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Neglect shrinks tallest topiary

Imphal, March 10: With love and care, it once stood green and tall — reaching 61 feet into the sky. But neglect and lack of funds has reduced the world’s tallest hedge plant topiary to 40 feet.

Guinness World Record holder Moirangthem Okendra is now waiting for government help to restore his record-breaking topiary to its old glory.

Okendra, who now helps his father run a school, is finding it difficult to meet the expenses of maintaining the hedge. The Samban-Lei Sekpil, a duranta plant topiary modelled in the shape of a series of open umbrellas and spheres, set Guinness World Record in 2012 when it measured 50 feet. It was planted in 1981.

The plant, which is growing at Sagolband Sayang Leirak in Imphal West, 3km from here, attracts dignitaries and foreign tourists.

“I started neglecting the plant as I could no longer mobilise funds to maintain it. By the time the Guinness people recorded it as the tallest topiary, I had spent Rs 25 lakh on it,” Okendra said.

Before Okendra turned his attention away, the plant was 61 feet tall and had 44 steps. He said Rs 10,000 is required per month for maintenance.

Okendra is serving as an assistant agriculture officer in the state horticulture department. However, his salary is not enough to tend the plant and maintain his family, he said.

“The plant has dried up from the top. It is now only 40 feet tall. Though a duranta plant has a life span of 300 years to 400 years, my plant may dry up completely if immediate attention is not given to it. If the government is willing to help me financially, I am ready to tend to it,” Okendra said.

Okendra, who went back to his native village of Kumbi in Bishnupur district in 2005, now looks after Sambanlei Sekpil School — which was founded by his father Moirangthem Mangi, a national award-winning schoolteacher, who is now retired.

His family also owns the plot of land where the plant stands. To seek government aid, Okendra had even approached AICC president Sonia Gandhi in 2003, who directed chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh to look into Okendra’s needs.

Accordingly, Ibobi Singh extended financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh in December 2009.

“I have not decided to completely abandon my plant. Right now, I am assisting my father in running the school. If a hedge plant can become famous, then so can the children in this school. The motto of my father’s school is to search for shining stars. I need the government’s help in maintaining the plant,” Okendra said.