Kalmane Kamegowda, eighty-two-year-old shepherd from Malavalli taluk of Mandya district, did something that most privileged people, holding the position of responsibility fail to do. In the last four decades, he has turned an entire hillside at Daasanadoddi village green by selling his sheep.
Kamegowda built over 14 ponds on the barren Kundinibetta hill which are filled with water, even in the scorching summers. He even maintains these ponds.
Four decades ago, Kamegowda realized that the hill, which was located beside his village, had almost no greenery. While taking his flock of sheep grazing on the hillside, he saw animals and birds stressed from lack of a watering holes on the hill, reports The New Indian Express. Whatever little water was stored from the rains either got evaporated or absorbed in the ground.
That’s when Kamegowda got the idea to develop a watering hole for struggling animals and birds. He decided to design, develop and maintain the hillside ponds. He doesn’t remember when he began working for it but so far, he has spent around 10-15 lakhs to develop and maintain 14 ponds.
He got the money from various awards he has won through his lifetime and sold a couple of his sheep to purchase a shovel, spade, pickaxe and other tolls. He has names some of these ponds after his grandchildren.
When The New Indian Express visited his haven- a half-completed house on a two-acre land- the hill presented itself in lush green attire, thanks to the 14 ponds, linked by a waterway that ensure when the upper ponds on the hill are filled, the surplus water flows into the ponds below.
A couple of weeks back, he underwent an eye surgery and is advised not to step out of the house to be safe from an infection.
“I close my eyes and come out; I know every inch here. If a drunkard is advised not to drink, will he stop drinking? I too have an addiction,” he tells.
Looking at his addiction and passion for his 14 ponds, his family and acquaintances call him a madman. For the last 40 years, almost daily, he digs ponds from 5 am to 9 am and grazes his cattles from 9 am to 7 pm. “Sometimes, I used to go to the hillock to dig a pond during the night with a lamp or also on a full moon day,” he says. Because of his dedication towards his work, many of his relatives broke off from him.
“After I started digging ponds and spending all my savings on them, I started losing my relatives,” he says. “But the trees, ponds, birds and animals became my relatives. Some made fun of me, some opposed me for using government land. But I did not stop. I can challenge anyone! Wherever I take up 5-6 ft of digging, there will be water which will not dry up … even during summers.”
With his later savings, he has hired people to dig other ponds and has interlinked all his 14 ponds by making narrow pathways. Kamegowda has never gone to school but he knows the technicalities. He also tests soil quality before taking up digging.
“If I give my children, grandchildren money, it will be spent and they’ll become bankrupt. Instead, if I give them these ponds that has water throughout the year, they will be the richest. When some people give me cash for my personal use, I spend the money on the ponds. It is an addiction!’’ he says.
Yesterday, he received the prestigious Rajyotsava Prashati award, the second highest civilian award by the Karnataka government.
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