Dubai: Green missions end up as a fad for many. But for Dubai-based Rajender Kumar Bishnoi, they are a mantle he proudly took on from his ancestors in India's Rajasthan. A civil engineer who works with a construction company in the city, the 55-year-old, true to his traditional values, is a tree hugger.
Propagating trees from seeds and cuttings in waste bottles and discarded cans, Bishnoi cost-effectively grows thousands of plants in his spare time and gifts them to residents across the UAE. Not just that, he also conducts free gardening and composting workshops, in the hope that more people will grow plants and make it a way of life in the UAE.
A common excuse why people don’t take to gardening is the mistaken belief that it costs a lot of money. I want to debunk this myth. As I demonstrate through my workshops, every stage is affordable – whether it is sourcing the saplings, getting containers to grow them or making organic compost for their growth.
The first environmentalists
His ancestors, said Bishnoi, are considered the “first environmentalists” of India. “It is recorded in history that back in 1730, 363 Bishnois sacrificed their lives while protecting the sacred Khejri tree in Khejarli village of Jodhpur district in Rajasthan,” he said.
“The ruler of the time had ordered the burning of the trees to produce lime for the construction of a new palace. But the Bishnois, led by a local woman, Amrita Devi Bishnoi, hugged the trees to prevent their felling. Amrita Devi had famously said, 'If a tree is saved at the cost of my head, it is fair deal for me'. Jambhoji, the founder of Bishnoism, also laid down 29 principles for daily living, of which protecting trees and wild life was paramount.”
From 363 to 6,000-plus
Fast forward to 2020 and Bishnoi finds himself embracing the cause of the same tree in a similar desert landscape, albeit under happy circumstances.
“It is more important today that we create new trees to sustain the world and the generations to come. The Khejri is known as the Ghaf tree here in the UAE. It has been declared the national tree of the country. Being a Bishnoi with a green thumb, I wanted to help propagate this tree. I started out with an individual goal of growing 363 trees as a humble tribute to my ancestors, and distribute them free of cost. But the number has crossed 6,000 now,” he said.
Besides Ghaf, Bishnoi grows 85 types of other species including indigenous trees like Zizhiphus, Neem, Acacia, Peepal, Tecomella, Cordia, Ficus, Dulce etc and flowering plants, herbs and vegetables propagated from seeds or cuttings. And he never misses an occasion – whether it is a birthday, wedding anniversary, housewarming, the Year of Zayed, Year of Tolerance or Year of Preparation for the Next 50 Years now -- to gift a sapling or tree. He makes them available to anyone who wants them.
“Anyone who visits me at my house or site office gets a sapling or tree. Those who attend my workshops also get them. I also give away a free composting kit which comprises a 10 litre bucket with dry leaves and a composting starter. My aim is to encourage as many people as I can to grow plants. By giving them a ready sapling and the composting kit free of cost, I leave them with no excuse but to make a start.”
But how does he fund his passion?
“Another common excuse why people don’t take to gardening is the mistaken belief that it costs a lot of money. I want to debunk this myth. As I demonstrate through my workshops, every stage is affordable – whether it is sourcing the saplings, getting containers to grow them or making organic compost for their growth,” said Bishnoi, a father of two well-settled sons and a daughter.
He said while cuttings can be easily sourced from friends and family, waste bottles, yoghurt buckets, paint buckets, throwaway cans and pots can be used as containers. “In fact, I always have a huge stock of these containers as people give them to me knowing I need them.”
Making organic compost from kitchen and garden waste is free of cost, while it also helps prevent the waste from going into the landfill, he added.
WHAT PEOPLE HAVE TO SAY
Bishnoi is the one who got me started into composting. It’s been a year now and I have not bought any soil or compost from outside – they are 100 per cent homemade
Indian expat Richa Suri Setia, living in Dubai Silicon Oasis, cannot thank Bishnoi enough. Living in an apartment, she always believed that she needed more space to maintain a garden. “But he taught me otherwise. He also taught me how to make compost from my kitchen waste within an apartment. Today, I not only make compost and soil or my 30-odds plants in the balcony, but also distribute it, like him, to others.”
The best thing about him is that he is always available to help. I am on his WhatApp group and ask him many questions when I get stuck. He always replies promptly.”
Australian expat Nina Carter, who lives in a villa in Jumeirah, agrees. “He is so generous with his donations. He not only gives you trees but also makes you understand and care for them. I’ve learnt a lot from him. He brings composting to life in the context of Dubai and shows how to make it work. And it’s not a one-off exercise, it’s very sustainable.”
She said as her daughter Anushka, 4, once remarked, “Mr Bishnoi has trees in his head. He is always thinking of trees.”
Pakistani expat Amjad Durrani, who lives in a villa in Mirdif, said, “Bishnoi is the one who got me started into composting. It’s been a year now and I have not bought any soil or compost from outside – they are 100 per cent homemade. I grow a lot of shrubs and flowers, besides vegetables like tomatoes, chillies and cucumber.
Bishnoi, who has christened his method of composting from kitchen and household waste as BishBran and BishMix, answers a few basic questions:
GO GREEN WITH BISHNOI
• Attend his free workshops across the emirates. (He can arrange one anywhere on request, provided there is a minimum quorum of 20 people).
• Attend Green UAE 2020 event at Al Mizahar in Dubai on February 14
• Join his Green Ghaf Gardening Group on Facebook
• Be part of his WhatsApp group called Green Earth Group
• Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details
MYTHS ABOUT GARDENING IN DUBAI BUSTED
Myth: It’s too hot in the UAE to grow plants, there’s no fertile soil too
Reality: You can create green shade; make potting soil, compost and use irrigation water
Myth: I know nothing about gardening
Reality: You can learn on the job and also read up books, attend workshops, courses etc along the way.
Myth: I hardly any space for a garden
Reality: No place is too small to grow plants. You can go green with compact balcony gardens and indoor plants. Authorities can also introduce community land patches, allow for adoption of areas
Myth: I can’t afford to maintain a garden as plants and compost are too expensive
Reality: You can always ask friends and family for cuttings and make your compost from kitchen waste
Myth: Kitchen waste stinks and is unhygienic if I collect it to make compost
Reality: Far from it, if you follow the right method