A tree that grows –

Meet Singaravelu – a school Science teacher who is passionately passing on his care for nature through a school in Vedaranyam.


Singaravelu showing an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another without affecting the needs of the host). It was brought to him by a student (Surendran) who was curios to know what plant it was.

He teaches in Anantharasu Aided Middle School, a government-aided school, in Maraignanalur near Vedaranyam. The students wear the same school uniform throughout the state and the rest of the staff are like any other government school teachers. I am not undermining the immense value they add – but I am trying to say, Singaravelu stands out because of which, his students do too.


Let me tell you why he is a cool cat. So government schools in Tamil Nadu have a certain system called the Samacheer Kalvi which was mired in controversy when it was introduced in 2009. The new structure came in to unify the educational system in Tamil Nadu without discriminating on the economic, social, or cultural background of the students. There were political reasons, as a political party tried to influence thought by pushing its agenda through text books. Of course, these deeper, darker intentions will have long term implications on a student.

Singaravelu, who teaches Science in the middle school, is not completely satisfied with the public school system because it doesn’t ensure practical and realistic environmental education. But he is ready to make amends, find ways to incorporate his passion, for the sake of trees and reality, while managing to reach out and inspire his students.

He has a deep interest in plants and trees that surround his region. What worries him most is the major reduction and rarity of several indigenous species that he has been noticing in the coastal belt for the last couple of decades. He is also aware of several environmental issues that surround his region and tries to address and create an awareness about them – the destruction and importance of the coastal dunes, the diversity of flora and fauna of the species in his neighbouring wildlife sanctuary, the rise in water salinity over the decades.

In the school that he teaches, he has pioneered the efforts to plant around 66 different local species and saplings collected from different parts of Tamil Nadu. The reason for doing this, according to him, is to teach his students the significance of these trees, their characteristics, ecological role, and the qualities that are unique to identify their value among other trees in the southern region. Many local species are drastically reducing in number in the state, according to him. As he plants them, and watch them grow, he studies the plants along with his students. His pro-active attempt has inspired his students to such an extent that they are curious enough to bring back a twig or a part of the plant to help him/ her identify a plant they find elsewhere in their region.

While going on a walk around the school with him and some of his students, the kids would help name the trees, and could tell me when they would flower, and what medicinal values the tree had. As I walked around, I was sure that the children were being taught some of the most important lessons which they were passing on to me. In the evenings students were to take turns round the week to water these plants and saplings.

The school didn’t really have the infrastructure for every classroom to be held indoors. That was not discouraging at all. In fact, the one or two classes held outdoors, probably ensured the connection to their natural surroundings.


An old photograph of Singaravelu’s students involved in a project to study soil classification. Clayey soil exists at a fairly shallow layer in this region due to which percolation of rain water is difficult

The teacher is aware of the problems that surround his region. So when he teaches with practical examples, it is usually something that students can relate to. The area surrounding the region has high ground water salinity due to several reasons including the fact that coastal dunes were cleared and constructed upon. Dunes contain loose soil that have high rain water percolation. To explain this, he teaches them about the water table and basic experiments on ground water percolation. Whether or not, these topics are part of the curriculum he finds it easier to teach topics that can be relatable to the surrounding regions.


Esther Nisha, his student of 9th standard, has designed a water pump that functions when you pedal like a bicycle. It can reach up to 60 feet underground and pump 700 – 800 litres of water in an hour – far more efficient than the hand pumps and cheaper and sustainable compare to a motororise version. There is a severe need for households to dig deeper for underground water in that region

Every now and then, he manages to take up to 50 students to a wildlife sanctuary nearby to show them, endangered species like the black buck and plenty of migratory bird species that visit the region each year. Among other things, he has pro-actively engaged his students in several projects, including rallies on global warming, distributed and sold some 15,000 saplings for surrounding schools, etc.

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[A neat list of trees with their common/botanical/tamil names]

The point of this example is to illustrate the dire need for education based on the surroundings. We need to know the natural vegetation around us and why it exists that way. Children need to be taught what the land they are sitting on used to be like before. Then, we are probably beginning to educate a student.

In my school, we planted trees too. And each tree was cutely fenced, signed off by the name the student who planted that tree. But we had no clue what we were planting, and the qualities of the tree or anything significant of that tree in relation to the surroundings. We were taken to the sanctuaries and several biodiverse regions surrounding our town which definitely taught us a whole bunch of things about the neigbourhood.

But most schools and children do not have this privelege. It is almost non-existent in the public school system. People like Singaravelu are rare because passionate teachers are hard to come by. Children need to be taken to natural environments and be shown what we are losing. They need to know ecological value of the flora and fauna that just surround them; if they do, it won’t be long before they understand how important it is to protect and preserve what our generation is taking for granted.


I watched a beautiful film during my journey – ‘A tree that grows in Brooklyn’.  Here’s a scene from there:

Francie Nolan: Look out the window, our tree they killed it!

Johnny Nolan aka The Brooklyn Thrush: Well, would you look at that now.

Francie Nolan: They didn’t have any right to kill it, did they papa!?

Johnny Nolan aka The Brooklyn Thrush: Now wait a minute! They didn’t kill it. Why, they couldn’t kill that tree.

Francie Nolan: Promise?

Johnny Nolan aka The Brooklyn Thrush: Why sure! Don’t tell me that tree is gonna lay down and die that easily. Look at that tree. See where it’s coming from. Right up outta that cement! Didn’t nobody plant it. Didn’t ask the cement to grow. It just couldn’t help growing so much it just pushed that old cement out of the way. Now when you bust it with something like that, can’t anybody help it, like… like that little ole bird up there. He didn’t ask anybody could he sing? and he certainly didn’t take any lessons. He’s so full of singing it just has to bust out someplace. Why they could cut that old tree right down to the ground and a root would push up someplace else in the cement.


2 thoughts on “A tree that grows –

  1. Pingback: How I met Singaravelu (Or: The dilemma of labels, presumed titles, and hypocrisy) | freedom is on the saddle

  2. An fascinating discussion may be worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should write more about this topic, it might be a taboo subject but usually people are there are not enough to dicuss on such topics. An additional. Cheers


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