Intrepid wildlifer. Forest officer who put the Garden back into Garden City in the eighties. The man who made trees fashionable again in Bangalore, when it was fast losing its arboreal wealth and turning into a concrete jungle. In 1994, I was a greenhorn reporter,with The Times Of India, eager to make a mark in journalism covering the environment, wildlife, and my beloved Bangalore, the Garden City.
I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious, greener beginning to my career – The Bangalore Urban Art Commission, then headed by another defender of nature and wildlife, M.A. Parthasarathy, brought out a coffeetable book, “Your Bangalore The Trees“. Authored by Neginhal, I was assigned to meet Mr Neginhal and review the book , for which Mr Parathasarathy had written a “Tree”velogue, inviting Bangaloreans to “walk” amidst the tree wealth of our Garden City.
What a delightful engaging and enthusiastic man Mr Neginhal turned out to be! His boundless curiousity, tremendous energy and eagerness to share the wonders of nature that he witnessed on his numerous journeys into the wilderness of KArnataka! His untramelled joy as he remembere the sighting of a rare bison in Bhadra, or bears in Nagarahole was infectious and unforgettable.
Back to the first meeting with Mr Neginhal- in the April of 1994- It had been two decades since Bangalore had started shunning its trees to become a city bursting at its seams! Yes! in the nineties, reporters covering the city beat were already writing portentuous articles about Bangalore’s vanishing tree cover!
Mr Neginhal was the best man, the right man to author the book called :Your Bangalore The Trees. Ten years ealier, in the mide eighties, when things were getting out of hand! the late R. Gundu Rao, the then Chief Minister created and exclusive Green Belt Division in the Forest Department. Its mission: To regreen Bangalore.
The Chief Minister picked a Range Forest Officer, who was taking care of wildlife in Thirthahallli (Shimoga), named S.G. Neginhal to head the new division. Neginhal was quite illiterate about trees and urban spaces at the time..
Lack of knowledge about trees and how to go about accomplishing the task he had been set, didn’t daunt him in the least. He set about building parks, nurseries and made millions of saplings of trees available to Bangaloreans to plant and grow in their compounds. A bungalow in Bangalore with a garden that goes all around the house with its own compound, is the stuff of dreams in the second decade of the 21st century. But it was something Bangaloreans too for granted four decades ago!
Mr Neginhal quickly learned his trees, treelore and tree science. In no time at all he was offering expert advice on what kind of trees are suitable for different kinds of urban spaces. he learnt to give tradition and culture their due, and understood the reverence that trees have always had in ancient Hindu culture.
I kept in touch with him over the years, and we spoke frequently on the phone (landline!) and until a few years ago, he always had tales to tell from his latest wanderings into the forests. He wrote and published three or four books on forest trees, urban tress, and a compilation of the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of Karnataka.
Mr Neginhal made my wish to be a environmet correspondent even stronger, and since this first story the writing of which brought me great joy, I have covered many stories about wildlife, environment, pollution, and law and the politics around these subjects. I met men and women who have worked to save our forests and urban green spaces and written about them. Mr Neginhal’s time was one of more innocence, and reverence for nature, when urban greed wasn’t nibbling away at rhe edge of the forests, while ridding the cities of green cover . Mr Neginhal’s life and work and the times he lived in will always be remembered for what could have been. Bangalore , one laments is already past redemption. And now its Tree Man too has left.