Offbeat Janet Yegneswaran and Mullaivanam have overcome the pain of losing their spouses by taking to tree plantation

J anet was inconsolable when she lost her husband R.S. Yegneswaran in 2005. Knowing grief feeds on grief, she desperately wanted to break out of the shell of self-pity. She quickly did, by devoting herself to a cause. “At that time, Bangalore residents were engulfed by bitterness over frequent instances of tree-felling,” recalls Janet. She realised what had to be done.

In six years, Trees For Free (TFF) — the organisation she founded to honour her husband's memory — has done inimitable work to restore Bangalore's reputation for fostering trees. “I am a landscapist and the earth is the source of my livelihood. I wanted to repay the debt by caring for the earth.”

G. Mullaivanam — a farmer from Sriperumbudur — lost his wife Dhanalakshmi to cancer in 2006. He emerged from the despair through a fresh commitment to a social mission. Raised in a family that venerates the tree as a giver of life, he started planting trees in his early teens.

Tree banks

Following his wife's death, he began to do this service with the vigour of a green warrior. “Blood saves lives, so there are blood banks. Trees save lives, so there is also need for tree banks,” explains 43-year-old Mullaivanam, whose ‘Tree Bank of India' — founded in 2008 — has given a massive boost to social tree-planting.

The Tree Bank of India, which offers free saplings to anyone who cares to ask, looks for tree lovers in districts and elevates them to leadership roles.

Each of these leaders heads what is called a Green Ribbon Club. Based on the nature of the work they perform in a tree-planting programme, the volunteers are assigned three differently-coloured stars: Green for planters, yellow for nurturers (of planted trees) and white for distributors (of saplings).

The bank trains such teams in the essentials of ‘tree service', including collecting seedlings, making makeshift bags, growing plants in them, transferring them to the ground and protecting them with tree guards.

“We have gone to Nepal, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan to create such teams. On requests, we go anywhere and do this work. All they have to do is get us our tickets; our services are free,” says Mullaivanam, who is helped by two volunteers adept in English and Hindi to make sense of requests, written or spoken.

TFF also functions along almost similar lines. When someone expresses a desire to green up an area, TFF volunteers make a visit and inspect it for a few things – such as availability of water and a commitment to conscientiously care for the planted trees. When convinced that the request has come out of a deep-rooted love for trees and not out of a fickle craze for the environment, they go ahead and plant the saplings.

Links on the Web

Both organisations are expanding through the disseminating power of Internet. In addition to its website ( TFF has a Facebook presence. As a result, it is often challenged to take up demanding and back-to-back programmes. “At present, we are processing a request to green up a stretch of 100 km immediately outside Bangalore,” says Janet.

The Tree Bank has risen above its inconspicuous local address because of volunteer Gokul Krishnan's gift of a website, treebankofindia Both are sustained by the spirit of volunteering. Thanks to corporate help, TFF has a Bolero Camper to transport saplings, tree guards and garden implements.

“Seeing our good work, actor Vivek has provided us the money to buy a TATA Ace,” says Mullaivannam.

And, there are hundreds of other less-known people who also contribute in meaningful ways to these organizations that are making the two cities proud.