U Subbaraju, a long time member of the Timbaktu Collective is worth more than a mere mention. His life is a rare Indian cameo. He was born in Tirupati. His father could not feed his family by farming his unproductive land. He became an itinerant coolie in various towns, sending small sums of money home. He died when Subbaraju was five. His mother sent him to the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam [TTD] schools. He stood out in academics. He entered the prestigious IIT and then went on to do his Masters in Energy Systems. In 1990, Subbaraju,son of a coolie, earned his PhD. Such stories are infrequent in India. In 1995, Dr Subbaraju joined the Timbaktu Collective to educate children of the countryside. Such personal choices, alas, are even more infrequent.
When Dinesh Kumar qualified as an engineer in Mysore, he was quite aware of the limitations of a career in industry; his life-long interest in the outdoors would not be served. He arrived in Timbaktu in 1992. He is everywhere, catching snakes, clambering up hills, exploring farming ideas, gathering wild seeds or listening to a micro-issue.
B Venkatesh, born in Kadalur, Tamil Nadu was progressively losing his eye-sight and by ten was totally blinded. He went on to excel in academics and had a successful career in Rallis and TISCO. In 1988, he met mary and Bablu and picked Timbaktu in 2002 as the place he wanted to be in. He teaches and trains teachers to cope with disabled people in a 50 km radius. He is an internationally-known teacher for people who work with disability issues.
Then there is Akulappa, a radical student leader in the 80s. Son of a local farmer, he completed his masters in Rural development and joined Timbaktu in 1992. Then he went on to do his degree in Law and is one of the pillars of the Collective. There are, in all, 60 members in the Collective ranging in age from 20 to 47. With growing, committed support, Timbaktu began to extend into the nearby villages.
Mushtikovila, a village at the foot of Kalpavalli hills is a farming community with a relationship with the hills. Timbaktu began desilting the neglected water tank, with villagers contributing 50% of the required money. In 1993, strangely, the tank filled for the first time in recent memory. It has been filling regularly ever since, to its new capacity. Fields were worked longer. Villagers became willing listeners to Timbaktu's plans.
They began stewardship of the slopes overlooking Mushtikovila, about 150 acres in all. Villagers restrained their grazing cattle and soon the hills responded. Small game reappeared.Today, the Collective has the satisfaction of having planted and managing regeneration of over 8,000 acres of the Kalpavalli range. Each of the 8 command villages has a Vana Samrakshana Committee [Forest Protection Committee]. The VSCs have formed a federation, Kalpavalli Adavi Samakya. There are 1320 active members. The entire restoration work of hills by means sparing them mindless grazing, is managed by the Samakya. native species that go by quaint names like Maddi, Neeruddhi, Pacchari, Kanuga, Eetha, Rela and Modhuga have re-emerged as if from nowhere.. Revenue from minor forest produce accrues to the Samakya.