Homage to Our Mentor

Mr. Bhoja Shetty, IFS (retd) (4 Sept. 1922 – 6 Mar. 2022)

A fallen flower on the pathway at the lake stopped me short on 5th March 2022. I looked up at the tree and saw one big cluster of flowers way above and buds a little lower. Our mentor Mr. Bhoja Shetty who had retired as the Chief Conservator of Forests in Tamil Nadu used to say that a proper identification of a plant would only be made from a flower. I knew exactly what this orange specimen shaped like a parrot’s beak was. In fact, for the last few summers my friends and I had searched in vain for the flowers among the big leaves. When it did flower, it came as a shock, too good to be true. To be doubly sure, I sent the photograph below to a botanist who confirmed that it was indeed the celebrated Flame of the Forest (Butea  monosperma). 

The first flower of the Flame of the Forest, 5 Mar. 2022

I shared the excitement with other tree lovers, my family and friends to whom the Palash in flower meant the arrival of spring. Mr. Bhoja Shetty now lived in Pollachi so I decided to send him a print of the photograph by post. This was not to be. The next morning, on 6th March, I got to know that he had passed away. He would have been 100 years old in Sept. 2022.

I had had the good fortune to meet Mr. Bhoja Shetty almost soon after I settled in South City apartment complex in 2006. My father who had been in the IFS himself had died a few months earlier so when I got to know that Mr. Bhoja Shetty had retired from the forest service, I went over and introduced myself. I was delighted to find out that they were of the same age, belonged to the same batch, and undergone training in Dehra Dun though they hadn’t known each other. They looked similar too – tall, lean, and active.

When the rejuvenation of Puttenahalli Lake was underway I would update him often and seek his advice on the trees we could plant around the periphery. On 16th Sept 2010, he planted a Peepal tree in the viewing deck cupping the ball of roots packed in soil in both hands. 

Mr. Bhoja Shetty planting the Peepal tree sapling. 16 Sept 2010

We lavished care on the tree and installed benches around so that someday people would get to sit and listen to the rustling leaves. Barely a year later, on 11th Oct. 2011, a political leader got the tree chopped down. (Read about it in this link).

In great anger and anguish, I narrated the incident to Mr. Shetty who merely smiled as if shrugging it off. He saw the replacement, a Shisham (Dalbergia sissoo, Indian Rosewood) and extolled its value as a timber wood. 

Mr. Bhoja Shetty beside the Indian Rosewood, 10 April 2013

I couldn’t forget as easily and a few years later got Mr. Shetty to plant a white silk cotton tree in the safer confines of the South City complex.

In June 2020, we celebrated the 10th year of our trust, PNLIT. As a small measure of our gratitude to the large number of people who had helped us on the way, and continue to do so, we invited a few well-wishers to adopt a tree of their choice. By then Mr. Bhoja Shetty was in the loving care of his relatives in Pollachi. We did not give him a choice. Instead, along with a letter thanking him for all the help he had given us, we sent him a photograph of a Peepal tree growing lush by the water side. On it were the name boards of the species and of its adopter, Mr. Bhoja Shetty, IFS (retd). 

The Peepal tree at the lake in Mr. Shetty’s name, 7 Mar 2022

Published by Usha Rajagopalan ("Lakeika")

I am a writer, translator and lake conservationist based in Bengaluru, India.

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