'Discover Ananthapuram': Meet Anil Kumar who is transforming his hometown one project at a time

When COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was the health workers who were the first ones to get affected in hospitals. That's when 'Heal Ananthapuram' started. Anil distributed N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and sanitizers in hospitals. "I strongly believe, if you save one nurse, you can save 20 people

By Sri Lakshmi Muttevi  Published on  13 Feb 2022 8:31 AM GMT
Discover Ananthapuram: Meet Anil Kumar who is transforming his hometown one project at a time

Anantapur: After living away for 20 years, A.G Anil Kumar, the ex-CEO of a mobile retail chain, returned to his hometown, Anantapur, three years ago in 2019. Seven generations of his family have lived in the Ananthapuram district. He had noticed how people outside had a negative image of his district. Anil thought why not show Anantapur from his perspective. That's how 'Discover Ananthapuram' started. From restoring a 14th-century stepwell (koneru) in Kasi Visweswara Swamy Devalayam to giving 26,000 bird nests under 'Home for Birds', Anil has many inspiring stories to share.

In 2019 Anil came back to his hometown and started looking into the history of the district and how his family was named Ananthapuram. In the British diaries kept in the London Library, he found that his great-great-grandfather Narapa Reddy had mentioned how Bukkarayasamudram, a small village near Ananthapuram, was a bigger town than Ananthapuram in the 18th Century. "Since my great-great-grandfather has been taking care of Ananthapuram, his family was given the name Ananthapuram," says Anil.

He adds, "During my research, I wrote to London Libraries, read the British Gazettes, and discovered temples, historic buildings, and monuments that were neglected by the government, archaeology department, and endowments department due to lack of funds. I asked the officials If they had any objection if I worked on neglected sites. They were absolutely fine with it and that's how my first project, restoring a 13th-century Koneru in Kasi Visweswara Swamy Devalayam, started. Way back in 1890, my great grandfather was here and 130 years later I got an opportunity to restore this and make sure Ganga Haarati was performed."

During his work, Anil found a bridge connecting Bellary-Ananthapuram (Rachaanapalli bridge) which was no longer there. A new bridge had come up instead. In the 19th Century, this was the only bridge that connected Bellary and Ananthapuram and through which officials could enter the district. "With great historical importance, I restored the bridge pathway. The day I finished the restoration was the 100th birthday of the bridge which I found through the milestone written with the details about the bridge," he says.

Healing Ananthapuram

When COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was the health workers who were the first ones to get affected in hospitals. That's when 'Heal Ananthapuram' started. Anil distributed N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and sanitizers in hospitals. "I strongly believe, if you save one nurse, you can save 20 people. Protecting health care workers was my main focus. There was a shortage of resources necessary to tackle COVID-19. So, I brought all the materials from Malaysia and distributed them every day. I also found that restaurants were closed during the lockdown period, so I gave food packets to the needy," says Anil.

Green Ananthapuram

Anil feels that the lack of sufficient trees and greenery is leading to many problems. So, he started planting saplings. But he did not just leave them unattended. He ensured that each plant was adopted by a home. "The success rate of planting is 95% after which we decided to start the campaign 'Let's stop killing trees'. In coordination with the forest department, we started helpline numbers to inform us if any trees were being cut down in the town. In the last three weeks, a person chopped down a 30-year-old tree and was fined Rs. 10,000. In the last four months, a fine of Rs. 1 lakh has been collected from those who cut down trees," says Anil.

Home for birds

Every work that Anil started revealed a new problem that had to be solved. While working on 'Green Ananthapuram', he found that nails were being pinned to trees to put up advertising boards. They were killing the trees slowly and it was also reducing the Oxygen-producing capacity of the trees. Nails from about 7,000 trees were removed. "Then I thought where were the birds in Ananthapuram going as trees were being cut down for various reasons. On a war-footing, we decided to make birds stay in our town ahead of summer. Traveling to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Kanyakumari, we identified rural women who make bird nests with coir. We started giving raw materials for different kinds of nests," says Anil.

Anil started 'Home for Birds' as an experiment and distributed 26,000 nests in 24 days to accommodate 30,000 birds. The project also got into Harvard's world record for the fastest execution of man-made nests. "We asked permission from every home before tying a bird's nest there. Surprisingly, every person we approached was a bird lover but they did not know where to get those nests. There were people who wanted bird nests inside their house also," says Anil.

During this project, Anil found that there were 124 species of birds in Ananthapuram three years ago, but 20 species had left the town due to environmental issues. "One specialty of these birds nests is that it is made of natural raw materials. So, the birds can 'customise' their nests and build their own home. We are trying not to kill the natural ability of the birds but only help them quickly construct their nests ahead of the summer season," adds Anil.

Speaking about the future of 'Home for Birds', Anil says he has received a state-wide response from people who want similar bird nests. The next phase is teaching those who want to make nests by traveling to other districts such as Nellore, Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, and Tirupati. "Even an empty tender coconut shell can be used as a safe bird nest. I want to teach people to make nests with the available products and I want to start with school children," says Anil.

When asked about the funds for his project, Anil says he withdrew his daughter's fixed deposit which she was "totally fine with". He adds, "I have no regrets because I am confident that my daughter can stand on her own and the best part was, she asked If she could give me some more money from her savings."

Anil says his ability to work and help people he probably got from his mother who sponsored an old-day home and orphanages, adopted AIDS patients, and distributed books to the poor. She is said to be the only woman in AP who has distributed two lakh books to students of classes I-V in municipal schools for the last 10 years.

Identifying para-athletes

While out on his morning walks, Anil found many talented para-athletes who needed support. "I identified nine para-athletes, including a girl who is blind and a boy who has lost both hands, and enrolled them in a gym. In one year, five members won medals at the national level. I thought I should identify 90 more members. That's my next project –to identify para-athletes who are talented and give them a better world," says Anil.

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