“When you plant a sapling or take care of a tree, you are doing the biggest service to God, but people fail to realise this.”

At a time when the air in India hangs heavy with nauseating stories of corrupt Indian babas (godmen), he comes across as a breath of fresh air. Though he wears a saffron robe, he does not talk religion or spirituality. He, surprisingly, talks “green”!

Meet Manish Tewari, better known as “ped-wale-baba” (tree baba), who can be spotted peddling his bicycle on the streets of Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. A native of Gopalganj in Bihar and a graduate in English Literature and Political Science, Manish does not greet people with the usual “Namastey”. He greets you with “Jai vriksh dev” (Hail the Tree God).

In his mid-40s, Tewari has been planting saplings and sensitising people for the past two decades. He said:

“People find me crazy, they abuse me, and many have even threatened to kill me but I am least bothered. I am happy doing my bit to ensure that the earth gets greener. What hurts me most is that people are happy to talk about preserving nature but when it comes to act, hardly anyone comes forward.”

When prodded about his driving force he, while pointing towards the load of saplings on his cycle, said: “I think I am born to do this. I plant saplings, gift them to people, take care of trees, and educate people about trees.”

Putting the hoe back in the iron box fitted to its cycle and settling the saplings inside the box, he averred: “When you plant a sapling or take care of a tree, you are doing the biggest service to God, but people fail to realise this.”

The word God immediately brings the focus onto his saffron robe, which, in India, has connotations to a particular religion. Manish explained with a stern face that his attire had nothing to do with his religious preferences:

“By birth, I am a Hindu-Brahmin, but I hate the popular concept of religion in India. The nation is suffering it and everyday people are being killed or discriminated against in the name of religion.”

As he walked forward, he was greeted by someone named Hafizullah from a neighbouring district, who came all the way to the state capital looking for Manish to seek his help. Hafizullah said that local goons had been trying to illegally cut the Neem trees on his land, and he believed that the “ped-walla-baba” could prevent it.

Manish immediately made him sit along the road and offered him a cup of tea, which he ordered from a roadside tea-stall. After patiently listening to the man’s story, the “Green Baba” flipped out his mobile phone, opened his diary to search for a number and called the concerned forest official. He explained the case and requested official help for Hafizullah, who told the IPF:

“Now when Baba has taken interest, my tree would be saved.”

As Hafizullah left, Baba got up and paid the tea-stall owner. When asked how he funds his passion, he gets perturbed:

“See, money has nothing to do with taking care of Mother Nature. It is your civic sense that matters.”

However, the Baba soon calmed down and explained: “I do not buy saplings nor do I sell them. I collect them from wherever I spot them and until I find a taker, plant them at the several vacant pieces of land across the city.”

Whilethis was happening, a man rushed to greet Baba. Realising that Baba is talking to a media person, the man introduces himself as KK Trivedi, a chemistry teacher and a follower of Baba. He excitedly said: “Baba will not tell you, but please write that he has also donated his body to the Medical College, and that Doordashan (India’s national TV channel) shall shortly be airing a documentary film featuring him.”

Baba nodded his confirmation. Without being prompted to comment, he said: “I am not bothered about getting covered by the media. I do not even watch TV. But yes, I feel happy about donating my body to the Medical College. Just like a dead tree, this way, I too can be of some use to the society.”

Baba took a deep breath, bid adieu to this IPF correspondent, waved to the crowd of onlookers, and moved ahead on his bicycle. And then someone in the crowd said:

“I wish I can do half as much for nature as he does.”