Today I’m going to introduce a multi-faceted personality to you. He is Ravindran Nair from Kolancheri, Ernakulam. He stays in his family property that sprawls over five acres, and leaves the surrounding forest to grow in its own way. He is 77 years old, and in order to move around, he drives his own jeep. Mr Nair is a mechanical engineer by profession, trained in Bombay, and was abroad for close to 20 years. He has visited nearly 20 countries. Now he is back in his native land. What makes him remarkable is that although his area of expertise is engineering, he is passionate about conserving Nature. Perhaps no Malayali can match the record he has set in filing court cases related to environment and our Constitution. He approaches the Green Tribunal and fights his own cases. Simultaneously, he follows organic farming. When he speaks, the poetic lines penned by Malayalam writers – from Kunjunni to Vyloppilli – slip effortlessly from his tongue! Even at the age of 77, he is fired by thoughts about how he can serve the interests of his land and the people in it. Let us find out more about him.
Sir, I came to Kolanchery on hearing about the forest you have in a five-acre plot, and about how birds come here to make nests. Generally speaking, we don’t see this happening everywhere. Most people think about the returns they get on investments. But you have no such thought, and that is a rare phenomenon. What inspired you to create such a relationship with Nature?
I come from a family that nurtured sacred groves. Sacred groves are part of an ecosystem. There is a legend behind them. Lord Parasurama brought the land of Kerala into being, and gifted portions of it to the Namboodiris. As the Namboodiris did not know what to do in order to make the land fertile, they sought the help of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva could not solve the problem but suggested that Vasuki [the King of Snakes] would be able to help, on condition that a small part of virgin forest be set aside for snakes. That was how serpent groves came into being and were nurtured by aristocratic families. As a Hindu religious aura was created around the groves, their sustained life was taken care of. The advantages of such a biodiversity are available not to the owners alone, but to the world at large. The solution to issues like global warming, melting of iceberg, carbon footprint, ozone depletion and so on can be found in planting trees and reinstating the lost glory of old serpent groves.
There were many sacred groves in Kerala. But they were destroyed in the name of development. The anthropocentric thought – that everything exists for the sake of humans – came from the British, and it soon entered our belief system. That we are the crest of all creation and that this world was created for us – all these are false notions.
Sir, how many countries have you visited?
Has that not changed your perspective?
I realized that we do very little. In England, there are no sacred groves. Forests are named after legendary figures. There is a thick forest in Birmingham which is called Robin Hood forest. Just like we have Mowgli in our films, each country has its own culture, and that is given due importance. But here what we had learnt is slowly disappearing. People no longer feel the need to keep sacred groves. They chop down trees. A biodiversity spot is not something we can recreate or relocate. The advantages of this place are for all to enjoy. I merely happen to be its custodian.
Did you purchase this plot, sir? Or is it part of your ancestral property?
This is my ancestral property that has remained intact for the last 40 years.
The mottled wood owl is nowhere to be seen now. But here an entire tree is dedicated for it to roost on. There is a vulture’s nest too in this five-acre plot.
I grow birds in nests too. There is a nest here into which a bird flies on its own! The world’s most beautiful sound is made by the robin. It has a crest. The red-cheeked bulbul. Its sound is melodious. Legend has it that the bird was blessed by Lord Buddha. There are many ways to attract birds in our land. I have built a small window in my naalukettu [quadrangular building] here.
We talked about several issues in the course of these two days. We have common interests too. Both of us filed quo warranto petitions at the Kerala High Court at different points of time.
You file a quo warranto petition but do not argue your case. But I do. I appear with facts and figures and argue with feeling. An advocate has no feeling. He does it for others. I can argue with precision.
But I was a lawyer at the High Court at that point of time. It was my senior – Mr Karthikeya Paniker – who argued the case for me. Even without a legal background, you are updated on our Constitution.
Yes, I am from a different discipline. I am equipped to face any eventuality in life with a smiling face.
Sir, you studied engineering, taught yourself law, and have filed cases in the Green Tribunal.
For the first time in Kerala, a fine of Rs 25,000 was slapped on a panchayat Secretary. There has been no precedent. He had hired the services of a miscreant and damaged a 600-year-old creeper. A retired Supreme Court Judge who was presiding in the Green Tribunal slapped the fine on him.
You have travelled all around the world. Compared to the comforts you have enjoyed abroad, there is very little here.
I am reminded of the lines of Vyloppilli: “Whichever wild beliefs you grow up in,/whichever mechanized world you inhabit,/may your mind be rich in rustic radiance,/fragrance, love, and a sprig of the golden shower”. Wherever we may go, we are ultimately Malayalis. If we forget our mother and the land of our birth, we will not progress. But to whichever corner of the world we may go, memories of vast fields, ridges and golden shower will haunt us. There is no doubt about it.
The month of March has gone by. It’s April now. The time of water scarcity. We are on high land here, nearly 20-30 feet high. Yet the greenery is fresh. There are plenty of termites. Termites are an important component of evergreen forests. Sir, you maintain this really well. Can you tell me the things you do to keep the forest like this?
Termites are the world’s greatest recycling agents. You cannot think of a day without them.
There are people who make a fortune out of manufacturing weedkilling chemicals.
But I don’t use them. Those weedicides destroy all kinds of micro-organisms too, and thereby cause damage to the soil too. I don’t use them at all. But when I say this to certain people, they do not understand my point. It is like casting pearls before the swine.
What measures do you take to maintain this forest?
Forests have their own ecosystems. The undergrowth prevents the sunrays from causing evaporation. So, the undergrowth is the reservoir of rain. They help rainwater drain into our ponds. I ensure that not a single drop of water that falls into this courtyard and the ground goes waste. I save it through water harvesting principles. Our ancestors knew nothing about water harvesting. Yet they did everything to save water in ponds and channels.
A lot of new plants are sprouting. A lot of birds are here. Probably because they get a lot of food here.
I don’t use up all the fruits that grow here – be it banana or sapota [chiku]. I believe in the principle of sharing. Take, for instance, the case of ripe papaya. You’ll see that at first a couple of birds will come and peck at it. When the hole widens, they will begin to sit inside the fruit and eat it. Eventually, the fruit itself will fall and become food for worms and other small creatures. This is a kind of sharing. No resource is reserved for any single entity. Occasionally, when there are plenty of fruits, I leave them on the trees for birds to have. But the people here pluck them and give them to me, saying that I had missed spotting them. In order not to disappoint them, I show my happiness. I acknowledge their efforts to make me happy. In their eyes, fruits are not meant for the birds but the owner!
Sir, what did you study?
We talked about various issues but what struck me was that despite my 60 years and journalistic background I didn’t know that the word “engineer” comes not from “engineering” but from [Latin] “ingeniare” [one who has creativity, ingenuity, etc.].
So, IT engineers and computer engineers are not actually engineers. An engineer is a person who can think creatively, with ingenuity.
So a civil engineer is not an engineer, in that sense.
No. An engineer can conceive things, and fancy how the final product will look like.
Sir, you have invested a lot in maintaining the trees here, and doing a lot of other activities. You are not looking for an income. You endure the discomforts of this place. The pleasures you receive in compensation are uninterrupted water supply, plenty of birds and pure air. These are good things, of course. From his other activities, I understand that no one has filed as many legal cases as he has in the name of environment conservation.
Without conserving our environment, we cannot think of our continued existence or future. I have already spoken about global warming, about melting icebergs colliding with ships, about avalanches in our north-eastern states, about how the mutt set up by Adi Sankara was damaged, about floods in the Brahmaputra that will ultimately affect us. The solution to all of this is: plant trees and watch them grow. It was for the sake of protecting trees that we had the concept of star trees. Star trees can be bought from several places, and from exotic plant nurseries as well.
When I rang you up, sir, you said, I could call you anytime but not to discuss things like the price hike of onions and similar matters. That is because you use your time very carefully. I have seen that for myself. It is rare to find a trained engineer spend time for conserving Nature and studying the Constitution, and using that knowledge for the sake of protecting our environment.
According to our Constitution, protecting Nature is the fundamental duty of each and every citizen. There can be no compromise on it. Understand Nature, learn lessons from Nature. All artists have sought inspiration for ideas from Nature. We live because of the resources of Nature. But our resources are limited. The four Ms – mines, minerals, mankind and money – come from Nature, and we make the rest of the things out of them, but we should use the resources judiciously. As the Father of our Nation said, “Nature has everything to satisfy our needs but not our greed”. How true it is! Nature has given us all that we need. We don’t need to amass enough to feed the coming generations. They are not born with stomachs alone. They have brains as well. Let them think creatively and earn. Their power will grow if they study Nature closely. If they succeed in becoming part of Nature, they will get all the energy they require.
You are 77 years old, and you still stand up for the cause of Nature. It fills me with happiness. May this continue in the years to come. Let there be more people like you. This is not an issue that can be solved by one or two persons alone. Thank you for giving us your time.
Once this grows into the sacred grove as I conceive it, I will invite primary children here along with their teachers, and ask them to do an audit of the plants here. I will ask questions like: “What did you see here?” “What are their names?” “How do they function?” “Why does a particular creature grow here?” “Could not this creature have chosen another ecosystem?” Once a prominent scientist came as an Expert Commissioner in a case that I was arguing. He saw the droppings of a fox and wove a tale of a confrontation between a prey and a predator. Nature’s balance has both prey and predator that exist according to the special rules of an ecosystem. No predator kills and preserves his prey in a fridge.
The squirrel may hoard nuts but most of the time he may forget the hiding places. Later, the seeds will sprout. As Sugatha Kumari says, each one of us should plant a tree. If this concept is taught in the first standard, or in the pre nursery classes, in the next 20-25 years, Kerala will truly become God’s Own Country. Right now, it is the Devil’s Own Workshop! Our ecosystems are crashing. Land movers are wreaking havoc. The Vembanad Lake is getting destroyed. We get a lot of funds but the river bed is full of plastic. The Pearl spot is disappearing.
There was a special species of clams [Villorita cyprinoides] that grew in Kumarakom. It was the world’s best. That was the reason for the establishment of a cement factory at Natakam. Now it no longer exists, it seems. Only scientists can throw more light on the matter. What is incontrovertible is that its numbers have come down. That is because when the waste is put back into the lake, after dredging is done, the lake gets filled up.
Today, woodpeckers are not as commonly seen as before. There are plenty of them here.
When I went to Palakkad, I saw one golden oriole. That was after 40 long years!
Here we have them.
They are not to be see in Thiruvananthapuram.
There are two varieties. One that has black marking around its eyes. The other, without it.
Sir, the work that you are doing is wonderful indeed. Let that inspire more people. I am involved only in organic farming. This needs to be conserved because it was given to us by our ancestors for our use. We need to keep it intact and pass it on to the next generation.
That was Mr Ravindran Nair. His son is an FRCS. Mr Nair does not have to remain here but he does it to be a guardian to the forest, the owl, the vulture, and others. In his 77 th year, he continues to be active. He should be our role model on how to love Nature and what we should do in order to conserve Nature. We should not cite our age as an excuse to keep away from such efforts. He epitomizes many qualities. I feel happy about having become his friend and happier about introducing him to you.