“It was understood that men could be as effective as God in other areas than destruction.” – Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees

 When we think of environmentalists, scientists, philosophers, celebrities, and philanthropists come to mind. After all, how much of a difference can an average joe make? Jadav “Molai” Payeng, however, was none of these things.

Is the fate of the environment only in the hands of the rich and famous? – Image by Getty Images via ET online

Like many other Mishing tribespeople living in rural Assam, India, Molai was born into a life of poverty. His parents were humble milk sellers, and he was the third of thirteen siblings. As a child, Molai was left in the care of a local district court-master as his parents did not have the resources to raise him.

Now, renowned nationwide as the Forest Man of India, Molai has received multiple awards and accolades, lectures at universities and environmental summits around the world, and receives international visitors at the Molai forest, which he single-handedly planted . Why would one man plant an entire forest by himself?  How did his efforts affect the natural life and ecology in the region? Is his story merely a peculiar fascination, or does it have practical implications and lessons for environmental conservation at large? If these questions pique your interest, feel free to explore them with me in this blog!

Molai receiving the Padma Shri Award -The fourth highest civilian award in India – Image by