its green foliage and natural environment. Water table is constantly declining. The area around my village gets parched dry between February and May. Villagers wander here and there in quest of drinking water. Did we aspire for this kind of development?” Kareem questions by way of a critique on the modern concept of development.
Kareem purchased five acres of land at Rs. 3,750 in Puliyamkulam in 1977 and began to plant saplings of trees, not the orchard trees but saplings of trees of jungle variety. People mocked at him for investing in a barren land and growing wild trees that would yield no dividends for him. First attempt proved futile as saplings withered. Even second attempt proved abortive. But several saplings survived and started growing in the third attempt. Nature responded and did so with a vengeance. Soil fertility surged and insects, birds and bees flocked to the place. As roots spread their labyrinthine maze inside the soil, the water table climbed up. Kareem says he planted 800 species of forest trees and 300 species of medicinal trees. 'Till 1997 there was no water, but now it is available at a depth of five metres', Kareem said pointing at three small tanks that he has dug inside the forest.
Kareem bought another 27 acres of rocky land in 1982 and put in some more organized effort. He avoided any pattern in planting trees, never cut a branch or uprooted a weed. He never sets the fallen leaves on fire. They are allowed to decompose under intense heat and subsequent rains and form the nutritious topsoil that helps seeds spread by the bees and birds to spread roots and germinate. He kept away all chemicals, fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Today the 32-acre forest created by Abdul Kareem hosts virtually hundreds of bee-hives, snake pits and nests.
The simple Kareem of yesteryears is almost a scientist today. Thousands of school students arrive here all through the year to see the forest grown by him. In 1986 he even built his house inside the forest created by him. Kerala's Forest Research Institute sends scientists to study the trees planted by Kareem. In recognition of his services to the environment, Mr. Ram Naik, Minister for Petroleum in the Vajpayee Government allotted him a petrol pump which is the source of livelihood for him. All his three sons and four daughters return to his sylvan home every year and enjoy pitter patter of rain amid calls of cuckoos. The Kerala Textbook Committee has introduced a chapter on his 'Man Made Forest' in the 6th standard textbook.
His keenness to encourage any effort to protect or grow forests is evident from the fact that he maintains an active nursery of forest plants and distributes the saplings before the monsoon rains hit Kerala. He can identify any wild tree in a jiffy and reel out its local and botanical name. However, Kareem is still not sure about what would happen to the forest he has grown with such monumental effort once he is not there. Going by the land prices in Kerala he sits over a priceless estate, wild though. But of late, he has begun thinking. Now 63, he is weighing options as to how this green bequest could be preserved for the posterity.
P. Abdul Kareem can be contacted at: P.O. Puliyamkulam, Parappa, Kerala, PIN-671533, Phone: 0091-467-2254283, 2254233, cell: 0091-467-9846972974, email: [email protected]