Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Assam's Jadav Payeng : The Man Who Made A Forest

"My folks had been telling me for long to do stories on the Northeast. Good stories can be found in plenty over there. But when the Sunday Times editor himself asked me to find good stories from the Northeast, I actively started looking for some. My parents knew a wee bit about Jadav Payeng as we had spent eight years in Jorhat in the 90s. I was speaking to my mother one day when Payeng suddenly came up. She asked to speak to my uncle, Shashi Phukan of Bismoi, for more information. That I did. Through him, I spoke to a few more people before finding Payeng himself. We had the story in February, but couldn't get proper photos, which is why we had to wait till the end of March to put it on the page. I am no nature lover, honestly, but I bow before people who show a high degree of commitment and dedication to nature and wildlife conservation." This is what Manimugdha  said when I asked him  what inspired him to write this brilliant story.

Manimugdha Sharma :A brief introduction


I met him through Fried Eye Magazine about three three years back and since then we have been very good friends. Manimugdha is a renowned quiz master from Assam who has been associated with print media since last seven years.Presently he is working as a chief copy editor in Times Of India.This is how he likes to introduce himself -An ardent history buff, disgruntled movie fanatic, frustrated lover of literature and the Indian cricket team, romantic fool of the highest order,journalist, die-hard quizzer, random thinker, well-known chatter-box, brilliant architect who builds castles in the air, self-proclaimed philosopher, a truly wandering soul with a desire to leave my mark in the sands of time.


The Man Who Made A Forest
This story is written by Manimugdha and it was previously published in Sunday Times TOI. I thank Manimugdha for sharing this story here on my blog.
Jadav Payeng :The man who made a forest.
              French author Jean Giono’s 1953 epic tale, The Man Who Planted Trees, seemed real to many readers. They thought the central character, Elzeard Bouffier, was a living individual until the author clarified that he created the character only to
make his readers fall in love with trees, and more importantly, planting trees. Assam's Jadav Payeng has never heard of Giono's book. But he could be Bouffier. He has single-handedly grown a sprawling forest on a 550-hectare (55 square kilometres) sandbar in the middle of the Brahmaputra. It now has many endangered animals, including at least five tigers, one of which bore two cubs recently. 

Sunday Times found this sprawling forest and the man who made it after a hard negotiation with Mother Nature, literally. The place lies in Jorhat district, over 350km from Guwahati by road. You have to go off the main road at one point, take a smaller and shabbier road for about 30km to reach the riverbank. There, if you are lucky, you will find a boatman to ferry you across to the north bank, from where you must trek for another 7 km to reach destination. Locals call it ‘Molai Kathoni’ (Molai’s woods) after Payeng’s pet name, Molai.
The genesis of the forest dates back to 1979. During the floods that year, the barren sandbar had crawling visitors washed ashore by the torrent. When the water receded and it once again became safe to navigate the river, a 16-year-old Payeng went to the sandbar one day and found it dotted with dead snakes. That was the turning point of his life. 
 “The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could do something to grow trees over there. They replied in the negative and said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo, which I did. It was painful, but I still did it. I was alone; there was nobody to help me; in fact, nobody was interested,” says Payeng, now 47. 
He left home and education behind and made the sandbar his home—a decision that was criticized by everyone dear to him. But he didn’t flinch. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, Payeng willingly accepted a life of isolation. And no, he had no Man Friday; he himself watered the plants every morning and evening and did the necessary pruning. After a while, results started to show; and after a couple of years, the sandbar transformed into a bamboo thicket. 
 “The experiment was successful and I decided to grow proper trees. I collected seeds from here and there and planted those in the sandbar. I also transported red ants from my village, and while doing so, I was stung multiple times. That was some experience!” Payeng says, laughing.
 In 30 years, Payeng says, he has grown thousands of trees all by himself. And this he did without any monetary help from either the government or any NGO.
“There’s a variety of flora and fauna and endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger. After almost 12 years, we have seen the elusive vultures. And migratory birds, too, have started flocking here. There are hundreds of deer and cattle, which has attracted the predators.”
By predators, Payeng means humans, too. He cites a recent incident when locals killed a rhino seen in his forest at another forest in Sibsagar district.


“Somehow, people find it difficult to give up primitive habits. Nature has made a food chain; why can’t we stick to it? Who would protect these animals if we, as superior beings, start hunting them? I don’t think the rhino harmed the people who killed it.”
Poaching has been one of the biggest problems in the national parks of Assam. Payeng himself had alerted the forest department after he spotted a bunch of poachers in his forest. “I think they were part of an inter-state gang, two of which were caught on camera inside the Kaziranga National Park two weeks ago. After I alerted the department, a handful of guards came to my forest and nabbed those poachers,” says Payeng.  
The Assam state forest department learnt about Payeng’s forest only in 2008 when a
herd of 100-odd wild elephants strayed into the forest after a marauding spree in a few villages at Aruna Chapori nearby. Amongthe homes destroyed was Payeng’s hutment. It was then that assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time. 
 We were a tad surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest; but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and the animals like his own children. Seeing this, we decided to pitch in at an individual level. Help from the government wasn’t forthcoming; in fact, it was only last year that the social forestry division decided to extend Payeng’s work and took up plantation work on a 200-hectare plot. This forest is acting as a corridor for the movement of wild animals from Kaziranga to other parts, which is good. This way, the scope of man-animal conflict will reduce substantially. And there lies the importance of Payeng’s work. It is easier to construct a building, but very difficult to grow a tree. What amazes me is Payeng’s grit and dedication—he has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have become a pre-eminent authority in environmental issues,” Saikia says.


He corroborates Payeng’s version on animals in the forest. “We counted at least five tigers here of which one was a female. She bore two cubs here and that’s incredible, given the fact that there’s growing concern about India’s missing tigers and efforts are being made for their captive breeding.”
Nevertheless, the government has been found wanting when it comes to taking steps to declare it a conservation reserve. Former Doner minister and Congress MP from Jorhat Bijoy Krishna Handique has recently taken interest in the forest. “I am going to moot a proposal to the Centre on behalf of Assam government to declare it a conservation reserve under provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. We will meet in New Delhi just before Bihu (April 13-15). I am hopeful of a positive result,” the MP told Sunday Times. He, too, agrees that it is time for the world to stand up and take notice of the man who grew a forest. Payeng would be happy.

BLOG UPDATED : 17.07.12 :

Received this mail from Manumugdha,sharing it here -
I am writing this mail with the intent of sharing with you all a moment of joy.
I believe all journalists report issues with the hope that somebody somewhere will take notice and do something to change things for the better. And whenever somebody does take notice, we feel encouraged all the more to find more stories that have the potential to touch human lives. This year’s Shanmukhananda Awards have given me one reason to be happy about—five of the seven awardees this year were selected on the basis of The Times of India reports of which three were mine.

In a letter to TOI, V Shankar, the president of Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha, a charitable trust based in Mumbai, confirmed this. The trust is celebrating its diamond jubilee this year, and to mark the occasion, they are conferring seven ‘Diamond Awards’ on people “who by dint of devotion to duty and exceptional commitment to the field of pursuit have added to the reservoir to goodness of our ancient land. Most of them have been unseen, unsung but have gone about their work, despite the sufferings and the hardships that the system have inflicted on them”.

The trust has decided to give out the awards in the following categories: ‘dignity to human body’, ‘honesty and probity’, ‘healthy mind, body and longevity’, ‘folk art’, ‘environment’, and ‘nation building’. And the awardees are T Mahadeva from Bangalore, M C Suresh from Kerala, Manohar Aich from Kolkata, Jadav Payeng from Assam, Nemi Bhagat Baba from Rajasthan, E Sreedharan and Horizon (NGO) from Pune.

Assam’s Jadav Payeng took 30 years to single-handedly convert a 550-acre barren sandbar in the Brahmaputra into a lush, green forest. I wrote about him on April 1 this year; the story had the headline ‘The man who made a forest’ (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/The-man-who-made-a-forest/articleshow/12488584.cms).

Manohar Aich from Kolkata is the world’s oldest Mr Universe at 100. Even at this advanced age, he is still ripped and continues to be a model of health (‘But what do you eat, Mr Aich?’ dated March 25, 2012. Web-link here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/But-what-do-you-eat-Mr-Aich/articleshow/12398977.cms)

Horizon is an NGO by ex-Army men, who have swept minefields in different parts of the world. I had broken their story to the world on March 4. The report had the headline ‘Mr Rao is all mine’ (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/Mr-Rao-is-all-mine/articleshow/12129715.cms?)

 The awards will be presented by former President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam at an elaborate function to be held at the Shanmukhananda Theatre in Mumbai today. Each award carries a cash prize of Rs 2.5 lakh, a citation, a trophy, and a lamp.


114 comments:

  1. Jadav Payeng seems to be a single man army dedicated to afforestation. I salute him. Thanks for bringing this story here.

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  2. Wow , what a passionate nature lover . There are many such little know people across the world who have dedicated their life for such a cause .....
    Here is one such article ....http://stateofindianwildlife.blogspot.in/2010/04/story-of-honorary-forest-guard.html

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    1. Thanks for the link TGS ,I read that story this morning.Truly inspiring.

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  3. Brilliant architect who builds castles in the air...interesting introduction of Manimugda Sharma, Kavita!

    What did the red ants do? Yes, it is very easy to construct a building but very difficult to grow a tree.

    A big salute to Jadav Payeng! Thanks for introducing him to us, Kavita! We need more people like him.

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    1. What did the red ants do? Even I wondered the same . I will request him to answer it himself here in the comment box. Thanks for reading the post Sandhya.

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    2. Hello Sandhya. Thanks for reading my story. Red ants alter soil properties. It's surprising that someone like Payeng, who didn't go to any college or university, knew it so early in his life, when he was still a teen.

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    3. Thanks a lot Manimugdha for answering the question.

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    4. Thanks for clearing my doubt, Manimugdha! This article was really interesting and inspiring!

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  4. wow, what an extraordinary man. He has single handedly without anyone's help managed to plant so many trees and grow a forest. And, he is right; man is the biggest predator. It would be interesting to read his struggles about how he went about planting a forest. Thanks for his outstanding story.

    http://rachnaparmar.com

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  5. I was having goosebumps all over while reading this. Just shows us that if a man decides to achieve something from the heart, nothing is impossible.
    What a great story, what a man... It is heart warming to read about such selfless people who were saddened by deaths of snakes and did something.
    Thanks to you too Kavita for this post. Have a wonderful week ahead.

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    1. I am glad you liked this story Arti .Thanks.

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  6. Amazing Payeng!! May his tribe increase!!
    Thank you for introducing to us this wonderful man!

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  7. Thanks Kavita for sharing an inspiring post!

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  8. Interesting story! If I had seen dead snakes, I would have been relieved. Snakes are illegal in Hawaii, because they destroy native species. Anyway, I am glad Payeng started with bamboo; they spread very quickly. Good idea. Not sure I would want to live in a forest with tigers, though. Good luck to him!

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    1. In last two months we've had more than 8-9 Leopard attacks in Guwahati ,and it is a city.If forests are wiped out at present rate soon we are going to experience it on regular basis.
      Thanks for reading the post Gigi:)

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  9. Thank you Kavitha for the inspiring story. I am a little confused though - who is the first person singular narating the story? Doesn't sound like you...

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    1. Thanks for reading Hepzibah.This story is written by Manimugdha Sharma .

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  10. Fascinating to spend his lifetime in such a worthy cause!

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  11. very lovely post.You have a wonderful blog.Glad to follow you dear. Do visit my blog in your free time
    http://www.foodydelight.com/

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  12. Truly brave man who went against the social norms and created that something that will be cherished by people forever.

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    Replies
    1. Brave man indeed ,we need more like him.Thanks Rajesh.

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  13. Another gem from you!
    I would choose to disagree on one point. It is indeed man's primitive nature to hunt. But primordial ancestors hunted for food and hunting what is now known as poaching was not known to man. I wonder if prehistoric times can prove otherwise.

    About the man himself mentioned here, what are we when compared to souls like him? We are all arm chair explorers and conservationist expressing anguish from the coomforts of our cozy home. aren't we?

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    1. I completely agree with you here Anil ,poaching was not known to man then.Payeng proved that when there is a will ,there is a way .Hope some of us arm chair explorers understand this and do our bit .
      Thankyou so much for reading :)

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  14. @Kavita Ba Thanks a lot for the post.Great .

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  15. Thats an inspiring story of a man who created a forest. Had not heard of anything such earlier. However in Karnataka we have an instance of a lady by name Thimmakka who has planted around 284 banyan trees along a four km stretch highway. For more details : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saalumarada_Thimmakka

    This post reminded me of her.

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    Replies
    1. I would love to know more about Thimkmakka ,thanks for the link Ashwini.

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  16. Inspiring indeed! That is 'life' ...

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  17. Terrific. Being one from Assam, I am very proud of your work.

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    1. We all are proud of Payeng .Thanks Onkarji.

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  18. ahhh bless him , WOW.. hats off to THE MAN.. this is what is needed forget the govt forget the ministers when have the ydone anything for the welfare .. individuals needs to step up and WHAT A STORY .. THank you so much for putting these up here .. You know I am not sure how to describe it and it may sound cliche but it fills my heart with PRIDE just reading what this man alone has done. It also puts me in shame for I have not done anything ..

    I mean I stand no comparison in front of these beautiful person .. thank you once again for introducing him to us all

    Bikram's

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    1. I knew that you would love this story Bikram ,I just knew :) Thanks Bikram.

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  19. nice..thanks for sharing!
    awesome!

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  20. Kavita, It was a moving post and like others have said, the missionary zeal is what is needed to preserve what god gave us1 Destroying does not take any time but creation is difficult! Hope you are able to push your noble agenda in Delhi. Best of luck!

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    1. Thanks for your reading and for your wishes Rahul ji.

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  21. Thank you all for the wonderful comments and for liking my story. Thanks to Kavita ji for sharing my story with you all.

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  22. Very inspiring and thought provoking.

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  23. Wonderful story of a truly amazing Indian ! Thanks for sharing this.

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  24. I wish there are many more and more and more people inclined to such noble works…

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  25. wonderful account..stories such as these make me reinstate my belief in human positiveness amidst all the negative things happening around!!

    http://sushmita-smile.blogspot.in

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sushmita. Readers like you inspire journalists like me to keep looking for good stories.

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  26. If people get to learn something for Payeng's work ... it would make him more happy. Grow trees n safe nature!!

    Really nice of u to share this article - otherwise we wouldn't know such human being do exist. Looking forward to know more of ur untold stories :)

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  27. Como seria bom para o planeta mais pessoas comprometidas.
    É tão triste o que vemos todos os dias!...

    °º♫♫
    Páscoa é renascer.
    Feliz recomeçar!
    Feliz Páscoa!

    。°º..(
    。°º.(,)
    。°º|::::|.☆¸.¤ª“˜¨
    。°º|::::|)/¸.¤ª“˜¨˜“¨
    。°º|::¸.¤ª“˜¨¨˜“¨
    。˛º°%¤ª“˜¨¨
    °°º❊#ª“˜¨

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  28. Wonderful!Thanks for sharing this.

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  29. How I wish I would have come to Guwahati that time and met you Kavita! Would get to hear many such wonderful stories. Thanks for sharing :)

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    Replies
    1. Stories over many cups of tea :)Do visit Guwahati Swaram.

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  30. thanksss kavita ji...for those consoling words..touched deeply by that timely call..god bless yr famly...tc..will stay connected..just back in sharjah..

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    1. Holding good thoughts for you and your family Ramesh.

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  31. oh my... a single man had planted a whole forest...thats is superb... and with men like him, they give us the ordinary mortals, hope and motivation that nothing is impossible,,,the only difference is hard work and dedication to one's work... thank you for sharing this story with us...

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  32. Kavita,

    Read 2 posts now. Thanks for virtual visit to small tea garden with beautifully captured photographs. We the educated one do a lot of lip service for many an important issues and here we have been rightly shown how dedication is needed if one really cares for something. My sincere compliments to him for doing such a wonderful task single handedly. Hope we can learn from his life story.

    Take care

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    Replies
    1. Kavita,

      Please check your mail.

      Take care

      Delete
  33. Brave man. His story now circulates around the world. . By the way, Kavita, your blog is also inspiring, and im following it. Hope you visit mine soon. Greetings from Portugal

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing the link Joao.

      Delete
  34. ¸.•°`♥✿⊱╮
    Boa semana!!!
    Beijinhos.
    Brasil
    º°❤.•°º╮

    ReplyDelete
  35. Another inspirational and brave man, I so enjoyed reading this post.

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  36. ♫♫°º
    Olá, amiga!

    Bom fim de semana!
    Beijinhos.
    Brasil.
    °º✿
    º° ✿¸.•°❤

    ReplyDelete
  37. I really appreciate the gesture of Mr. Jadav Payeng during his facilitation in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on Earth Day, 22 Apeil-2012. Some student of School of Environmental Sciences asked him how he was feeling on his facilitation by Vice Chancellor of JNU, Simply he replied that he was thinking to go back and do more plantation...
    Work of Mr. Manimugdha is also appreciable.......
    Dr. Vijay Pal, SES, JNU, New Delhi

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    1. Thank you Dr Pal for your comment. I had a great time in JNU yesterday. Will remember it always. Thank you very much for taking the initiative to have Payeng over on Earth Day. And it's really good for Payeng that the first public honour for him came from JNU.

      Thanks and regards,

      Manimugdha S Sharma
      The Times of India

      Delete
  38. Thank you Dr pal for shearing this with us

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  39. Truly inspiring and kudos to Jadav!!

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  40. very inspiring and salute to Mr. Payeng..love all your posts

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    Replies
    1. Welcome to my blog Ranita.Thanks for your kind words.

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  41. what a worthy mission! He truly deserves all the respect for doing something so momentous
    thanks to you Kavita for sharing this post with us

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    1. He sure is an inspiration.Thanks Sujatha.

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  42. What a fantastic story. We need more brave men like him. Seriously !
    Thanks for sharing.

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  43. :)
    worth sharing ,, hats off to this guy..
    no effort is wasted ..results come with time and bring prosperity ,,,GOD BLESS!!

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    1. I am glad you liked the post Harman.Thanks.

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  44. Reading about Payeng, I felt ashamed of my history of planting trees, or any act of love towards nature for that matter. The man deserves a Bharat Ratna, for his exemplary courage and inimitable renunciation.

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    1. First of all a very warm welcome to you. Recently on Earth Day Payeng was honored by JNU, I hope more and more people are inspired by this man.Thanks for your visit and comment.

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  45. Somewhere around us unseen, unheard and unsung, lives such heroes. A great tribute. I bow before Payeng. And thanks to you, Kavitaji, for reminding how painfully unworthy of life are people like me and many others, in comparison to Payeng.

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  46. º°❤
    °º✿ Olá, amiga!

    BOA SEMANA!

    ¸.•°`
    °º✿ Beijinhos.
    º° ✿ ✿ Brasil

    ReplyDelete
  47. Mind blowing effort. Think of it, someone has planted a whole forest without expecting anything in return! Such unadulterated love is possible only by great beings. This story definitely needs more exposure. I am glad that you decided to feature it on your blog.

    Destination Infinity

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  48. Inspiring reality..can anyone please give me the exact geographic location of molai kathoni..preferabbly in terms of latitude longitude..i need it badly..please help.

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  49. Hey Kavita,
    You are looking swell in the profile picture!!
    The post is amazing. You have always shared these wonderful actions of selfless people with your readers. Very inspirational like always.

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  50. kavitaaajiiii...thanks..and v fans r waiting here for the next post..cheers

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  51. Very interesting and informative, I always learn so much from you. Thanks for sharing this. I hope you have a wonderful weekend! I’m just dropping in, saying hi and hello.

    ReplyDelete
  52. dr ji v r waiting to c the next post here....:)

    ReplyDelete
  53. ¸.•°`♥✿⊱╮
    ❤♡
    Boa semana!
    Beijos.
    Brasil
    ¸.•°`♥✿⊱╮

    ReplyDelete
  54. °`°º♫°♫♫♪¸
    Bom sábado!
    Bom fim de semana!
    Beijinhos.
    Brasil.
    º♫°♫♫♪¸

    ReplyDelete
  55. definitely! I've followed you on google
    your blog is lovely by the way,waiting you on my blog xxx

    FashionSpot.ro

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  56. Dr ji..u r always in our mind..v bloggers luv u..

    ReplyDelete
  57. Hi Kavita,
    I am a journalist with a news channel in Delhi called TIMES NOW. I found Payeng's story very inspirational and would love to feature him in our channel. Can you provide me with his contact details if possible. And one more thing does he only speak the local Assamese language?

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  58. Zubina, I think that Manimugdha would be the best person to help you in your story. His eid is quizzicalguy@gmail.co. Best wishes.

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  59. Hello Kavita,

    It is really a nice blog with Assam flavour. It has been added in the Bisarok - Assam Search Engine. Keep it up.

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  60. Hands of you mr mulai, I think u r the only one rol mdl . For self confident.
    No other words I have to express my feel

    ReplyDelete