On his retirement day, this Kerala professor got the best gurudakshina.
On March 31, 56-year-old George Chirammel, a college professor in Kerala retired from his 25 years of service.
As he left the gates of Alagappa Thyagarajar Polytechnic College in the central district of Thrissur, Professor George pressed a book close to his chest. The book was a means of remembering the professor's service, not just to his students, but to the nature.
At the college, George was not just a professor in the civil department, but the custodian of 300 trees that he planted over the years.
As a tribute to the professor, the students of the college brought out a book - a mini encyclopedia of the trees on campus. The book contains photos and all the details of the trees, including their biological name, their uses, health benefits and the like.
The students have also given a befitting name to the compilation - "Harithakshina" - on the lines of Gurudakshina (tribute to a teacher).
George is not one of those teachers who would yell at his students for bunking lectures or skipping exams, but would chase them along the corridor if they lay a finger on his children - the trees.
"It is not in my nature to be angry at people or hold a grudge against anyone. But you harm my trees, then hell will break loose," Professor George tells The News Minute, in his distinct Thrissur accent.
300 trees in 25 years
His childhood memories are filled with stories about the garden at his home.
"We had a huge garden, where I would spend hours looking after the plants. I particularly like creepers and used to spread them all over the house on tubes and pipelines. When I shifted to an independent house, the plants were planted in flower pots, for lack of space ," George explains.
When he joined the college in 1992, he brought his love for nature along. That year during summer, he found that a cotton factory next door was causing problems to people in the college. That was a time when the 4 acre compound had not more than five trees.
"Thin cotton layers would constantly come to our classes and labs, which caused breathing problems even to those who were perfectly healthy. That's when I decided that planting trees would solve the issue. One, the trees will not let the cotton bits into the campus, and two, there will be more clean air," George says.
George believes in not wasting time and when the idea to plant trees in the college campus struck, he waited no more. With the help of another professor, Tony Paul, (who is now the department Head), George brought two saplings to the college.
From digging spaces for the saplings to planting them to watering them, George would faithfully take care of them every day. From then on, it became an unsaid ritual to plant at least 12 trees a year. Generally, the planting is done just ahead of monsoon.
"In 1992, we did not observe Environment Day or any such day. But it was general knowledge to plant the saplings during monsoon, so that we needn't water them till October at least. Over the years, the need to increase awareness to protect the environment rose, and we began to observe Environment Day to encourage the children to plant more trees. Ten years ago, an environment club was formed in the college under my supervision," George says.
George is someone who loves to travel, and the first thing he does on reaching a new place is to enquire where the local nursery is. The campus now has trees belonging to 70 different species, he points out.
Maintenance workers at the college have run into trouble more than once, when they attempted to "trim" the branches of the trees.
Recalling a recent incident, George cannot but laugh at his own innocent love for trees.
"I was coming out of a classroom and found two labourers atop a tree near the main gate. They had already chopped off three-four branches and were proceeding to cut down more. I rushed there, and threatened to throw a stone at them if they did not alight immediately. A college official had given them instruction to trim the branches and they ended up cutting the branches," George narrates, the disbelief evident in his voice.
Writing on the back cover of "Harithakshina", college Principal Annatergy J writes, "When a teacher officially retires from the teaching community, there are certain age-old ways in which the students pay tribute. But in the case of certain teachers, it is different. Conventional methods give way to novel ones, in helping the teacher leave a mark. George has transformed our campus into a green campus, often spreading his love for trees to each one of us. This is a tribute to him."
Professor George will now go back to the college on the occasion of Environment Day, he says.
"The tradition will continue. Just because I have retired from service, doesn't mean I have lost all connection with my trees."
(All photographs by KK Najeeb)