Nora Roger explores Attuvampatti, a small village near Kodaikanal, and is enchanted by this ‘trekker’s paradise’, which the long arm of technology appears not to have touched as yet and where the people seem to be content with their idyllic existence
As we get closer to Kodaikanal, about a hundred kilometers away from Madurai, the air becomes purer. We climb 2,000 meters in a bus, the journey lasting two hours. Lulled by the music, the bus meanders around the hairpin bends, punctuated by pauses as it negotiates the twists and turns. The passengers are rocked from right to left and vice versa. Already, the sight is magnificent. Vegetation engulfs the panorama, a lake in the middle glitters with tints of green, the blue skies reflected in its calm waters. The bus climbs vertically and finally reaches Kodaikanal. This town was established by American Christian missionaries and British bureaucrats in 1845 in the Palani Hills in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. This place is known for its idyllic landscape and that is without taking into account the numerous surrounding villages. The journalism team from Madurai Messenger has set its heart on Attuvampatti, a small village seven kilometers from Kodaikanal.
The village is one of the main suppliers of vegetables and fruits to Madurai as well as Trichy. Most of the inhabitants of this little village are farmers, still following in the footsteps of their ancestors
Place and People
In Attuvampatti, some houses emerge from crop land. Carrots, cauliflowers, potatoes and many other crops dress the landscape. This place is a gold mine when it comes to fruits and vegetables. The village is one of the main suppliers of vegetables and fruits to Madurai as well as Trichy. Most of the inhabitants of this little village are farmers, still following in the footsteps of their ancestors. Up at 6 a.m., everybody is ready to work at the farm at 8 a.m. Silence reigns as everyone gets to work. Before the night falls, what was cultivated and ready for harvest is separated into two categories, according to freshness and size. The entire produce is transported at night so that it will be ready for sale on the street markets/vegetable shops of Madurai and Trichy at dawn.
Climbing up to the top of the hills gives you such a clear bird’s eye view of the whole area so that the villagers can even name the villages on your right and on your left. This hamlet is appreciated for its enchanting landscapes – green everywhere, glorious hills, and the sun. Perfect for a walk or a good hike. Naturally, one of the gripes of its inhabitants is that the few tourists who come up here are more preoccupied with the panoramic vistas than the villagers, whom they tend to simply ignore. No need to describe the surprise and the enthusiasm when our MM journalism team asks them for an interview.
Production and Labour
Ask them about the profit they make on their vegetables and they laugh. Profit? “The brokers (middlemen) get most of the money,” confide the small farmers shyly, a reply that could find echoes from a majority of farmers in Tamilnadu. They can barely make a living from their harvest. Doing something else to earn a livelihood would not cross their minds as they have been doing this for generations – it is almost a family heritage.
They are accustomed to hard work, manually, without any help from machines. The concept of technology is not familiar to these farmers. Before, once the carrots were collected, the women used to clean them for three hours – no exaggeration – and the repetitive gestures, bad posture and the use of cold water were not a good combination. A year ago, the village finally got a machine. Not only is it time-saving, it is also a big improvement forward for their health. “Now it takes only one hour, and our hips and nerves are getting better!” agrees the wife of H.Selvaboopathy (45), both farmers of Attuvampatti. The traditional method was painful for their backs and joints. But the farmers here know little about other machines of this kind. “We know how useful it can be, but you‘ll see this kind of technology in big cities…not here,” he says with a snigger. And it is too expensive, so the villagers cannot afford to buy other similar technology.
Tourism is not perceived as a threat yet and the lands belong to and will stay with these farmers although the construction of the hotels has been detrimental to the environment and ecology of the place and has destabilized the food chain of animals
Over the years, the village hasn‘t changed a lot. Nevertheless, fifteen hotels have come up in this locality. “Twenty years ago, during the day, the village was empty as everybody would be at work. Now there is a little more life”, says H.Selvaboopathy. But it also has a flip side. “More people are coming to live in Kodai; as a result, pollution is also reaching here,” he adds. This worries him but mostly from a long term perspective. The future generations will have to be more careful about pollution. Tourism is not perceived as a threat yet and the lands belong to and will stay with these farmers although the construction of the hotels has been detrimental to the environment and ecology of the place and has destabilized the food chain of animals. Nowadays animals come to these villages to find something to eat. “Some wild animals, such as bison, destroy everything in their path,” says Selvaboopathy. This is a big issue for him and the other farmers as their crops and consequently, their livelihood is at stake. The weather here is perfect for their farming and there are seemingly no other problems as we talk to the farmers.
But as we probe further, another problem which bothers the villagers comes to our notice: education. Most of the villagers are not very educated and therefore, don‘t really understand what makes a good school. Till now, those who could afford a good education generally did not stay in the village after finishing their 12th standard while others joined the farm after their studies. Some went to the government school at Kodaikanal but this placed a high monetary burden on their parents who had to take loans. Things are now changing.
Attuvampatti is the centre of a novel experiment in education, thanks to “My School Satya Surabhi” (MYSS) which was founded in 1999 under the initiative of Ram and Padmini Mani. We speak to the founders who explain to us that, with a holistic approach, this school delivers quality education up to the 8th grade free of charge, to children of daily wage earners, farm labourers and skilled labourers, regardless of caste, religion or gender. “We do not charge a fee,” stresses Padmini Mani. Students come from Attuvampatti, and the surrounding villages of Pallangi, Villpatty and Kovilpatty. They also have yoga, dance and computer lessons. “The mindsets of the parents are changing, when they see their child talking on issues or reading fluently, speaking English, doing yoga, handling the computer,” Padmini points out, the pride in her voice evident. This school can make a huge difference in small villages like Attuvampatti.
In this place, there are many who can leave the village if they get the chance while others have no other choice but to follow the family tradition which has been ingrained in them for many generations. MYSS dreams of being upgraded but Padmini Mani explains that the Department of Education rule requires that they have more land to make it into a high school, which MYSS doesn‘t possess right now. “We want beautiful, self-confident, purpose- oriented children and all this can happen only if we take it up to the 10th grade level. We are seriously trying to do that, but we do not have the financial resources yet,” says Padmini with passion. Education is an issue that can be solved in time and with resourceful people like Ram and Padmini Mani. Given the cost of technological improvements, farmers have to use traditional tools until their finances allow them such luxuries. Right now, it is not a problem requiring immediate attention. Tourism is not a real threat either now but could become one if the influx of people from the plains into Kodaikanal increases exponentially. At present, to the locals, the future of Attuvampatti looks as green as today. Not a cloud on the horizon – just a small, quiet and scenic village in the hills.