Sitara & Grandma

The Kiddo-Kanal Talk Show: In My Time

Sixth grader Sitara Priyanth lives in Kodaikanal, where she has grown up listening to her grandmother’s stories of her own childhood in the hill station of Kodai. Here, Sitara shares a little chat she had with her gamma Rani Rajkumar, who now lives in Bengaluru.

Sitara: Gamma, are you excited about this interview and the questions I’ll be asking about your time in Kodai? 

Gamma: I feel so much nostalgia and an overwhelming amount of joy to even think of this place we love so much. I’m thrilled that you are growing up here as well. Memories of the mountains and life with my family here are etched in my heart.

Sitara: Tell me a little bit about your family in Kodai.

Gamma: We lived on my father’s ancestral property, just below Coaker’s Walk. I remember how we would gather together for prayers at night and then relish the beef soup and dumplings that my father always prepared for supper. 

My father was a great hunter. He would take my two brothers hunting and would bring back rabbits, porcupine, deer and wild boar, all cleaned. They would wake me up in the middle of the night to light the fire and cook the meat. I detested that! As Christians, prayer was an important part of our home. Going to the CSI Christ the King Church was a must for us. But even if we missed a Sunday, our dog, Peanut, would never miss mass. He would dart out of the house as the first round of church bells rang and would go and settle into his spot under the church benches where we usually sat. 

Sitara: What about school?

Gamma: My mother taught at Presentation Convent, where my four siblings and I studied. Even though school was quite a distance away, we walked all the way there and back, come rain or shine. We had to be early to school so as not to rouse the ire of the nuns. I learnt so much at school. It was there that I found my love for music, drama and art. 

Sitara: Were you mischievous in school?

Gamma: No, I was not naughty at all. The only times I would come close to mischief were when I would sneak into the music room when all the boarders went for lunch, so that I could play the piano to my heart’s content. Surprisingly, I was never caught.

Sitara: Tell me something about your school friends. Was anybody particularly notorious? Do you remember them today? 

Gamma: I was the only day scholar in class. There was not much time to make ‘best friend’ types of friendships. We were taught to be good friends. I am in touch with some of them. But I don’t remember anyone being notorious.

View of Berijam Lake
View of Berijam Lake

Sitara: What did you do during your holidays or free time?

Gamma: We siblings loved hiking! Almost every Saturday we would take off to Berijam Lake, Perumal Peak, Kumbakarai Falls or Dolphin’s Nose, to name a few. 

Once, sometime in the 1960s, my father took us to the Guna Caves in Pillar Rocks—we were attacked by so many bats. It was such a thrilling adventure!

A walk round the lake always meant spotting a boat being tied up. I would sometimes sneak into a boat and go round the lake. That’s how I learnt rowing.

Occasionally my brother and I would sit on the banks of the lake and he would teach me how to fish. Kodai those days was so calm and serene!

Bear Shola and Pambar were our favourite waterfalls. We would take ingredients and vessels, light a fire and cook a meal there. The clean water we drank was always from the falls. On our way back we would collect firewood, bark from the tall eucalyptus trees and mushrooms from the pine forest for our next meal.

Bendy Field was another favourite spot, where we would sit and watch the Kodaikanal International School kids play. This spot was famous for its peanut brittle!

Bendy Field (Photo courtesy KIS archives)
Bendy Field (Photo courtesy KIS archives)

Sitara: How did you manage without phones, internet or TV?

Gamma: We only had a radio and a transistor. I remember sitting up through the night listening to the radio when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

In those days, our mode of communication were postcards, inland letters and telegrams sent through the local post office. And if we wanted to speak to somebody in another city, or country, we had to book a trunk call.

Sitara: Did you go shopping in Kodai like you do now in Bengaluru?

Gamma: Shopping for us was at the Co-operative Stores. I remember queuing up with my brother to buy ration rice, kerosene, sugar and palm oil. My father insisted that on our way back we visit the vegetable market to buy rhubarb, pygmy cabbage and Brussels sprouts for his jams and soups.

We would not go back home without buying apple cakes and coconut biscuits from Jacob Son’s Bakery. Heavenly!

Kodai bazaaar (Photo courtesy KIS archives)
Kodai bazaaar (Photo courtesy KIS archives)

Sitara: Did you help with housework?

Gamma: We usually split the work between us six siblings. No maids! Every Saturday our clothes line would be full. I enjoyed washing clothes with my mother. Sweeping the house was my job, and that was quite a task with Peanut’s hair all over the place.

Sitara: How did you dispose of waste then?

Gamma: We had a big piece of land just behind our house. We had a huge pit dug there, and garbage was usually dumped inside. Back then, garbage was mostly biodegradable stuff. I don’t remember handling plastic of any kind. All our shopping was carried in ‘mother-stitched’ cloth bags. The only thing that saddens me is to think of the man who came to every house with a bucket to clear fecal waste. 

Sitara: How do you feel when you visit Kodai these days? 

Gamma: Kodai is not the same as before. It has changed a lot in many ways.

I am happy that you now live in Poombarai. When I was a child, I travelled to this dainty village with my grandmother who was a doctor. She would distribute medicine and clothes in a van.


My parents, who gave so much of themselves to us, now lie in peace under a beautiful pine tree.

Kodaikanal stands in sublime majesty and beckons me to visit again and again and again.

You, my grandchild Sitara, must work towards bringing back Kodai’s past glory.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect on those glorious days in the mountains!

Sitara: Thank you, Gamma.

Rani Rajkumar is a retired educationist, and a medical and psychiatric social worker. A teacher for 17 years, she was the principal of three schools. She lives in Bengaluru.

Sitara Priyanth

Sitara Priyanth is in Grade Six and loves photography, art and music. She lives in Poombarai.

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