“Only if my village looked as green as Malaysia!”--this is what ASM Khalequzzaman Saju, an avid lover of trees, had in his mind when he returned to his home at Kowri village in Manikganj in 1979.
Since then, he has planted about 60,000 trees and today stands as an idol to many in his village in Harirampur upazila.
Saju, known as Shahjahan Biswas to the villagers, went to Malaysia in 1977 right after passing SSC. There he worked at a construction site for a year and a half.
“The rows of trees there were so eye-soothing,” said the 57-year-old while recalling his Malaysia days to this correspondent.
“I was enchanted to see how they had planted the trees in an organised manner. I thought that if we could adopt that in Bangladesh, then not only our forest crisis will be solved but also many people will gain solvency,” said the nature lover.
With this vision, Shahjahan initially opened a nursery at his home on 27 bighas of land and planted mahogany, palm, neem and coconut trees.
Gradually, he went on to planting trees in educational institutions, mosques, graveyard, and by the roads of the village.
Monirul Islam, a youth of the village, is a follower of Shahjahan. He sold seven mahogany trees at Tk 1,45,000 four years ago. After that, he planted 250 more saplings on his homestead three years ago.
“Ten years down the lane, I will get at least Tk 60,00,000 by selling these trees. Shahjahan Biswas visits my place and gives me necessary advice regularly. He even helps me nurture the trees,” Monirul told this paper.
Pavel Mollah, a rickshaw-puller, made fortunes by selling trees and owes his success to Shahjahan.
“My father was a farmer. He had bought three mahogany saplings from Shahjahan 20 years ago. He died seven years ago leaving behind my mother, me and my younger sister. I then sold the trees and with the money, built a tin-shed house, bought a rickshaw and arranged my sister’s wedding,” said Pavel.
Anwar Hossain Aynal, a farmer, is also inspired by Shahjahan. He has planted 200 mahogany trees till date.
Gala Union Parishad (UP) Chairman Shafiq Biswas said, “The villagers are proud of Shahjahan. We will engage him in projects that are in the pipeline, for example, construction of new roads. He will advise us on how to make the spots greener.
“Hundreds of people from different areas come to visit this village now, thanks to Shahjahan’s selfless act,” he added.
Acting principal of Kowri MA Rauf Degree College Manaranjan Karmaker said, “People in this village go to Shahjahan for advice. For example, if someone wants to create a partition, Shajahan will help them do it by planting trees in rows instead of building a wall.”
Shahjahan, who is also a freedom fighter, never got married.
Mohammad Zahirul Hoque of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Harirampur said, “Shahjahan is making a huge contribution to the government’s programme of expanding forests. He has helped not only himself but also his community. We need people like him in every district.”