Down and Out with Ms Perumalmalai

Bold and wise, Ms Perumalmalai is a millennial agony aunt: a journalist giving advice on personal problems. She is stuck to her computer through this pandemic (like all of us)―but she has adapted quickly and is full of guidance for the restless and stir-crazy. In this regular feature in The Kodai Chronicle, she takes on your issues with family, neighbours and more.

Q1. We have just moved to Palani from Mumbai and would be grateful to meet someone who has been living in Kodai for years, and introduce us to its true essence when we are in Kodai next. This is going to be our home and we would like to better understand its heritage and be a part of the community. (This question came to us off social media.)

PP: Hello, Kodai Newbie. 

Welcome to our little town! The locals are a wonderful bunch (I may be a tiny bit biased in saying so). You’re sure to find someone easily enough to take you around and show you the ropes. 

I first recommend joining some community-based WhatsApp groups, such as ‘Kodi Share’. Simply reach out and all your questions will be answered by other residents, be it about the price of avocados or the latest on e-passes for hill stations. In the process, you’re sure to meet and get to know a few locals, and in no time you’ll be inundated with invitations to someone’s house for lunch or a meetup in town. (However, be warned—leaving these groups is another matter entirely!)

You can also check out Kodai-based social media pages and groups. On Facebook, you could join KSPCA (for animal lovers), Kodai One (posts from Kodai), Humans of Kodaikanal (highlighting different people who live here) or Kodai Photographers (for people interested in photography). On Instagram, follow @Kodai Stories, @Kodaikanal_City and others run by local businesses or Kodai-based creators. 

You could also stop by local joints such as Pastry Corner, Cloud Street or any of the small eateries around Seven Roads to meet people and hear all the latest gossip. Or, depending on the nature of your interest, join INTACH, the Palani Hills Conservation Council, KMU Library or the knitting club. 

And of course, don’t forget to keep reading The Kodai Chronicle for news about the town, insight into all things local and wonderful advice from residents (#shamelessplug), which will help you learn more about our traditions.

See you soon, on Seven Roads. 🙂

Q2. My neighbour has been throwing garbage into my compound—that too unsorted! I thought of getting up early in the morning and throwing it back into his compound (a solution recommended by my other neighbour). But this will turn out very messy, so I don’t know what to do. Please help. PS: The same neighbour is also stealing roses from the rosebush near the wall. I actually considered putting up an electric fence.

PP: Dear My Neighbour Is Garbage,

Congratulations on your restraint thus far! Jesus may have told his followers to love their neighbours, but he didn’t have to live next to yours.

Kodai folks are famously intolerant of litterers and loiterers. Having said that, don’t take the law into your own hands. You may be extremely tempted to throw trash back into his compound or steal his plants in return, yell and argue, or make loud and pointed remarks in his direction, but this will only escalate the conflict. I would suggest first approaching him in a calm manner and discussing reasonable options, such as using his own trash can (ie avoid being defensive or insulting in any way). Yes, this is easier said than done, but it can be more effective than you realise. 

‘Killing with kindness’ can be most satisfying; you can mention that you’ve noticed his fondness for flowers and offer to give him a rose cutting. With luck, you might shame him into never stealing your blooms again. 

Now, if these steps don’t deter your neighbour’s behaviour, you could ask your landlord for help, if you’re renting the property. Otherwise, try putting up CCTV cameras in lieu of a fence. Although the poet Robert Frost was definitely on to something when he said, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’, you wouldn’t want to ruin your view or garden with an ugly electric fence! 

If all else fails: 1) Invest in a loud whistle/loudspeaker. 2) Find out when the neighbour throws out his trash. 3) When you see him throwing garbage over the wall, give him a scare by blowing your whistle loudly.

Q3. I’ve been stuck at home with my family. For the most part, it’s great. But we have completely different political views, and that’s causing a lot of arguments. What should I do?

PP: Hi there, Family Politics.

Navigating this sort of situation can be incredibly frustrating, especially while remaining under one roof. I mean, how are you supposed to stay calm and civil when some of your family have voted for ‘that guy’ or support the policies of ‘that party’? And it’s not like this is a huge city; there aren’t many places you can escape to, apart from the great outdoors, of course.

But here’s the thing, most people care about the same things in life—family, healthcare, education, employment, safe neighbourhoods etc. We only differ in how to accomplish these goals. So next time, don’t approach a political conversation at home like it’s a Facebook post. Try your hardest to better understand why your relative holds a given belief, and how it has been shaped. Let curiosity drive the conversation instead of a need to ‘win’. A non-judgemental approach can encourage family members to hear you out in turn. This is how you can move a conversation forward.

However, if discussions and disagreements become particularly volatile, find a way to move on to another topic or call for a pause to de-escalate things. You can always go back to being angry next week.

Keep in mind that people are never entirely one thing or another. Your family may have completely different political views, but they’re also the ones who laugh at your terrible jokes and make you breakfast in the morning. Yes, you’re stuck at home, but you’re stuck at home with loved ones. 

Importantly, remember to talk to the people who DO share your views, even if they are a Zoom screen or a WhatsApp message away.

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.

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