Sikander cycles to Brahmyoni hill every morning to tend to the thousands of trees he has grown single handedly
Sikander lives in a small, one-room house in Gaya, does odd jobs as a part time electrician or an extra hand at a shop to earn a living. But his heart, soul and mind lie in the lofty mission to spread greenery in this town, near Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment. He had single handedly planted countless saplings and today more than ten thousand trees stand tall in Brahmyoni hill and other places.
This is the result of his tireless efforts since he began his mission in 1982, 30 years ago. He is so devoted to the cause that notwithstanding the heat, the cold or the rain, Sikander without fail cycles his way to the hills every morning and starts either planting new samplings or tending to the fresh ones and watering the old and new plants .
“I have three children at home,” he says and “thousands on the Gaya hills to care for, nurture and protect”
He gets really hurt when some of samplings die or are uprooted by miscreants or encroachers, “and this happens constantly”, he laments.
How did it all begin? Sikander recalls that as a child, whenever he came to this area for a picnic with his family or other boys, he found that the place was barren with no trees and he decided to turn the hillock green. What began as a pastime became an obsession and now his lifelong mission. His family has suffered economically, because he refuses to be bogged down either by a full time job or accept employment outside Gaya that could take him away from his mission.
Sikander has grown plants and trees of hundreds of varieties – medicinal, fruits trees and trees that provide shade. There are guava, mango, pomegranate, tamarind, cashew nut, lemon, amla, sheesham, ashoka, neem trees and many other varieties.
“I have planted trees to attract birds,” he says, but regrets that children pluck them while they are still raw.
He also creates parks to beautify the city where he thinks there is a scope. People ask him whether it is for an institute, or an ashram or a spot. Sikander has done his bit to harvest rain water and dug several pits around Brahmayoni hills.
Sikander’s latest fad is naming trees after freedom fighters and other famous personalities. There are trees named after Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh, Chander Shekhar Azad, Maharana Pratap, Lala Lajpat Rai, Shivaji and others. Sikander says that he is trying to find the names of other freedom fighters so that he can name more trees after them. He is making a special corner for plants named after Kargil martyrs.
Though Gaya’s greenman has earned a lot of appreciation from many quarters and has many admirers, he has not received any help from the state government, irrespective of which party has been in power. His biggest concern today is to protect the green areas that he has created, away from encroachers and ensure that the saplings he plants with so much of hard work are not uprooted or die for want of care. He has applied for assistance many times to the local authorities and even petitioned the current chief minister, but so far has got nothing except assurances. He is keen on starting an organisation or a Trust so that he gets support for his rare mission, but says he does not have the means for it.
“My dream is to see Gaya as an international tourist city with greenery everywhere and also make people aware of the environment and the need to preserve it for coming generation,” he says.