Our Molai Forest
2023, Junior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Jadav Panyeng
“Come on, Guddiya*, let’s plant some trees together. It’s even raining outside! Just this last time, I promise.”
His voice was soft orchestrated music, and my ears were devotees. I stopped and breathed my father in, his scent musky and piquant, and his aura assuring and brave.
We drifted, like a ship steering through the ocean, through the rows and rows of saplings he had planted. The stems were green and puny, barely up to his waist. I was always dubious about their success, but when his comforting voice reassured me, all my doubts melted away, like ice in sun.
“Don’t worry,” I remember him saying. “All they need is a little patience and love. Just promise me that you’ll continue doing this after I mix with the skies. Promise me, please.”
* * *
The heat of the sun bore down on me, turning my lungs to paper and my feet to lead. The scorching rays turned the sand into blazing coals, making me dance across them like a clumsy ballerina. The beams turned the water pouring steadily down my watering can shine like crystals, pure and indestructible. The saplings for tress I had planted a few weeks ago had begun to grow, but they were still young. Their soft green stems were still wobbly in my fingers, but the jade-coloured leaves were determined. As I finished watering them, I reminisced where it all started; the memories flooded back to my brain like a sudden tsunami of emotions. Whether of inspiration or an obsession, I’m not quite sure yet.
I’m brought back to when I was a child. The shoes that had been left for me seemed too big to fill and life too far away to care. I had been reading the newspaper with keen interest. The printed had always been a source of entertainment for me, coming from a rural part of India. The recollection is vivid; I remember it so vibrantly because it was the first time that I was truly left in awe of what my father had done. The story was of Jadav Panyeng, my father, and our Molai forest.
I imagine the barren land that stretched acres in front of him. The lump of hesitation lodged in throat, quickly washed down by the vision of the lifeless entangled bodies of washed-up snakes on his eyelids. The buzz of excitement and anticipation in his mind, dreaming of the day when the hard sand underneath him became covered in muddy leaves and the roots of trees spread like the veins in the soft earth. I admired how he didn’t see the dying life, but saw the living potential the land had, and the potential he had in himself.
40 years he told me he toiled. From his hands, calloused yet delicate, he blessed the land with life. From his hands, grew the trunk and the moss that stubbornly clung onto it, claiming it as its own. From his hands, grew 40 million bamboo seedlings in over 300 hectares of land. And, from his hands, grew the Molai forest. Our Molai forest. A forest home to hundreds of endangered species. Bengal tigers, rhinoceroses, vultures, and peacocks all found their home there, and slowly but surely, so did my heart.
Finally, his efforts were recognized when he received the Padma Shri in 2015 and the Commonwealth Points of Light Award in 2020. I remember how much of an impact this announcement had on me. I remember the sudden beating of my heart, the slight tremble of my fingertips, the sudden light in my eyes.
Jadav Panyeng had planted the Molai forest in Assam. My Molai, my father, had planted the trees so deep within me, their roots so intertwined with my mind and soul, that I couldn’t let go.
And I never did.
* * *
I sit inside. The memories taste bittersweet on my tongue, like burnt honeycomb. I watch the trees I had planted with my father swaying gently in the wind from the window. I can hear them whistling delicately; the music invades my ears, my heart, my soul. I sip my tea gently.
As my eyes meet the framed portrait of Molai, my father, I wonder if I have made him proud.
I look back outside again, see the water hit the soft dry earth, like cocoa to milk. The faint scent of wet soil overruns my nostrils, and I breathe it all in. It smells earthy and musky, of watering your grass in hot summer evenings with the skies painted vermillion and mustard. It smelled like my dad.
I looked back up to the sky, and I knew I really had made him proud
*Guddiya – A loving term used to refer to young girls in India
I have always loved expressing myself through words. Sometimes words get stuck in my throat, too thick to swallow down, but too nervous to say them out loud. I learned that expressing my creativity through writing is the best way. Climate change is talked about enough, but not acted on, and I truly wish that we can give an honorable mention to all those silent heroes who have kept our planet running. From the media and its negative content, I had lost all hope in humanity, but through my research, I learned how many are saints. We only get one earth, so we should make it a place worth living.