Popularly known as the “pond man”, Kalmane Kaamegowda, a shepherd in Karnataka, has been making news for his efforts to create water structures for birds and wild animals.Kaamegowda has dug 16 ponds for birds and wild animals in the last 40 years. He has planted many trees and is creating a banyan grove in a Section 4 forest area in his village too.The Karnataka Rajyotsava awardee, shot to national fame when the Prime Minister mentioned his work in his radio programme Mann Ki Baat. A nondescript village in Malavalli taluk in Mandya district of Karnataka, Dasanadoddi, is a little over 100 km from the capital city of Bengaluru. With narrow tarred roads snaking through every settlement in the village, Dasanadoddi, situated at the base of a picturesque hillock, Kundini Parvata or Kundur Betta, is not the regular hinterland. There is no shortage of power, water or smartphones here. Dasanadoddi received national attention when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his weekly Mann ki Baat, a programme aired on All India Radio, mentioned the good work of a resident shepherd, “pond man” Kalmane Kaamegowda. He has dug 16 ponds on Kundur Betta and has become a wetland champion of sorts, unbeknownst to his knowledge. He calls himself “Vanapalaka” or the guardian of forests and had a very simple motive in digging these ponds — to make water accessible to the birds and animals that have made the hillock their home as well as the visiting ones. He says there are wild animals like bears, leopards, deer, foxes and more on the hill that come for the water in these ponds. Till a few years ago, before he came to be known as the “pond man”, Kaamegowda was a little-known figure here and was written off as “mad” by villagers. Who else but a crazy person would go around a hill and dig ponds for birds and animals, they would say. Kaamegowda also spent all the money he earned through the sale of his sheep and other means, on digging these ponds. In what could only be termed as a fortunate stroke of serendipity, a few journalists of the local media found his work worth some newsprint. Before he knew it, he had become the talk of the town. Karnataka Rajyotsava Award or Rajyotsava Prashasti, the second-highest civilian honour of the Karnataka state followed in 2018. By then, Kaamegowda had become a local hero. After the PM mentioned him in the radio programme, media thronged the village, articles were written, praises were sung and loud calls for a Padma Shri for him were made, catapulting Kaamegowda to national fame. Kaamegowda though, still lives in the single-room shed he shares with his 50 sheep, adjacent to his son’s house. It’s not difficult to get there. Ask anyone in the village where Kaamegowda lives and they will show you the way to his house. Curious feet will follow you there. Some villagers want a picture of you. After all, Kaamegowda’s visitors can’t be ordinary. Kalmane Kaamegowda or the ‘pond man’ in front of one of the 16 ponds he dug in his village in Mandya, Karnataka. The wetlands have become a source of water for wild animals and livestock. Photo by Abhishek N. Chinnappa. Ponds, trees and a banyan grove Kaamegowda’s contribution to the environment is not limited to creating ponds. He has planted many trees like the Indian beech tree (honge mara in Kannada), jamun, banyan, etc. around these ponds which the forest department has now designated as a park. He has also created a three-acre banyan grove on the hillock, a Section 4 forest area, at the behest of the forest department. Kaamegowda’s efforts are done without any monetary help from anyone. “I have used my earnings to do these things. I have also spent Rs. 14 lakh (Rs. 1.4 million) from my son’s earnings,” he says. He has no idea how much he has spent on these works so far. “If the government has to do what I have done in the last 40 years, they will definitely have to spend around Rs. one crore (Rs. 10 million),” he says as a matter of fact. By his own admission, Kaamegowda is 86 years old, even though his official records put his age somewhere around 70. His love for birds and animals and his interest in digging ponds started early in his life. His father, a shepherd, had dug two ponds on the hillock, one of which is still there. “Some Lingayats (people belonging to a dominant caste community) closed the other pond saying this place did not belong to us but to the forest department,” he says. As a teenage boy, Kaamegowda followed his father and learned the ropes. He learned to identify moisture on the ground by the look of it and would dig pits with his friends as a playtime activity. Once he grew up and took pond digging seriously, he had to rely on limited tools like spade, shovels, pickaxe, etc. to create these water structures. He rented JCBs when he could afford them to give some shape, size and structure to the ponds. So close are these ponds to his heart that he has even named them – Krishna, Akshaya, Pooja, etc.