The chapter tells the life story of Jadhav Payeng, fondly referred to as the 'Forest Man of India'. It details the events that unfolded since his teenage years in 1978, following his decision to single-handedly plant trees on a barren sandbar in Aruna Sapori, Assam, after witnessing the devastating death of snakes due to lack of tree cover.
Payeng received initial support from his local Deari community, who provided him with 50 seeds and 25 bamboo plants, advising him that the trees would not only provide shelter for snakes but also attract birds and other animals, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. In 1979, Payeng embarked on a solitary mission to transform the harsh terrain of the sandbar into a lush forest.
By 2015, 36 years later, Payeng had successfully cultivated a dense forest spanning over 1,360 acres. His once-barren island is now teeming with diverse flora, including a variety of fruit-bearing trees and medicinal plants, and fauna, housing several species of birds, deer, wild boar, Royal Bengal tigers, and greater one-horned rhinoceroses. His forest, known as the 'Molai Forest' after Payeng's local nickname, 'Molai', even attracts herds of elephants seasonally.
Despite the challenges and the scale of his achievement, Payeng remains humble and downplays his accomplishment. Still leading a simple life as a milk seller, he uses the proceeds from his awards to continue his reforestation efforts. His dedication to his cause brought him recognition and accolades, including the prestigious Padma Shri Award in 2015. Yet, for Payeng, the most significant reward is the thriving forest itself.
Payeng's story came into the limelight thanks to local wildlife photographer Jitu Kalita, who published an article about him. Payeng's conservation methods have attracted global attention, and he has spoken at various international forums, stressing the importance of community participation in conservation efforts. He hopes to inspire the next generation to contribute to reforestation, believing that if every schoolchild plants two trees, it can lead to a greener India.
This chapter concludes with Payeng continuing his work, setting his sights on another 5,000-acre area for reforestation, exemplifying his undying commitment to his cause.