It was in 2007 when Jitu Kalita was on a boat and spied the unexpected greenery on an island. “My boatman told me it was the Molai Forest infested by wild animals. Then added that the man who planted the forest spends a lot of time there. This aroused my curiosity and I went ashore.”
During the telephonic and email interviews with Jitu from his home in Jorhat, he continues, “I remember the first time I met a visibly perturbed Jadav Payeng on his forest island. He practically chased me off the land as he felt I was an intruder or a poacher. But then we talked and he relaxed on realising I was a photo-journalist interested in Nature.”
“I was very impressed by the great work he had done and felt his one-man forest had to be shown to the world. This led to the first article I wrote on him, published in 2010. My article was subsequently picked up by other newspapers, agencies and even TV channels which led to many journalists from all over the world visiting Jorhat to meet the Forest Man of India,” Jitu, 48, recalls.
Subsequently, a friendship built between Jadav Payeng and Jitu Kalita. “As language was a barrier for Jadav, I became his translator, travelling companion and guide.
To help spread the word about Javad’s unsurmountable effort, Jitu has been instrumental in not only featuring in documentaries and TV interviews about Jadav, but also wrote a book on him, titled, ‘The Forest Man of India’. On a visit to Taiwan, the inspirational book was translated into Chinese and launched by President Tsai Ing-wen.
“When Jadav received the invitation from France to attend the 7th Global Conference at Evian in 2012 as a special guest speaker, I told the organisers that we were too poor to travel abroad. They not only bore the expenses but even helped us financially to apply for our passports and visa,” Kalita adds.
Kudos is certainly due to Jitu Kalita, who went beyond his duty of writing about Jadav’s work. It is primarily for the exemplary decade long support he has provided to India’s Forest Man, at every step going forward.
“Our two families are very close and have mutual respect for each other,” Jitu sums up modestly.
Text by Amita Sarwal
Photographs courtesy Jitu Kalita, Jorhat