With Avengers: Endgame, we are all excited to watch our favourite superheroes. My favourite is The Tree Man. Wait, you haven’t heard of him yet? He is M. Yoganathan, an Eco-Warrior who has been fighting for humanity for 30 years! It’s about time, we know him. In his lifetime of 50 years, he has planted more than 3.5 lakh trees in Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu; giving humanity a few more years of sustainability.
Today as we celebrate Earth Day, it also means the celebration of people like M Yoganathan who aid in sustaining and contributing to whatever green that is left on this beautiful planet. M Yoganathan has planted more than 3.5 lakh trees in Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu. If you think he some millionaire who is using his petty cash to fund his noble ambition, you are in for a surprise. He is a simple Bus conductor working with the Tamil Nadu State Road Transport Corporation (TNSTC). It seems like South Indian Bus Conductors are born with some special willpower to change their destiny. One bus conductor, at the age of 25 decided to re-define cinema, and today we know him as the ultimate Thalaiva– Mr Rajinikanth. Then there are people like Yoganathan, Thalaiva of the Green movement. His total income might only be a fraction of the expenditure of many people in big cities. However, real heroes need oodles of willpower; not a prolific bank balance.
M Yoganathan, fondly called as The Tree Man, was born in Mayiladuthurai near Nagapattinam. As a young child, he loved spending his time in the vicinity of the Nilgiri forests. He fondly remembers penning down poems and stories underneath the calm shadows of huge trees of the Kotagiri forests in the Nilgiri District. He was awed by the wonders of nature, and somehow, even when alone, he did not feel lonely. Can we imagine such a childhood for our children anymore?
In Kotagiri he came in contact with the green activist Jayachandran of the Tamil Nadu Green Movement, and it is his association with him that brought to him the awareness about the decreasing green covers. Thus, he became actively involved in nature conservation movements. As a young adult, Yoganathan worked as a sales representative near the Nilgiri forests. He unearthed the atrocities of the Timber mafia, who illegally smuggled timber wood. It was a huge local scam, and going head-to-head with them meant a threat to survival in that area. Not the one to deter, he initiated a protest against them. He started pasting handwritten posters in public walls, identifying areas where trees had been cut, and providing the local police and forest officials with their survey numbers, and urging them to take action against the offenders.
Later he joined the Tamil Nadu state transport corporation in 1999. He did not let his economic status limit his scope of working for the environment welfare. He dedicates 40% of his income, sometimes even more, in buying saplings and planting them in various corners of the city. Since past 30 years, he is using his weekly offs to not just plant trees, but also educate young kids, and locals about various plants and urging them to play their part in making this world, a greener happier place.
“I have planted more than 3 lakh saplings in last 30 years and visited over 3,000 schools spread over 32 districts in the state to conduct environmental awareness programs,” says Yoganathan.
To engage young kids, and the youth, who he believes are the change makers of the future, he comes up with fun challenges. One such challenge is to pledge to not use, or at least minimize the use of ecologically harmful products, and plant one sapling.
“About 2,000 schools planted saplings and in 3,000 others students pledged to avoid using nail-polish, lipstick, and firecrackers during Diwali,” he exclaimed.
Planting trees are not as much of a challenge as looking after them is. However, M. Yoganathan claims that more than 50% of his saplings see the fate of becoming a tree. Besides, whenever he encourages a kid to plant a tree, he’d name the tree after the kid and ask him to look after the plant as his sibling; thus nurturing the love for nature in kids in their adolescences.
Yoganathan had to at times bunk his work, and lose his income, in order to cater to his mission. As a result, he has been transferred over 40 times! One can only imagine the plight of his family who also had to continuously be on a move. However, a noble action receives a greater noble reaction. He says that his family has always been supportive of his mission and that his children are proud of him. Life became easy for him at work after he received the Earth Matters’ Eco Warrior award from the Vice President of India, Hamid Ansari, in 2008.
This world lives in hope of a better, greener future because of people like M. Yoganathan, who are selflessly sowing seeds so that our children can bear its sweet fruits in future.
If you’ve been inspired by this story, let’s at least take a pledge to at least plant one sapling in our neighbourhoods and take care of it like our own sibling; and reduce our carbon footprints on this earth, so that our children can see plants and animals for real, outside of their storybooks.