Satya Dash: Odisha's green crusader
Climate & Environment
As we celebrated Earth Day on 22 April, I decided to travel to Balasore (Odisha, India), about 250km from Kolkata (West Bengal, India) to trace the journey of a man who has been working with dogged determination, silently and zealously preferring to remain unnoticed by the media, over the past 12 years. The stark prospects of climate change and its mounting economic and human costs pain him. His mission is to plant trees and keep the environment clean.
He’s Satya Dash.
With the sun disappearing stealthily on the horizon and shadows lengthening on the platform, Howrah-Puri Shatabdi screeched to a halt at Balasore.
My host Dr Rabinarayan Dash (Satya’s brother) spotted me among the crowd and rushed to greet me. Dr Rabi is a renowned rheumatologist based in Lund, Sweden. I was supposed to visit his native village, Badasindhiya, 10km from downtown Balasore.
Dr Rabi is a senior consultant rheumatologist in Capio Citykliniken, Malmö city, Sweden. He has been living there since 1989. He has founded Shakuntala Rheumatology Hospital and Research Centre along with Swedish doctor Prof Urban Rydholm. Dr Rabi comes to India almost every three months.
Rabi, who calls himself ‘a student in the school of life’, has written several books in Oriya, English and Swedish.
I rode on his scooter which was parked near the station and reached Satya’s quarters in a jiffy. We sipped tea a tad hurriedly; we would leave soon for his native village.
Rabi has a strong passion for going back to his roots. “Home maybe far away as far as distance is concerned, but not in my heart. I hardly feel I’ve left home. My village, the river and rural Odisha are places for my meditation,” he said.
While in Balasore, Rabi always makes it a point to come and stay in his village every night. Satya, however, is worried at times. “Are you sure you want to go to the village so late, it’s already past midnight!”
“My departed mother has taught us how to love without any condition. She told us to love our village, her people and the river. I still cherish one of her last words - “You don’t need to worship God, love God’s creations,” reminisced Rabi.
Night fell on Balasore and we left the town behind and drove to Badasindhiya, Rabi’s native village. Driving down the road, I heard drum beats, temple bells and chanting of slokas coming from nearby villages. This is Odisha, well-known for its centuries-old temples.
I was reminded of my school teacher’s history lesson on Ashoka: In 261 BC, Ashoka of the Mauryan Dynasty conquered the region in the bloody Kalinga War. The resulting bloodshed and suffering deeply moved Ashoka; he became a completely changed man and embraced Buddhism.
We soon crossed the bridge over Budhabalanga river. As darkness enveloped the area, Rabi had to face difficulties in negotiating winding roads. As we moved closer to the sleepy village, sights of glow worms and sounds of crickets created a surreal atmosphere. The hamlet’s nocturnal beauty blew my mind.
We reached Rabi’s village house around 8pm. Satya followed us on another bike. Nestled in sylvan surroundings, the three-storey building offers absolute solace to weary souls. Well, we’re welcomed by Budha, the dog that ‘keeps constant vigil on six houses in the hamlet’. The doggie came wagging its tail, sniffing at us. The warmth and hospitality was overwhelming!
Budhabalanga river passes by Rabi’s native village. As I stood by the river, I witnessed scenes of rural Odisha that reveal themselves in endless variety: I saw groups of women with their earthen pots poised gracefully on their hips and coming down the ghats , children swimming boisterously, splashing water at each other; fishermen with their innumerable devices engaged in trapping fish, peasants loading their harvest on to boats; a kingfisher perched motionless on the tip of a hanging bamboo, ready to swoop down at the sight of its prey—a life of toil, tranquility and happiness going on unchanging and unspoiled.
Passion for Environment
Satya’s boundless love for tress and concern for environment is phenomenal. Trees are his Holy Grail. Tagore’s words “trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven” inspire him. The 45-year-old is a senior official with BSNL and currently posted in Port Blair.
“I’ll take you to the forest areas tomorrow morning. It’s a 15-minute walk only,” Satya said as his eyes took on a sparkle.
Dawn arrived with the twittering and chirping of birds. A Cool morning breeze was blowing across the hamlet. Rabi, Satya and I set out for the forest breathing in refreshing air. We strolled through verdant paddy fields, through the fields where tomatoes, bitter gourds, pumpkins are grown.
As my eyes travelled over the distant dusty road, I saw a herd of buffaloes merrily moving along with cranes precariously perched on their backs.
“I met a District Forest Officer in Balasore in 2001. He told me to plant as many trees as possible. He also explained how critically important trees are for human beings,” Satya recalled.
The DFO also told Satya about the unprecedented threat caused by climate change. “Huge loss of forest cover during the 1999 super-cyclone pains me,” Satya rued.
We reached the forest which is spread over 14 acres. Satya has planted as many as 55,000 plants of various species over the past 13 years. Among the plants are sal, mahogany, segun, mango, jack-fruit and banana.
Sounds unbelievable? Not really.
A trip to Satya’s forest will prove the veracity of his claim. He has engaged 12 workers who take care of the trees.
“I spend 30% of my salary for buying plants and my brother Rabi helps me out in looking after this forest,” Satya said.
Here’s what Satya reminds us:
A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year.
One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces while driving 26,000 miles.
Each average-sized tree provides an estimated $7 savings in annual environmental benefits, including energy conservation and reduced pollution.
Action on climate change requires collaboration by the U.S. and China, who are by far the world’s greatest emitters of greenhouse gases.
He warns: the way we live in the next thirty years will determine whether we could make this world safer from global overheating.
Satya’s dream is to set up a Nature School here where children and teachers can come and stay and learn about Nature and environment during their vacation/study break.
I salute you, Satya!
Let your endeavor find many takers and may we too get inspired to plant trees in our own ways.