“I love the azure skies and the green Earth and therefore, I will live and work on the soil “, says Biren Das, from Assam’s Nalbari, a man known for his enduring love for mother nature.
The 70-year-old, who has planted around 70,000 trees in his village by some estimates, owns a small shop in his native village where he sells ‘paan’, chips, and some trinkets and oddities. Most of the money he makes from his small business, he uses to plant more and more trees!
His affable down-to-Earth personality and pleasant visage have earned him the nickname ‘Mandela aati’. Perhaps flattered by the comparison, he carries old pictures of the anti-apartheid hero around and shows them to anybody who is interested. His wallet carries snapshots of the times that have gone by, of the past populated with tall figures such as Mandela.
Das, who is a big fan of Nelson Mandela, says he is “flattered” by the comparisons to the icon. “I honestly don’t understand why people call me Mandela. Perhaps it is because I established the Mandela Chowk in my village,” he muses.
“From a very young age, I have planted trees as I believe that trees are a special part of our existence on Earth. Oxygen — the most precious thing — is something that is manufactured by trees,” he says. “Therefore, it is imperative that we plant as many trees as possible.”
Das sees the replacement of greenery with the concrete jungles and the winding roads choc-a-bloc with traffic and says that the change brings him “great sorrow.”
“Way back in 1962, I went to Guwahati city and was awestruck by the greenery. Now, however, you will be hard-pressed to find scenes like that. I still recall those wonderful sights — the green trees, the spotless blue skies. It makes me yearn for that era again. I am a firm believer in the concept of simple living and high thinking — all the solace I need is in nature and animal,”he says, distractedly looking up at the skies.
Urging the younger generations to “plant more trees”, Das says “the responsibility does not end there.”
“Just like children need to be nurtured while they are growing up, so too must trees be taken care of to ensure their blooming to their full potential,”he opines.
Das suggests that all the youths should make valuable contributions to nature by planting trees on their birthdays. “Of course, that is something that every young person should do. You should definitely do that if you care about mother nature.”
The septuagenarian’s love for nature is not limited to trees only. The man, who keeps a well-tended garden, is also known in those parts for his extreme love for animals.
“I own a batch of cows and yes, as you would expect, I treat them with utmost love and reverence,” he says matter-of-factly.
Das has seen his star rise in recent times after acclaimed actor Adil Hussain shared his incredible story on Twitter.
Sharing Das’ story, Hussain wrote, “These are real heroes of my land #Assam! Find this man and help him out to plant more trees and honour him so that next generation gets inspired!”
He also tagged Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in the post, urging him to “help” the nature lover plant more trees to help him save the environment.