Sheikh Hasib plants a sapling in Khaspara and with miscellaneous toys that he sells, apart from collecting scrap. Pictures by Snehamoy Chakraborty
He answers to the name Gachh Dadu.
He has another name and another life, however, though far less important than his life with trees.
Sheikh Hasib, about 45 years old, buys scrap metal from households and also sells toys and small utensils. But this resident of Khaspara, a stone’s throw from the Bolpur-Sriniketan block office, has something more unusual to offer to his customers along with toys, pots and pans.
He offers saplings to the villagers on his business forays and requests them to plant them and tend to them. He plants trees in different vacant places on roadsides and the borders of Ballavpur forest.
He has been doing this since childhood.
From his childhood Hasib had a passion for trees. He loved trees and wanted to plant trees in his own village.
He spent his childhood in Panrui area where he went up to high school. But crushing poverty made him to drop out. Then he came to Bolpur and started work as a mason’s helper.
“I left school but not my childhood passion. During schooldays, I used to plant trees in my house, in school and in the free space where no one would object to the planting of trees. I couldn’t live without trees,” says Hasib, sitting in his thatched two-room mud house in Khaspara, about 4km from Santiniketan.
When he was working as a mason’s helper, it was difficult for him to take time off for the trees because he would be busy till 5pm. So, Hasib changed his profession.
“About 10 years ago, I thought for an entire night what I could do for the trees. If I work under someone, I will not have free time for my passion. So I started my new business of buying scrap from door to door,” Hasib said.
The new job not only provides more time but also helps to expand the area of work.
Every morning, Hasib gets up around 5am, tends to the trees planted in his own yard and even in his neighbours’.
Later, he leaves for the villages. He limits himself to only 15 villages where he goes to buy scrap metal so that he can manage to keep a watch on the trees planted on his request.
Hasib’s passion has attracted the attention of the block development officer who wants to give him work.
“When I was in primary school, I used to water the trees on my school campus. I don’t know why the trees attract me. But I could not think about a life without trees,” Hasib added.
Every morning when he goes out of his house, Hasib carries seeds and saplings of different trees and plants them on roadsides and banks of ponds. Many plants are chewed up by cows and goats, but that does not deter him from planting more saplings.
“I try to plant trees in places where they can grow without resistance. But not all plants will live. I know my trees even after they get mixed up with other roadside trees,” Hasib added.
He generally plants saplings of plants like mango, sonachura — which will become tall trees and give shade.
Sometimes, he also plants patabahar — shrubs with colourful leaves, which gives them the name. Wife Ajmera Bibi was at first surprised by Hasib’s hobby.
“I wondered how he would earn money if he spent so much time with the trees. Later, I understood that he cannot live without trees. I am happy because all the local people respect him so much,” Ajmera said.
Hasib and Ajmera have three children. The eldest son, Allauddin Sheikh, works as a mason’s helper. The second son, Azim, studies in a local primary school. Nargis, the daughter who is about five years old, is yet to be admitted to school.
The family lives in poverty, but not in sorrow. “If I earn Rs 100 a day, I keep Rs 10 for trees. I spend the money to buy seeds or saplings,” Hasib says with a smile.
Locals and neighbours of Hasib said he is a friend of the trees and so he is called Gachh dadu.
“He is our Gachh dadu. He also looks after the coconut trees at my house. He suggests ways of looking after a tree,” says Tarun Mondal, a trader and a resident of Khaspara.
“This is really great work. We have different projects on plantation. I shall talk to him and involve him in plantation work,” says the block development officer of Bolpur-Sriniketan block, Shamik Panigrahi.
Divisional forest officer Santosh G.R., says: “I shall speak with my local officials to involve him in our work.”
But who called him Gachh dadu first? “My didi gave me that name first a few years ago,” Hasib says. His “didi” is Urmila Ganguly, a Santiniketan resident and an animal lover. “I first found him in a bordering area of the forest looking after trees. When I came to know about his hobby, I named him Gachh dadu, the grandfather of trees,” says Ganguly.