When I was young, I believed that Wordsworthian landscapes of natural beauty existed far away. I travelled up the ghats for the first time in the nineties with my husband on our honeymoon. We came from Palani to Kodaikanal, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, in the southernmost part of our country, there exists a miniature Scotland, resplendent with all the natural beauty that Wordsworth so reverently worshipped.
As I travelled further uphill, I thought of Wordsworth’s poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’. The only difference was that, instead of the golden colour of the daffodils, my eyes were delighted by the delicate purple of the famous Kurinji flowers that bloom once every 12 years. Oh, what a sight it was! As we explored Kodaikanal, I fell head over heels in love―more with the town than with the man I married!
The ‘Princess of Hills’ has gentle reminders of its colonial past―serene churches and chapels, and the beautiful lakeside with a perennial nip in the air that is both refreshing and romantic. I lived in Kodaikanal from 1994 to 2019 and named my only daughter Daphna Lavency, a name that paid tribute to Kodai’s natural surroundings (Daphne is a type of female nymph associated with bodies of fresh water, and lavender connects to the Kurinji flowers that always seemed to have a lavender shade―at least to me).
Bewitched by Kodai’s beauty, I initially decided to live here for a short time. The chance of teaching at Zion School made my decision to stay easier. Soon, Zion School became a ‘home away from home’, and the short stay I had planned earlier extended from a few years to two and a half decades!
My life revolved around Zion School. School days at Zion shall always be close to my heart, for every face that pops out of my memory has a cherished story to recall and smile about. School trips and picnics with staff and children were jolly occasions, with loud, cheerful groups singing popular favourites. Here, I need to mention another school with equally rewarding memories―Kodaikanal International School (KIS). A year’s short stint at KIS Middle School as assistant teacher and dorm support staff endowed me with enough expertise in teaching and enough enriching memories to last a lifetime, like my colleague, Mr. Ferguson’s grade 5 classroom, and the Swedish House dorm.
But even on the busiest school days, the strong presence of Mother Nature in this quaint little hill town has always been a part of me―with its quiet and misty hills, lively valleys, serene lakes, small and big waterfalls, the precariously poised pillar rocks, and the city view from where I gazed at the magical dispersion of natural lights in the day and artificial lights in the nights. I enjoyed the pear and plum groves, the roadside plants and wild flowers, the fresh fruits and veggies―especially the nutrient-rich avocados that cost an arm and a leg in the plains! Need I say I miss all these sorely when I am away from Kodai?
I was a recluse for quite a few years. Socializing became a luxury with a differently-abled daughter to care for and increased professional and personal commitments. Our outings were shorter but sweeter. Walks around the lake were long and leisurely, but invigorating, usually ending with ice-cream at Hilltop and a parcel of delectable delicacies from our all-time favourite, Pastry Corner. Other walks finished with a Bombay Toast and a masala chai at the Akka Shop in the Tibetan Lhasa market, close to the Bryant Park entrance. Akka’s beautiful beaming smile engulfs you with positive vibes, and, like Cleopatra, ‘age has not withered her or her smile’. I visited Kodai recently in March 2021 to see her with the same smile, her spirit unbowed by demonetisation or the pandemic.
In Kodaikanal, acquaintances are few but friends are plenty. Locals are so friendly that any outsider is sure to become a part of the ‘Kodai family’ in no time! Warm smiles and courteous enquiries always greeted me whenever I shopped―something I sorely miss in the ‘strictly business’ urban attitude of Salem city, where I now live. Although I no longer live in Kodaikanal, the town has had a deep and enduring influence on my soul. It is an enchanted world, suspended in time, the special land ‘over the rainbow, way up high’, a magical place that I hope stays the same.