Ask anyone who frequented the area of Aruna Chapori in Jorhat District, Assam prior to the early 2000’s if there existed a 300 hectare bamboo forest there, they’d most likely respond with a no. However, were you to wander into this area yourself today and chance upon a lush expanse of bamboo, resting atop a sandbar in the river Brahmaputra- you’d most certainly be compelled to disagree. You see, this massive expanse of roughly 740 acres, is actually a decidedly young forest, as forests go.
Prior to 1979 this lone sandbar upon the river lay barren, exposed to the unforgiving rays of the summer sun and at the complete mercy of the elements. In 1979, this seemingly innocuous mound of sand was the sight of the death of scores of serpents, who’d unfortunately found themselves washed up onto the unbearably hot plot and succumbed to the heat. Their passing may have well been in vain, were it not for a 16 year old Jadav Payeng, who chanced upon them and decided to prevent such a thing from ever re-occurring.
Jadav planted 20 bamboo seedlings on the sandbar and tended to them, assuring their growth on the empty expanse; thereby rendering the sandbar a little more hospitable for animals, and a little cooler as well. In the same year, the forest department sanctioned several labourers to plant trees along 200 hectares of land at Aruna Chapori, and of course, amongst these men was Jadav Payeng- not willing to miss the opportunity to make the environment in the area more lush and green. The tree planting project was completed in a matter of five years, and while most of the noble men that toiled on it prepared to vacate the area once and for all, the most noble of them all- Payeng, decided to stay behind. For years he traversed the land they’d worked hard upon and tended to the trees. His heart however, wasn’t contented with just filling 200 hectares of the land for wildlife to thrive in, no! This driven soul proceeded to plant even more trees in the area, working day and night through the years, to fill another 100 hectares of it with bamboo trees.
For many years his dedication to rehabilitating the environment around him went unnoticed. That is-until the forest department wandered into the area in 2008, and found themselves faced with an entire forest that hadn’t been there before! A forest that now hosted a variety of species within its dense vastness.
Jadav Payeng’s forest had grown and thrived, and several animals, such as varieties of deers, rabbits, monkeys, birds and vultures, not to mention even several Bengal Tigers and Indian Rhinos, migrated to the area and began calling it their home. The forest isn’t exclusively composed of bamboo- over a thousand different varieties of trees compose the forest, with bamboo covering the vast majority of the area. The forest also had the pleasure of hosting over a hundred elephants, many of which deemed it a safe place to birth their calves in; and thus 10 new elephants were born amidst the trees of Jadav’s forest. The forest officials, their minds boggled at the sheer scale of the greenery that they were presented with, upon traversing the area found Jadav “Molai” Payeng, to be the man responsible for all the beauty that surrounded them. Thus the name Molai Forest was coined, an ode to the man that made it his goal to revive the lifeless area, and strived for decades till his ambition manifested itself.
This was a man who realised how unfortunate the consequences of deforestation and urbanisation could be, and took it upon himself to undo the mistakes made by humanity as a whole, and for his efforts, he received the coveted Padma Shri national award.
I for one believe however, that to truly honour a man like this, we must see his goals realised on a larger scale. Jadav Payeng demonstrated how much change just one person could be capable of in terms of environmental rehabilitation. Imagine if we all took it upon ourselves to further his ventures and took just one day off our week, to plant a little sapling in an area with a dire need for it! Imagine how remarkably our surroundings could change (for the better!) if all of us were to put even a modicum of the effort that Jadav Payeng put into planting trees, into reviving a small local area!
Imagine the impact our collective effort could have on our environment, on the soaring temperatures and even on global warming!
If one man from a very humble, cattle rearing, tribal background could do so much for our country, then what is our excuse? I think we all need to re-evaluate how we choose to spend our free time, and even if we’re all alone, even if it’s just a paltry garden worth of trees we opt to plant- I think it is our moral obligation to contribute to the movement to undo the damage that our kind has inflicted upon the planet, and I truly hope that the story of Jadav Payeng and his Molai Forest, inspires us all
to do just that!
Image Credits: PHKStudios.