Pity Paati writing

Down and Out with Ms. Perumalmalai

Bold and wise, Ms. Perumalmalai is a millennial agony aunt: a journalist giving advice on personal problems. In this regular feature in The Kodai Chronicle, she takes on your issues with family, neighbours and more.


Q1. Hi Paati! My friend went hiking in the sholas and ended up with a number of leech bites. As a result, he is scared to go hiking again. What do you recommend?

Hi, Pass The Salt, Please, 

Your friend is absolutely right: leeches can suck (literally and figuratively).

Having watched the film Stand by Me many, many years ago as a little girl in pigtails, I had already developed a deep and abiding fear of them long before I encountered my first leech when hiking around Kodai.  

I remember it vividly. I was walking with a group through a cold and damp pine forest minding my own business when suddenly I felt something small and slimy crawling around my ankle. Panicking, I plunged my hand into my sock and found blood everywhere which only made everything ten times terrifying. After a lot of screaming and swearing and weeping my savior, aka Peter John the trekking guide, sat me down and calmly pulled a long black leech – its body swollen fat with my blood – off my leg and threw it away. 

I’m sharing this story because I know first-hand how difficult it is to overcome leech-related trauma — but I’m proof that it can be done. You shouldn’t let them suck the fun (#punintended) out of exploring the more beautiful parts of Kodai.

First,  just like a visit to the dentist’s office, the horror of leeches is entirely psychological. Sure, they may have a bit of an unsavoury diet, but so do mosquitos and they don’t have nearly as bad a reputation. And leech bites themselves are painless – they’re a bit itchy, that’s all. 

Another thing that can help your friend feel more comfortable about hiking again: leech socks. Leeches seem to have an almost supernatural ability to penetrate socks so leech socks, made from tightly woven fabric, can help to deter the little Draculas. Another option is for your friend to spray normal socks with a repellant. 

Despite these precautions, enterprising leeches might still find a way to break through and bite the hapless hiker. In which case, in the words of the Beatles, just let it be.  After filling up like a car at a petrol station, it’ll quietly drop off (it’s like an eco-blood transfusion in a way). Else, your friend can sprinkle some salt on the leech to make it fall off.  Again, this entire process will be painless. 

Tell your friend to suck it up, and put his hiking shoes back on. 


Q2. There is a tea shop adjacent to our shop that sells cigarettes, which results in at least 30-50 people (both tourists and locals) smoking standing close to our shop every day – in spite of us hanging ‘No Smoking’ signboards. I am getting allergic to the smoke and I’ve also got mild wheezing due to this. We have requested the shop owners to ask their customers to go far away and smoke but so far we are helpless. What can we do?

Hi, Help Me Be Secondhand Smoke Free

This is a tough one. I would still recommend trying one last round of calm discussion with the tea shop owners and pointing out the severity of your reaction.

I’m hopeful that they’ll be understanding and take more action, but if not, it sounds like you might have to resort to more unorthodox methods.

Here are a couple of ideas. 1) Put up plastic sheet partitions between your shop and the adjacent one. This will help contain any overflow of visitors into your shop space. 

2) Buy a huge pedestal fan and aim it towards the smokers, thereby blowing the smoke away from you. 

3) Get a tape, CD, or a recording about the evils of smoking and play it on a loudspeaker whenever a crowd of smokers starts forming.

 4) Put up ‘I am allergic to cigarette smoke’’ posters in English and Tamil, so the smokers themselves are aware of the situation

If none of these ideas help, you may just have to reach out to the community leaders or the police as a last resort for assistance. Keep in mind that your tea shop neighbours are also just trying to eke out a livelihood, and try to work with the external agencies to come to some sort of compromise. 

Good luck!


Q3. Ms. PP, I’m so tired of tourists flooding this town. What to do?

Hi Tell Me Something New,

The only nice thing about the lockdown was seeing Kodai completely crowd-free. I’d never seen the roads so empty before or our street cows happier.  But having said that, I was also acutely aware that for many locals, it was a time of anxiety and stress; no tourists in town meant no income. 

So while I’m equally frustrated with traffic jams in Kodai (try the road up to Coaker’s Walk on a Saturday!), the constant noise of horns, and huge crowds outside Pastry Corner, I hold myself back from saying something extremely rude and remind myself that we need the business.

Might I suggest taking a holiday break from the holidayers in Kodai? Enjoy a weekend away by the sea, in the big city – whatever takes your fancy.  DO NOT go out on the weekends. This should help to ease the stress.

And then when you’re back, I encourage you to approach our community leaders and elected officials about tackling our tourist overflow. I, for one, think it might be advantageous to look into limiting the number of tourist buses and vehicles that can enter Kodai every day. Regardless, you can count on me to sign any petition or show up in-person to help support you or your one-person protest!

Ms Perumalmalai

Ms Perumalmalai grew up in Kodai, worked in different cities in India, and has travelled around the world. She recently returned to Kodai and lives in Perumalmalai with her cat and rooms full of books.

Previous Story

That Pretty Black-eyed Susy

Next Story

How I Became a Saunterer