When Alappuzha native KK Sugunanandan first decided to convert his family property into a forest, everyone around him said, Kollamparambile chekkanu bhrandhai…That was 45 years ago. Gradually, he started buying more land around it and today, the three-acre coastal land, which was saline and infertile, is a green forest with more than 1,500 trees. “All I had was a determination to convert the land into a green cover. Being the son of a farmer, it was my dream to live amid greenery and the chirping of birds. And my dad’s words — ‘never pull out even a blade of grass from the earth’ have always stayed with me,” says the 66-year-old. His ‘forest’ has medicinal and other rare species of plants and also small ponds full of aquatic life.
However, it was no easy task for this nature lover to convert his land into a forest. “It has been a Herculean task and needed lot of patience. First I tried to create a strong base by refilling the earth with bio-fertilisers including cow dung solution. I was able to plant saplings like teak, banyan tree, eetti, mahogany and silver oak provided from the forest office. Though it’s illegal to cut them, it’s legal to plant them. The happiest moment of my life was when I saw several saplings sprouting from the mud; it felt like they were smiling at me in the sunlight. Soon the land also became a home for my many winged friends. They also support the growth of the forest, as their droppings, which contain seeds of other plants, get deposited in the earth.”
According to Sugunanandan, the forest not only provides the right ecosystem for insects and other small animals, but the soil is now a reservoir of silt (ekkal mannu) as well. “The rotten and dry leaves on the ground facilitate the growth of plants. We also make compost out of dry leaves which are used for the organic farm we have on 50 cents of the land inside the forest. I want it to be an example for all those who burn the dry leaves in their house compounds.”
Meanwhile he clears the air around the planting of the controversial Acacia mangium which is said to cause environmental issues. “During the recent summer, when all our water bodies were affected by drought, the pond surrounded by these Acacia trees was full. Also, Acacia is one of the fastest growing hardwood trees and free of insect attacks.”
His next step? “I wish to collect stray banyan tree saplings that grow on walls or on top of government buildings. I plan to plant them in the premises of religious institutions or public property and also take care of the saplings.”
Sugunanandan lives with his wife Prasomma, 61, a retired head nurse who holds a PG in Vasthu Shastra. “I named my son Aravi K Kumar, which means sunshine, just like the sunlight peeping through the dense foliage. He is doing his house surgeoncy in Thiruvananthapuram.”
He has told his son that that after his death, he can cut the trees, but on one condition, in place of every tree cut, a new one has to be planted. And the best part? Those who used to make fun of him earlier now buy saplings from him and plant them in their houses. “Anyone who visits my forest leaves with greenery in their hands and hearts,” he signs off.