He bowed humbly in front of the mobile phone as he thanked the person on the screen in the unusual call he got this Sunday. The smile on his face is of assurance. Assurance from the Minister for Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat that the pleas of this man shepherding his flock in Dasanadoddi, a remote village of Karnataka, around 120 kms away from Bengaluru, shall not go unheard and his efforts not be in vain.
Efforts of an ‘Aatma Nirbhar’ man who spent almost four decades of actually harvesting ‘Jal Shakti’ by turning a barren hillock into a bed of lakes and ponds.
From being called a ‘mad man’ to being now acknowledged by the central government and the Prime Minister himself, Mandya’s Kaamegowda who is popularly known as ‘Pond Man’ has seen it all.
But as he stood atop the very hill at Dasanadoddi that he transformed leaving literally no stone unturned, the 86 year old’s main request to the Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhavat is to initiate the interlinking of all the lakes he has dug over decades.
He has not a penny, his grandchildren go to a government school, the half built house he lives in could have been way better if he didn’t put his sheep and birds and nature before himself and his own. But none of this is his worry as much is the need to inter-link these water bodies he has carved atop the hillock.
‘It is possible. I know how to and can tell’ he says with the confidence and clarity that no degree in water resource management could give him.
The minister then asked officials who visited Gowda to take the details and get an application directly which he would then forward to the Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa. ‘We will talk to CM Yediyurappaji and see how we can take this ahead,’ assured Shekhawat as Gowda’s son and granddaughter hovered in the backdrop.
And just as Gowda was explaining how he had carved the lakes saving every penny that he had often saved for family expenses, there is yet another surprise. Prime Minister Narendra Modi just mentioned him in his Mann Ki Baat.
His face lit with a smile that shone on his wrinkled temples. For here was a man who sought not fame or flattery, nor kept any bit of what he received incidentally, but had his name echo through the nation as the Prime Minister appreciated his selfless service.
The Kundinibetta hillock in Dasanadoddi which lay barren for decades now has 14 ponds that are brimming with water. While the first ponds were dug by him with his own hands, he then got in labour who he paid from his own pockets to ensure ‘the sheep the birds have enough water to drink’.
How else will they survive in a barren stretch he thought as he took his sheep for grazing and that’s what led him to intuitively figure out the mechanism to sense where he could find water and then transform those piles of stone into tiny reservoirs that stay filled even in peak summers.
Sporting an ill-fitting shirt, a half pant and shawl on his shoulders and a stick in his hands and a dozen sheep around him, Gowda in all humility asks if the government can get his son a job.
For the lakes are all the legacy he will leave behind as he spent all he earned, including the money from awards, on them.
‘I have named two of the ponds after my two granddaughters, he says with glee, for these will stay beyond me and my lifetime.
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