When I first returned to my hometown in the mountains more than two years ago, I often found myself choosing between two states. One was recluse mode, focusing on the inner life. The other was community mode, seeking meaning in public life. Let’s call these types the hermit and the bulbul.
Of course, the unique geography and physical constraints of life in the mountains mean that one is naturally inclined to connect as a community, in different ways from in the plains. You need to know what resources are available—from ride shares to foster-parenting for stray pups—and find ways to work together, like when there’s a power cut due to a storm.
I remember visiting Kodai five years ago, when Cyclone Gaja hit. After huddling together while the storm raged outside, power lines already down, we emerged to the sight of a landscape strewn with fallen trees. The electricity was out for days, and soon we heard of deadly landslides (four people had died). As always, each household connected to compare intel and charge phones and devices; we gathered in town in search of a hot bath.
Living in the hills has its silver linings. A smaller population can mean greater access to administration, which means community initiatives to improve on civic concerns such as waste management may be more likely to yield results. But it’s not easy getting things done in the mountains. Resources are stretched. A service you take for granted in the plains is difficult to find in the hills. Funds may be scarcer, avenues more limited in some ways. Plus, small towns notoriously have long memories; everyone you try to work with knows you and your great-aunt. Upside: there’s never a dull moment.
Importantly, mountain ecosystems have a lot of all of this in common, and we can learn from each other. Which is why we have dedicated this issue to projects from mountain ecosystems.
There’s a portrait of Himalayan Ark, an alternative ecotourism model in Uttarakhand. A pioneering project in the Nilgiris that brings sanitation workers together as entrepreneurs. A farm produce business in the Tons Valley which aims to improve business for all stakeholders. An oral history project in Sikkim combines with a physical reading room. And, closer to home, a contemporary profile of Kodai’s Palni Hills Conservation Council charts its history at a moment of transition.
In fact, Kodaikanal has had quite a few of these initiatives: the Coordinating Council for
Social Concerns in Kodai (CORSOCK) and Vattakkanal Organization for Youth, Community
and Environment (VOYCE), for example, as well as old and new projects in search of new
The Kodai Chronicle, too, is a community-spirited project, intended to celebrate and protect the people, flora and fauna of the Palani Hills. It is our way of giving back to the mountains, but of late, we have been wrestling with some questions.
As we approach the end of one year of print subscriptions, we are looking for our own answers. How do we make The Kodai Chronicle sustainable in an age where independent media is under siege? How do we balance storytelling with action, business sense with environmental awareness, volunteer efforts with fair pay, expertise with enthusiasm, continuity with mindfulness?
In some senses, this is much like my hermit-bulbul conundrum. It’s increasingly clear that it is not only possible but also essential to be both.