Kalmane Kamegowda is working on a big project in southern India. The 72-year-old shepherd has spent the last 40 years digging a chain of ponds on a hill near his village, Dasanadoddi.
The 16 ponds are meant to fight water scarcity. Kamegowda says they’re “scientific” in design. The water flows on a slope. That helps prevent the ponds from drying up even in scorching summer months. Birds, wild animals, and villagers’ livestock drink from the pools.
It’s been a lot of hard work. Kamegowda relied mostly on shovels, spades, and pickaxes to create the pools. He also rented excavating machines when he could afford them. To build the ponds, he’s spent at least $14,000 from his and his son’s earnings from selling sheep over the years.
Four years ago, he saved some money for his pregnant daughter-in-law to have a surgical delivery. But she delivered a baby boy without it, leaving him with some extra cash. He used the money to dig another pond and named it after his grandson.
Other villagers once dismissed Kamegowda as mad. They mocked him for claiming that his father had taught him to identify ground moisture and use it to create bodies of water.
But now Kamegowda is a minor celebrity. The Karnataka state government gave him a prestigious award two years ago. Then Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauded Kamegowda’s work on his popular radio broadcast.
Kamegowda has two nicknames. One is “Pond Man.” The other is “Vanapalaka,” or guardian of forests. Planting trees in a park near the ponds earned him the second name.
Kamegowda identified a need and responded to it. He saw a new way to help others. God gave all of us creative abilities. This type of innovative thinking and self-starting impetus can lead to very good things. Those characteristics allowed him to help his community. His work will benefit others for many years to come.
Some neighbors complained, apparently jealous of the recognition Kamegowda received. But the local administrator, Deputy Commissioner M.V. Venkatesh, visited the village to check out the project. “His work is genuine,” Venkatesh says.
Venkatesh notes that every rainy season, tanks built by Kamegowda fill with water. They become reservoirs for birds and forest animals during the summer.
“He is a very dedicated man, a very selfless servant for the protection of the environment and ecology. In fact, he is a role model to other people in watershed development,” Venkatesh says.