Editorial: Letter to the Readers of The Kodai Chronicle—July 2021

Dear Readers,

Our first issue of The Kodai Chronicle is here! We have reached around 8000 of you, from around India and 70 different countries, and hope to find many more of you, through friends, family and the Kodai-curious. 

It has been rainier than usual—and quieter than usual, without tourists or much commercial activity outside of takeaway and home deliveries. But things are starting to open up: an organic group is planning a plant exchange, outside our headquarters, by Coaker’s Walk. Businesses are opening up. People are starting to visit restaurants again, albeit carefully. It is always a fine balance in Kodai.

In this first issue, we continue to showcase what is special about Kodai and its residents—and decided to take on one of its most glaring problems. 

This week, the town cautiously opened up again, sorely needing the business but wary of crowds as we try to ward off the third wave in the face of a lack of vaccines. Locals reported crowds in the town centre, and Bryant Park and other tourist attractions were closed after a day

We are not alone. Other hill stations were overwhelmed when people made their belated way to the mountains. Many visitors reportedly didn’t take precautions. With every visitor who chooses to spend time in the hills comes that long trail of what we consume. Garbage: our most insidious enemy, coming up with the day-tripper and washing away into the forest, or with our Amazon delivery and piling up in our nearest garbage dump. For, we are only the latest visitors to have come here, and the longest to stay on.

‘Waste Matters, Kodai’ is a themed issue (we will attempt to focus on one each time, while not all stories will speak to it specifically). In it, we begin a long-overdue conversation between several mountains in India, with our Environment editor Jacob Cherian’s lead story on lessons in waste management from Coonoor, Ooty, Panchgani, and Mussoorie, with a report from Gangtok by TKC’s Farming editor, Joel Kumar, and two important reports from Kodai.

We visit the sites of several ruptures in the Kodaikanal waste management system, even as the world as we know it continues to come apart, through the pandemic. These breaks can be witnessed in an over-burdened retainer wall; between citizen and system; garbage bag and segregation system; humans and animals; the town and the forest. Together, they represent a collapse that is destroying ecosystems everywhere, including this place, one of 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world. 

As we discovered, the problem is complicated, and efforts are being made on all fronts. This town has had a difficult history with waste management; the usual trajectory is several steps towards progress, some steps backward. But we also  see that some slow, steady progress is being made here, as it has in neighbouring Ooty.

‘We are living in silos,’ legendary conservationist and Sanctuary founder Bittu Sahgal told me, when I spoke to him this week. Our publication is an attempt to move beyond that experience of the world, where experts speak to each other of what they already know; we want to get lay people to speak of terms like ‘peak garbage’ (which I discovered meant the moment when global trash production will hit its highest rate), and for all of us to stop consuming products that create unrecyclable waste. As I planned and improved my own waste management system, having returned to Kodai after an adult life in cities, I learnt so much that was useful. We need to know these things—NOW.

We will soon be releasing a lengthy interview with Mr Sahgal, a friend of The Kodai Chronicle, as part of Issue 1, and as part of a series on Indian conservationists we will be showcasing every issue.

Soon, we will also publish a profile of another hero: a local activist, Minoo Avari, who won a victory in a lengthy battle against noise pollution when the High Court directed the Dindigul collector to ensure that cone speakers were officially removed in Kodai

Both offer us hope and inspiration—and a reminder that if we don’t take up the legacy of the environmentalists before us, no one will.

On that note: continuity. The Kodai Chronicle Trust, a not-for-profit established by Kodai residents, has now been registered: its three trustees—the policy analyst and writer Radha Kumar, writer and environmentalist Lathika George, and businessman AR Srinath—administer our publication, and will be undertaking other activities relevant to its educational, environmental, and cultural objectives. 

This is a community that does its best to pull together, though we don’t always have a means to connect, especially in this era of necessary isolation (The Kodai Chronicle hopes to help remedy this). We want to acknowledge the work of Kripa Soans, who just completed her tenure as Rotary President, and has collected over a crore for outreach work—conducting the highest number of vaccinations in Dindigul district and earning her recognition from Women Power 2021. And, two Kodaikanal students, Suba Geetha and Sajitha, were recognised by the new Dindigul collector, S Visakan, when they were honoured with India Book of Records medals and certificates for disseminating over 225,000 seedballs around Tamil Nadu.

Our pilot issue gave us time to think about what we are doing and how we are doing it—we are taking one step backward and going bi-monthly, so we can take several steps forward. We will continue to provide you with timely content as required between issues, on our website, and gather enough funds to keep going—also, to give you a print edition. 

Let us know how this is working for you, by writing to us or filling out a poll on social media. We have had a lot of questions, suggestions, and advice come our way, following the release of our pilot issue—thank you!

Importantly: Support us to keep The Kodai Chronicle going. Please do sign up for our free newsletter, or pay-as-you-wish for a subscription that will deliver each issue into your inbox. These funds help keep us independent, so we can pay for our staff, contributors and resources through subscriptions and a few ads.

Keep reading, keep writing in!

Thank you,

Rajni George
Editor-in-chief, The Kodai Chronicle

Rajni George

Rajni George is an editor and writer at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre. She has worked at Penguin Random House, Granta and The Caravan. Her work has been published in The New Internationalist, The New York Times, and Mint Lounge.

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