Ten Thousand Translocated Saplings


Ten Thousand Translocated Saplings
August 10, 2012

Day One

In deference to a worshipful culture with a strong superstitious streak, I insisted we commence the translocation of the nursery at an auspicious time on an auspicious day, and we thought we had it right from the brahmanas calendar in the most famous ashram in WooWooWorld, but events suggest that we read the charts upside down: at both ends of the journey we had rowdy Tamil Men shouting hindrances at our intentions.

A mob of skinny workmen showed up with Vijayaraj’s father – sequestered by Vijayaraj, which was a mistake since according to the father and the workmen, in their village there is a Rule: no one works after two in the afternoon. No wonder nothing gets done around here.

So the saplings were somewhat painfully loaded on to the truck and just as I was photographing it bumping its way across the field to the road, Bhanu came thundering across towards us shouting before he even got down – he wasn’t letting us take the remaining five thousand plants because we hadn’t asked his permission. Bhanu doesn’t have our respect although his father does; Kunegownda has plenty of respect and we had his permission. But Bhanu got a lot of mileage out of standing unsteadily on thin air.

What did he want at the end of the upheaval while we all stood around gaping? Well, he wants our fence, for starters. Granite pillars are worth something these days.

Tough, Bhanu; we’re taking them with us. Off we sailed in our DMK car.


The truck was already waiting for us at Virupaksha Avenue Plats Development – our neighbourhood at the new nursery; we piloted it in across fields to pull up next to the designated patch, and blokes sprung uncharacteristically into action shifting saplings from the truck to the site, the holy hill impassive behind. After a few photographs I retreated to the shade near the well in order to try uploading photos directly onto my iPad so that I could complete the feat of sending Ben up-to-the-minute reportage by email, being as i am easily impressed by gimmicks.

I noticed that our watchman and his wife don’t have a dwelling here, just one metal cot with one grass mat on it, albeit right next to the place where the cows sleep. I did manage to send the message with a photo to Ben.


Shouting raised my attention to a gesticulating male phenomenon approaching from the nearby household. All our busy workmen, our drivers crouched in inaction, Phoornima with dupatta blowing gracefully in the breeze – all stood transfixed staring at this before they all in unison turned shouting at each other. I had to approach closer to ask what was happening. It turned out that several months ago the substantial roots of some big trees had been dumped over the perimeter of this person’s field adjoining a field on our landowner’s land. Opportunisticly the entrance of our workmen gave him the stage for his shindy, designed to force us to move the offending roots back onto our land.

Much to my surprise, we did.

This laborious process took quite some time. Hardly had the deed been done when another shouting male emerged from the same household across the way; he was dressed like a politician, all in white but without a rosette. Probably a muslim. The effect of what he was saying caused an eruption from our truck driver who – joined by Phoorni, entered into a protracted passionate debate as to whether this person could, as he intended, prevent the truck from ever returning to the road after disembarking the plants. The man in white claimed to be the watchman for the field through which the truck had entered to pull up on our landowner’s land. There was no other way the truck could exit the area.



All the workers grouped to secure an exit with rickshaw money to hit the main road and crowd into an auto to reach home by two o’clock, knock-off time remember?

With a foreigner’s sense of superiority in the digital age I took a lot of unnecessary photos of the ontinuing harrange on the subject of the truck and didn’t succeed in thus persuading a meta view in the ludicrous light of this battle, for any of the protagonists. Phoorni eventually appealed to higher authority by ringing our land owner. He said Don’t Worry, he will ring the other land owner, which he did, rang back and haha! everything was suddenly alright, the truck could leave.

All our labourers had absconded according to the Rule and wouldn’t come back today, so we had to call it a day and re-negotiate for a tomorrow. Phoorni would do that. I was just waiting for her feet to turn cold on further efforts towards the benefit of this community. Phoorni is not a Tamilian, let alone a local, I should mention, she comes from Telagu territory – the State to the north of TamilNadu, where most of the other trusty, cognitively competent people with energy around here come from.

So tomorrow is another day. Let us see what happens.

Day Two

It was a Saturday and we hired labourers waiting to be hired at the obelisk near the bus stand where hopeful coolies wait – those who aren’t interested in the government one hundred rupees a day for doing nothing.

The truck was on its way out to the nursery in Selvapuram when we decided to recuperate our tools from our previous supervisor, AnnadamKumar, at his tiffin shop near to where I live.


AnnadamKumar was busy handing out saplings for free to three gentlemen who had pulled over in their cushy jeep and had half an hour previously eaten breakfast next to me at the neighbouring tiffin shop; if I’d been quick I could have taken photo of the handing out of those saplings, interesting especially because they might very well be ours.

I had been sitting on the NandiMandapam waiting for Phoorni in the car, we would go out to Kunegownda’s place for the second plant moving operation, intended to be the last. When Phoorni pulled up we decided to try to recover the kadapa and two metal water pots that were still in Annadam’s hands, along with salaries for three planters (five thousand two hundred and fifty rupees). As we entered to ask for these tools and funds to be returned, AnnadamKumar entered staggering from rear right stage with fistfulls of saplings in plastic bags.

While he disappeared to search for the pots and kadapa, Phoorni had the presence of mind to introduce herself to the men waiting relaxed in plastic chairs, and even to quickly explain to them that while AK says they will have to pay sixty rupees per sapling hereafter, we do supply saplings from our nursery FREE OF CHARGE for plantation on public lands. Since one man was from the Human Rights Organisation local office, one from the Red Cross, and one the Lions Club, they were all candidates for free trees.

But no chance of any of our money being returned; AnnadamKumar claimed he has already used that money (a curious notion this) on the work he is doing for the Forest Department – work for which he is handsomely paid; he had the temerity to claim that we still owed him three hundred rupees: sharks work in devious ways. The four thousand four hundred Rajaguru gave him on our behalf for translocation expenses when I still trusted him (and intended moving the saplings to his land in ChinnaVediyappanur) – that money was returned to us – not by AnnadamKumar but by Rajaguru – trusted mutual friend. Tonight I hope speak with Rajaguru about the salaries owing, hoping he can persuade AK to become honourable, perhaps not. If that fails perhaps the HumanRights watchdog can succeed. We are, after all, a charitable trust, we are legally obliged to try to recover that money.

What a weasel! He also claimed that he couldn’t return the crowbar because he could not identify which of the several crowbars he has belongs to us; notice the logical resemblance between this little fallacy and the previous one about money being used for something else.

I still feel thoroughly justified in persuing this matter because I was conditioned by the ideal of Justice and Rights, even Human Rights, and Accountability. Evenings these days were glued to events unfolding around Julian Assange; locals however are not blessed with such optimistic equipment. They all shrug such stuff off: in TamilNad rascals get away with just about anything.

Once back at the Selvapuram nursery all morning was occupied with loading the truck, some of the saplings were very big and there were fewer workers.


As the morning progressed there was more and more talk about MEALS, little packages were handed around at one point that didn’t seem to influence the popularity of the ubiquitous Tamil topic.


Finally – with no unexpected hitches, the truck was full again and on the road. However at least another load of plants remained at Selvapuram in addition to the granite pillars and barbed wire of ‘our’ fence that needed to occupy yet another load. So far, in addition to the funds and crowbar being retained by the weasel, there are four missing bicycles – one knocked off by our only foreign volunteer, one tricycle to carry water, a long hose used with that, several sakthis and other crowbars (originally there were ten), all supported by shrugs. It doesn’t say much for the honesty of the surrounding male populace, does it?



The grandchildren of the watchman helped to unload the last arrivals of the day, and the workmen were true to their word in continuing until sunset, so all is not lost.

Day three
Monday 13th

A Sunday intervened here and we were unsure whether the saplings would take kindly to a waterless day after the disruption of the journey, but this morning they appeared to be a juicy bunch quite pleased with their new surroundings with the open sky and the cows and the beautiful daughter-in-laws of Padmini and Periyasami who began the process of organisation into groups according to species:



This last image is of Periyasami and his wife, Padmini is here with one of their grandsons:


It seems that our previous planters will not be following us which is a little sad. The daughter-in-law in the pink sari, named Vasanthi, would like to join us, so the compensation is considerable as far as we can see. A previous planter who worked with us for years – Pandian, met me on the road coming to the nursery and asked if he could join us, and we certainly have loads of mature saplings to plant out on public lands, so all we need now is sufficient financial support so that we can begin sprouting new seeds.






Day Four
Sunday 19th

The intervening days were occupied with negotiations and arrangements undertaken entirely by Phoornima – our young Fairy Godmother, with the assistance of Murugan – our host and, it becomes increasingly clear: our guide, mentor and excellent Samaritan. Good fortune extended to rainbows . . . . . .

20120819-144623.jpg . . . . . and soaking rain each evening that persuaded the seedlings and saplings to settle in well, we only had a few losses – plants that did not travel well.


I had the pleasure of walking across from my room early morning to be encouraged by the young trees busy defying gravity in rows, and by Padmani’s bright face:


Day four turned out to be the day we moved the fence composed of granite pillars and barbed wire,
that Seetha Gopalkrishna gave to us a few years ago when she was our Managing Trustee – the ones that Bhanu wanted as his prize. Early morning we went out with a big truck and began uprooting the pillars and removing the wire:

We also began moving the remaining saplings to the truck:

One of the lady planters (her name is Laxmi) came from the village of Alwapet where the Muthalayam Temple plantation is now flourishing gorgeously, it was encouraging to be remembered by her:


Bhanu swept up on his big bike and began his tirade again on the subject of the fence. Phoornima had arranged to telephone Seetha so Bhanu could speak to her.


But we knew this wouldn’t get very far because Seetha is a woman. So Bhanu got a lot of mileage out of a situation that was boring everybody to death by this time, most especially Phoornima:

Bhanu’s father Kunegownda turned up to add colourful spice to the Bollywood flavour:



And eventually even he had enough of this tamasha although Bhanu was still kicking, when something happened: a gentleman entered our midst: Murugan the Magnificent. Shouting prevented us noticing his car pull up so suddenly he calmly appeared to quieten everything down:

All those ruffled feathers lay straight and within a few minutes even smiles burst forth like sunbeams from those scowls:

Kunegownda was astonished, so was I: how does he do it!?



Effortlessly Murugan reframed the story. The situation was now totally different.

As soon as Murugan left Bhanu took it upon himself to boss the fencing men about:

I was dropped off in the heat of the day in my white skin, to edit the photos and upload. To the detriment of the story I missed the second loading of the day, which extended through the afternoon under Big Boy Bhanu’s brutally boring tirade directed tenaciously towards Phoornima in pink, who was relieved temporarily by the induction of the presence of Murugan (who is understandably very busy man). Each time Murugan reappeared, Bhanu immediately turned into TinkerBell all smiles but only for the duration; the moment Murugan left the scene he did a transformer into the monster with a knife between his teeth. But my camera was not there to record his feat.
Unaware of Phoornima’s trials at the time, I walked sedately under my umbrella across to the New Nursery and watched the milking of Padmini’s cows by the local milkman, a gentleman whose English was quite good.

Her grandchildren watching with me were aware of the fact that both mother cow and calf did not like us thieving the milk that rightly belongs to the skinny little calf, although fresh fodder was eventually brought to the hungry babies:

After an eternity, the truck – stacked up to the brim with saplings, granite pillars and rusty barbed wire, came snorting across the bumpy fields. Phoorni – thoroughly pissed off in very rumpled pink, dropped heavily from the cabin of the truck, so I was immediately brought up to date with the tumultuous finale to the OldNursery, very nasty on Bhanu’s part I add without detail. Since dusk had enveloped by this time it was with much haste that the unloading began, in tune with the usual Tamilian shouting brawl that seems to accompany all group activity here:


Since it was all hands on deck in failing light there are no more images for that infamous day..

The women who were hired on a daily basis had left their homes well before dawn on an initial two kilometre walk to a bus followed by another local (rickety, dirty old) bus to the truck; now after a full day’s hard work and well after dark, they were piled back up in to the truck’s cabin for the homeward stint. The pay for ‘coolies’ is very low by any standards except those of the millions higher up the Indian ladder who are naturally impressed by the government’s one-hundred-rupees-a-day-for-doing-nothing program and hence have no compunctions in this inequality. This is not a thinking culture.
Horrified by the prospect of these women arriving home to fix food for their families, I suggested to Phoorni that they could take a rickshaw at least to Alwapet, but Phoorni had the conditioned perspective right on the tip of her tongue: They would have prepared food for the evening before setting out in the morning. This is the way those of us from directed thinking cultures manage in this vale of tears: standing as we do on the heads of slaves: our own self respect has us frame the story differently.
Logu’s lovely sister Logunagi – you see her here below, has two more years of school ahead; she hasn’t yet decided what she would like to do with her life although we can be sure that father Bhanu has no doubt already set his sights on the Dowry.

So tomorrow is another day.



Day Five
Monday August 20th

The morning after that drastic day showed our last group of saplings haphazardly dumped in groups near the granite stones in one weighty pile:


I had met Periyasami on the road, on his way to find a couple of blokes willing to work on Ramzan; he still had not yet returned at 9.30. Padmini I found cooking in Arcadian bliss by the well where weaver birds were in the excited process of house-building and two young grandsons jumped about eager for a photo in bright sunlight that would not render their faces unacceptably dark as happened – much to their discomfort, yesterday:



As the heat descended I decided not to wait for the anticipated arrival of the fencing men but go home to work and return in the mid afternoon with my umbrella. Look at the scene behind me as I left:


But the action didn’t happen until late afternoon. The fencing men didn’t show up at all, they were exhausted after yesterday and couldn’t come. The two ladies who it was anticipated would water the plants and begin to isolate those in need of attention – those with broken bags, for instance, whose roots had become exposed . . . those ladies didn’t show up either. So when I returned in the afternoon all the plants were in need of water and many in critical condition, in need of urgent attention. A five inch diameter sky blue rubber hose lay like the DreamTime serpent, immobilised, spent, perishing also for want of water and something better to do.

Padmini was sitting by the well in a happy state; she called to Periyasami who appeared promptly and agreed on the need of water. He immediately began to start the pump. While he was occupied with this intermittently optimistic task I rang Karuna for someone to talk to.

Karuna is the spunkiest of all sons of the local soil; he will rustle up some friends with initiative to come to the aid of this needy outpost of the Botanical Kingdom. Tomorrow morning. And on Saturday morning he anticipates a group of young students of his might come, and he knows where we could get a Bullock cart load of good (if not rich) soil, which we will very soon need. His students are used to being photographed, which will be a great relief. Then I was speaking with Phoorni on the subject of her small pump which she will bring here and the objective of providing it with a plumber for installation and suitable hose pipe so that watering can be done with dignity, when the sound of success came from the direction of the pump house. A waterfall smashed down on some saplings nearby and I swung around to watch fascinated for some minutes before waking up to my camera and shooting these:




We will refine this system tomorrow.

Day six or seven
August 21

No refining took place today.

All the action was scheduled to begin early morning with ladies coming to recover the dignity of the plants, electrician to install a small motor kindly brought to the site by Phoorni who needed to purchase less ambitious hoses and have the motor overhauled, fencing men were also supposed to turn up after their recuperation, and since Karuna and his friend Satish – both offering the goodness of their hearts, were expected a little later, I arrived with Karuna anticipating much flurry of activity.

The ladies were on site, chatting to Padmini by well and Phoorni under the tree. Periyasami appeared when we arrived and began stacking saplings that had been dumped the day before, alongside ones that had been standing in rows for days. When Karuna and i arrived around nine thirty the ladies came across at a leisurely pace as is customary here and began to carry saplings to add to Periyasami’s stash, neglecting entirely all the plants in grave need of attention. It took quite some time to rouse everybody into action: the heat was upon us and at that stage some hundred saplings up to six years old were lying with roots exposed, packets broken, on their sides in the hot sun. There was a small stash of plants given up on since possibly dead, that on close inspection were still wick. Some good plastic packets were salvageable to be used for casualties, but many in the Emergency Inpatient’s Department needed to be rescued immediately by provision of a hasty Mother bed. Karuna and Satish took up the task with energy – an injection much appreciated, and with their focussed attention also – they at least are equipped with Common Sense.



This brought forward my age-old contention that a couple of cognitively competent, energetic persons with commitment to global history are infinitely preferable to ANY NUMBER of incompetent slaves although the axiom is ignored or unrecognised.

In the afternoon I returned with my clippers to prune back the dead or dying branches from the remaining saplings given up for dead. The Electrician, pump, hose and all that jazz had not happened this day at all, there had been no power all day over in my hot room either, and Periyasami did say he would give water to the plants in need after the current came on around six.




Tomorrow is Refinement Day.

Day Eight
August 24

Luckily we had some good rain to sustain the plants while the complexities of pump re-conditioning played out in the town under Subramanian’s keen eye. Eventually he was out at the nursery with tools and expertise, repairing cracks in the Sentax tank and attaching the pipes with the listless contribution of Periyasami and a small boy:




Our small corner of the Botanical Kingdom imbued a more settled air, becoming graceful and optimistic according to the nature of plants:






They’re all imprisoned behind barbed wire:


Looks like there will be more rain tonight so the obvious fact that the water system will not be set up before sundown can be digested.



Karuna and I were in the nursery as the light faded last night; Karuna insisted on taking a photo of a rare variety of a common flowering plant that Lord Ganesa particularly likes.


Karuna is the person best suited to the maintenance, protection and distribution of the saplings, and the best person to regenerate the nursery with new arrivals in the form of sprouts. I hope the Trustees agree with me – how could they not?


Day Nine
August 27

This morning has not been hot for a change. It’s very pretty in the shade at the nursery, cool breeze, cloudy sky, and the sounds of human delight coming from in amongst the rows of plants: Brahmananda – PlantAnanda, and Venkatesan, both from Sri Ramanasramam, are happily choosing saplings destined for plantation on the Eastern face of Arunachala at Skandashram, the very best place for a tree to be.



It was disappointing that they only took about fifty saplings, but after planting them perhaps they will return for more.


Then Heath came, he is building a house on two acres out in the salad bowl; he made his selection and stood still for a photo with Periyasami who could only just stand up due to being drunk as a Lord should not be:



3 thoughts on “Ten Thousand Translocated Saplings

  1. That has been truly interesting reading. Thanks for taking the time to share all that, writing so much after what sound like very full days. And thanks for persevering with the greening project, something that will benefit us all.

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