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  • Writer's picturePriyadarshini Panchapakesan

Guest Author @ Kodaikanal International School

Every year, during the month of October, the librarian of Kodaikanal International School (KIS), Ms Maushumi Biswas, invites a guest author to speak to the students about their journey as a writer. This time, as an alumni of KIS and an environmental fiction author, I was chosen as the guest author for October, 2023.

Prior to my Kodai visit, in all other story telling sessions/discussions, I had to first provide the students with context, explain my childhood in Kodaikanal, and then describe the environmental changes that I had witnessed while growing up. However, at KIS it was smooth sailing, as the students had already seen wild gaurs and understood the problems that were effecting Kodaikanal such as deforestation and pollution.

My time spent at the Elementary School in Ganga Compound was an absolute delight. I had the pleasure of interacting with students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 8. These young minds were particularly captivated by my vivid descriptions of Ganga Compound as portrayed in my book, "The Guardians of the Forest." They eagerly speculated on the specific locations within the school that I was referencing.

“I picked up the binoculars and looked down at the vast expanse of rolling hills, dotted here and there with stone buildings. Towards the right, below the main building that I sat in, was the playground with the miniature castle. On the left, was another playground with swings and a merry- go- round.

The two playgrounds were separated by a stone staircase, about thirty feet long, which descended from the main building into the medium-sized football ground. On either side of the stone steps, directly below the two play areas, were the grassy slopes which slid into the ground. At the moment, there were children scattered everywhere, running, playing, picnicking, or gossiping.”

During my stay at Ganga Compound, the students not only interacted with me when I visited their classes, but also made it a point to talk to me during the break and after school. They received me with a lot of warmth and made it to show their love and gratitude whenever they bumped into me.

Additionally, I had the privilege of conducting a brief session with the Grade 9 and 10 students on the main campus. Many of the older students posed thought-provoking questions, and after my presentation, two students (Saw and Andy) even expressed their desire to interview me regarding my experiences with wild gaurs in Kodaikanal.

Being a part of the Kodai community filled me with a sense of belongingness that I had not felt in a long while. I felt completely at home when I visited “Tibbs” and Mr. Farooq’s Kashmiri shop with Ms. Maushumi . Pastry Corner, as always, did not fail to delight me to their comforting filter coffee and cream cakes.

When I was on the way to Kodaikanal, I couldn't help but have tears in my eyes, questioning why I had to leave behind a home and an idyllic life that felt more perfect than ever. Yet, as I descended down the ghat road, my heart brimming with happiness, I realized that my roots had always been firmly anchored in Kodaikanal.

To quote a beloved sentiment as a Kodai girl, "I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home."


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