Komera Anka Rao will never have a scarecrow on his one-acre farm at Karempudi village in Palnadu in Andhra Pradesh. The sole reason he grows crops on his only piece of farm land is to feed birds. Jaji, as he is locally known, grows pearl millets sorghum as they require less water and labour. The farm hosts a variety of birds, including Indian parrots, baya weavers pigeons, mynas and the Indian Pitta.
Though he loses Rs.25000 a year on the farm, Jaji does not mind. He cares for the birds and Nallamala forest too much. His land is on the periphery of the vast forest, an important green cover in the Eastern Ghats in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It has the largest tiger reserve in the country and is spread over 9,000sqkm.
For Jaji, Nallamala is a retreat and an obsession. His daily schedule is harmoniously linked to the forest. At 5am, he sets off on his gearless bike with empty sacks into storagespace .. After going deep into the thick forest, sometimes as deep as 30km, Jaji starts his hours-long hunting expedition. His prey is not animals, but things left behind by revellers and tourists— plastic glasses, papers plates, bear bottles, polythene covers, any other trash that does not belong in a forest. He stuffs all he gets into the sacks and takes it to a dumping ground far away from the forest. He says he has cleared three trucks loads worth of garbage so far.
“Several community events are held in the forests where families have lunch in open”, says Jaji. “There are also youth who want to experience the thrill of a forest picnic. There is a constant flow of tourist who eat and drink and dump the waste. Who will clear this waste that effects animals and plants? I feel responsible for this forest. It gives us oxygen and keeps us alive.”
The 40-year-old has been on this mission for more that two decades. His tryst with the forests began when he was barely 15. A sickly child with little money at home, he had dropped out after class 10. One day, the curious boy ventured into the forest a few kilometers from his home than unusual friendship with the birds in the jungle and began bringing them food from home. They reciprocated with sounds and movements, he says.
On one such trips, he saw something that broke his heart. “A sparrow lay dead. It was not shot at, so that ruled out hunting. Some distance away, I saw broken beer bottles with a mix of alcohol and water in them. The leftover food looked contaminated. I was sure the bird died after eating the food. I had seen birds feeding on waste, but I never knew it would kill them.”
At that moment Jaji vowed that he would clear all the trash that hurt his feathered friends. Now, whenever he bumps into tourists dumping waste, he tells them the importance of forests and how their irresponsible act could lead to an imbalance in nature. “I have only come across people who appreciated me and promised to not repeat the act”, he says. “Nobody reacted aggressively”. (IPA Service)