Taking multi-tasking to another level
RK Nair, the Malayali businessman who’s created 40 forests in 7 states while expanding a business of readymade garments…
Q: You have created 40 forests across seven states – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra, Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. How did it all begin?
Gujarat has been my home for years, the land that made me a rich entrepreneur running three garment companies. But I was born in Kerala. I went away as a child of four, from Periya – that’s in Kasargode. I – Radhakrishnan Nair – went to school till I failed in Class XII and then, like many men did in the ’70s, took off to Mumbai in search of a job. I worked at a medical store as a salesman, a hotel next and then a garment shop as a supervisor. Then I moved to a village called Umbergaon in Gujarat and worked in a textile unit as factory manager for 10 years. I began to help tribal students with their education. But as I got more involved in social work, I was unable to manage my regular job. I quit and set up a company of my own – Shree Paurnika Exports. There are three factories now, and 450 employees, dealing with readymade shirts. During a road project in Gujarat, I saw 175 trees being felled, and a bird nest with little baby birds falling to the ground. It put a knot in my heart. I had to do something. I bought a piece of land with a partner and we decided to use the Japanese methodology of Akira Miyawaki to plant 1500 trees there. (Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist, is known for his methods of restoring native forests on degraded soils) We contacted the Japanese team. A team came to teach us the method. That first little forest was planted on one acre of land in Umbergaon. Seeing the quick growth of the forest, I got a call from Maharashtra to create something similar on a chemical dumping yard. I did so. In 2016, I planted 32,000 trees belonging to 38 varieties, which have now grown into a forest, housing birds.
Q: What did you learn during the process?
I learnt that if we help nature, nature helps us back. There were so many medicinal plants in these forests growing all on their own. My work began to get noticed and more states began calling me. The Chhattisgarh government called me to create a forest containing one lakh and three thousand trees. In Andhra the Miyawaki method was adopted for yet another urban dumping yard. In Bengal, my team built a forest in Durgapur. Forests were also made in Rajasthan. It is more than six lakh trees now across seven states. I am now involved in a project, creating a forest for the martyrs of the Pulwama attack, with 40,000 trees belonging to 40 varieties, in 40 days. It is called Pulwama Shahid Vann.
Q: Why is Kerala not on your list?
I knew you would ask that! I have lots of love for my homeland but no one has invited me to plant trees in Kerala. There are some clubs that call, but it would be a temporary arrangement to make some headlines in the next day’s papers. I won’t go unless people take all the responsibility – will it be maintained, who will take over the expenses, and there are other factors like the fencing, water connectivity and all that. I can bring the technology. But the trees should live on, become a forest.