Kodagu: Is her exceptional beauty & fertility becoming the cause her grave?

Earth quakes

The geography of Western Ghats is altered for good with the recent natural disaster/landslides that flattened hills and attracted worldwide attention. As man stood helpless, disaster struck between 12th and 19th August 2018 when unprecedented amounts of rainfall caused irreparable damage to the land mass and misery to the people of Kodagu, scarring them for life. More than the loss of property, it was the pain of the people who lost their near and dear ones, in some cases people disappeared without a trace. Is Mother Nature angry or man himself is the cause of the catastrophe?

Only July 22, it was reported that cracks had developed for a distance of two kilometer at Monnangeri in Galibeedu grama panchayati of Madikeri at 5,000 feet above sea level. It is said that a negligible crack had arisen at the spot some days back and it suddenly widened on Sunday 19th, creating wide spread panic among the villagers. Tahsildar of the taluk, rural police station house officer, geologists and other officials visited the spot to assess the development, who later said that the problem would subside one the rainfall recedes! The credit for the crack was given to the excessive percolation of water into the earth triggered by copious rainfall and that there is no chance of the earth suffering depression in the area. Perhaps the confident group of officials should have stayed with the villagers to record the developments.

The apprehensive villagers near the crack were accommodated in a school as a precautionary measure. It is noteworthy that in the yore Kodagu was known as the Chirapunji of South, my parents would say that they never saw sun light for days together. In early 60s, my grandfather’s coffee plantation was completely ruined due to heavy rains at Karthakad (Black forest). However, no such cracks were reported then in, at least not in living memory.

Why North Kodagu damage is higher than the South Kodagu.. Why are the hills collapsing? Were the signs too small to be noticed by the authorities? Or human understanding is too little? Is democracy only about who wins & retains power? There is one too many questions without answers… some say it is due to the earth quake in the neighbouring Kerala, if that is the case then why there were no such vast destruction of land or hills?

Kodagu, my beloved home land, where I spent all my childhood, pretending that I was a bird in heaven flying in the misty magical places, searching for wild fruits & berries, every bit of it so beautiful, so plentiful & always naturally air-conditioned. Nostalgic memories of which always brings a smile & warmth to my heart, today part of it lies in ruins shadowed by uncertainties. The incessant rains brought by the so called Somali-Jet-Streams randomly recurves (changing its course) resulting in unperceivable destruction of this beautiful piece of land which was known as the heaven on earth, Kashmir of South, Scotland of India. Though geographically limited in area, with captivating rugged mountainous landscape with lush vegetation, picturesque deep valleys and, shining waterfalls earning the nick name heaven on earth. For me it is just my beloved Kodagu, home of my mother Kaveri, my heart & mind refuses to believe or accept the damages.

Kodagu, birth place of River Kaveri is home to unique warrior race Kodavas with distinct way of life who consider themselves as the children of River Kaveri and treat her as Mother Superior. They even kept aside land known as sacred Devara Kadu in the name of God, which belong to the village and maintained natural flora and fauna.

Year after year, as an amazing display of Mother Nature’s magic, the life giving South-West monsoon travels 3,000 kilometers from its birth, off the Madagascar coast to Somalia from where it gets deflected to India to its retreat to Tibet in September & its final dissipation in Madagascar again. The wind that makes the journey aided by other elements of the nature, transcending continents, cultures & different climate is known as the Somali-Jet-Streams. Sadly the jet-stream gathered it momentum from the warm sea and decided to empty the load on Kodagu and Kerala. Raising global temperature, melting of ices has changed the weather patterns around the world due to man’s action-inaction-over action.

Rain is nothing new to Kodagu & though intensity had diminished in recent years due to various factors,. Even when I was growing up, rains were heavy & season was longer & we even got more than 3-weeks rainy season holidays. Though there used to be floods & landslides, there never was case of hills being damaged or vanishing from the map. Unprecedented sight of landslides, land splitting apart, mushrooming waterfalls, cracking & collapsing roads, I never dreamt that one day I will be witnessing such vast destruction. So why is it happening?

Was the prolonged rainy season intensified by Somali-Jet, the only cause of this destruction some of which are as bad as ground-zero? Would Mother Nature hurt her children without reason? Was there any warning? How much man has contributed? Sadly Man has been provoking & abusing the Mother Nature in the name of progress, tourism & votes…. Though like every good mother, Mother Nature is tolerant & tried to warn, water God Varuna, said to be responsible for natural & moral orders of the cosmos seems to have determined to tighten the noose of chastisement, on man. Or is the global warming sole responsible around the world?

Living in Kuwait I have experienced tremors five times in my life. It was actually the effects from the high density earth quake in nearby Iran. Interestingly my husband never felt it in his life –no I am not a torturous wife. At one time I was in the office and after I felt the shaking, I went around asking most of my colleagues in the 2nd floor from 3 different departments. To my surprise only handful had felt it. Another time it was in the afternoon and I was skyping with my daughter. I was sitting with my left foot on the floor and the other one on the left thigh. Suddenly the right leg was pushed down with force and I was shocked, wondering what was happening…it is then that I saw the house plants shaking violently. My husband was not home. I called my friend Dr. Asha who was at home, she came near and I asked her did you feel the earth quake? She laughed and said are you dreaming? I showed the shaking plants behind as she stood dumb stuck… the plants were still shaking much after the incident. I have no idea whether it was because the pots were near the balcony or if the plants are very sensitive or perhaps because the earth is the base for its very being. In any case plants and animals experience more than we do. Though the news of the tremor appeared in the newspaper, most of my friends and colleagues never felt it.

Monday 9th July 2018, I was in my friend’s garden at Guddehosur (Kushalnagar) searching for mushrooms, when I heard a loud noise at 12:45 pm but did not really feel the tremor. My friend confirmed it & also said there was tremor. Suntikoppa, Somwarpet, Shanthalli, parts of Madikeri of Kodagu, Hassan, Chickmagaluru &, Sulya Taluk of Dakshnia Kannada felt & the rattling furniture & utensils caused panic among the residents forcing them out of their homes. It was also felt in Kerala. Later in the social media someone said it was 4.5 & someone else said 3.4.

Sunday 19th August 2018, unconfirmed reports reported two tremors felt between 7:45 & 7:51 am, at Napoklu, Ballamavati, Cheriyaparumbu, Pulikotu & other surrounding areas. Scared resident ran out of their homes. The other reports below were collected from the local news paper reporting as well as hear say. As there is no official confirmation, it’s difficult to stress on it. Many unofficial reporting of tremors and noise within that week were floating around.

Tuesday September 12, 2017, Star of Mysore reports: The residents of Napoklu and surrounding were in for an early morning shock as they felt two mild tremors between 7.45 am & 7.51 am. Tremors were felt at Napoklu, Ballamavati, Cheriyaparumbu, Pulikotu & other surrounding areas. Soon as the tremors were felt, the residents, fearing for their lives, came out of their houses. It may be recalled that mild tremors measuring 3.9 magnitudes on Richter scale were felt in some parts of Sullia and Puttur taluks in DK and also in parts of Kodagu on June 4 early this year.

Sunday October 14, 2015 a 3.9 magnitude earthquake shook Sullia at 2:21 pm causing panic & the tremors were felt in neighbouring Chikmagalur (Mudigere, Aldur, & Avathi), Hassan (Sakleshpur & Belur taluks) & Kodagu (Madikeri) districts. However there was no report of injuries or damage.

Wednesday April 27th 2011, Mild tremors measuring 1.6 to 1.9 on the Richter scale, shook homes for about ten seconds in Madikeri city at 10.53 a.m., triggering panic among citizens as they rushed out of their houses, some claiming falling of utensils, window panes shaking violently, feeling the vibration along the walls, loud explosive noise akin to a boulder rolling down or a booming sound passed under the earth, etc. The editor of local Kannada daily Shakthi said that following the tremor, newspaper bundles rolled out of the vehicle parked outside the newspaper office. However, the intensity was mild & no damage of life or property.. Social media claim of Houses developing cracks were authentic or not is not clear.

June 2005, there was a mild earthquake in the Somwarpet region in which several houses were damaged.

These were previous cases of tremor & sounds from earth which were was not given much importance. In all the cases not everyone felt the tremors or heard the noise. Perhaps the frequency was different or the usual din & roar of the mundane life never made them feel. The news of earth quake during the 15 days period of rain havoc was considered as rumours.

Interestingly State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre never recorded any such activities in the above mentioned quakes, perhaps because the intensity was less than two, what is known as micro-tremor. Micro-tremor is said to be a low amplitude ambient vibration of the ground caused by man-made or atmospheric disturbances. It is also said that such tremors are common in Kodagu & Chikmagalur. Though tremors were mild, coupled with sound it was strong enough to create panic among the residents. Why the series of occurrences & complaints were neglected? Did the district authorities note the complaints? Were the signs ignored? Or over confident government combined with step-motherly treatment to the district did not pause & think about the consequences? It will remain a million dollar question.

In an earth quake, the location of the epicenter (the point on the earth’s surface vertically above the focus of an earthquake) will have more influence and effect than the magnitude itself. Shallower the epicent higher the damage. I guess since the records will never be made public, no one will ever know.

Sadly already State and central governments having differences, parties within the state having differences, like the say goes when husband and wife fights, the child suffers. At the cost of disaster at Kodagu, every Tom, Dick & Harry raising funds & materials in the name of disaster, & in the bargain even diverting it elsewhere including their own pockets, shadowing the genuine work done by Good Samaritan. Interesting I saw someone kept a box to collect fund for Kodagu on the mori at Kukkarahalli lake for 2 days!

Sensible scientist Madhav Gadgil Committee report or the little milder space scientist Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats did not see the day light as the Karnataka & Kerala state governments had their own vested interests. And the proposed railway project is hanging in the midair like Trishanku. Man has short term memory & I wonder if the ISRO report will make any difference?

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Changing face of South Karnataka… are we headed for a severe drought?

I hope i’m wrong about the title’s question, but the signs are everywhere. Kodguku poopo (going to Coorg) always brings me a feel-good feeling. It’s like melting chocolate to the mind.  As soon as we enter the Anechowkoor border gate, my husband will say do you feel the change? Then I would add I was about to ask you!! The sight, the smell & the sounds stirring suddenly awakens something coiled up somewhere perhaps in a Pandora’s box. Nostalgic memories are unique to each individual, once a Lebanese colleague of mine told me, you will not believe me if I say I love the smell of burning garbage… it’s the smell of childhood freedom from before the Civil War. Now if I see anywhere the burning garbage, her face pops in front of me reminding the word freedom!

Even though I keep visiting India, I have been away from home for too long & so much has happened in between & unfortunately the total scenario is different today. What Kodagu once was seems like from a different dimension altogether. Kodagu, once the green paradise is painting a different scenario today. I had to make trips to Mangalore, Kodagu & Chennai within a short span lately & the change in topography made me wonder if there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

While driving from Mysuru to Kodagu almost all the keres (lakes) have dried up. Belikere, once filled with original pink lotus dried up more than a decade ago but many others have joined the wagon in recent years. The big kere near Periapatna which always stood the test of time has lost its battle. So does many small ones. Some of them practically bone dry without a trace of its past. So what is going to be the future? There is practically no flow in the pole (rivers) & todu (creeks), the wells are showing the signs of drying unless they are close to the rivers. The Lakshmana Tirtha River flowing through Hunsur looks like a river from Mars with big boulders popping out & the almost stagnant water exploding with unlimited green weeds. I have no idea if it is good as it prevents the evaporation or if it is bad which might contaminates the drinking water. On the other hand the South Canara seemed greener & the lakes still wet, if not in a larger scale.

The scenario from Bangalore to Chennai is worlds apart & paints a different story. Most of the water clogged paddy fields are green & smiling with freshly transplanted paddy. More over almost all the Lakes are alive & pleasure to tired eyes. Some of the lakes might be fed from the Kaveri River but I am sure all of it is not. Even though Chennai is warmer than Kodagu, the evaporation seems to be less… that means it’s not Mr. Sun to be blamed but the depleting ground water level. So why is it losing the ground water so rapidly?

On the 11th of February 2017, we traveled from Madikeri to Mythadi around 11:30 pm after attending a wedding. The visibility on the way was almost near zero making it very, very difficult to drive. However I was happy to see the fog (or mist?) but when realized that the fog was sans moisture I could not believe my eyes. It was the first time I saw something like that as fog & mist known to me always left droplets on the plants & grass which gleamed like diamond in the rising sun, windows & wind screen. The weather pattern is surely changing.

River Kaveri originating from Kodagu joined by several tributaries becomes the life line of Karnataka & the Tamil Nadu. If the source is dried up or supply is curtailed then both drinking water as well as the crops will be disastrous. So I had to make a trip to KRS to check for myself the status of water level. In front of the nearby petrol station, the Nale (canal) seems to be barren & someone (a trader) was using the bridge to dry their consignment of blankets or carpets while hung as a colourful display as the herd of goats walked past with their herder. There were few transplanted wet lands dotting here and there. The dam level has retreated drastically & a gang of young men in trunks who had gone to take a dip were seen as little dots. On the way to new Kannambadi, a little drama was amalgamated on a pool of water with water tankers (supplying drinking water) moved on the rugged surface shaking its butt, men & women washed their cloths, someone was having bath, while someone else washed the buffalo, yet another washed the vehicles, as what seemed like few army personnel looked on. God protect the ones who drink that tanker water!! Meanwhile as usual my husband & I argued over taking a picture!

On the rugged tar road, 3 men were drying the hurali kalu (pulse) in the old fashioned way depending on the occasional vehicles going to the new Gopala swamy temple. We had a chat with them & as well as a group of men & women from the nearby village who came to spend time at the new temple (idols are not consecrated yet). They were telling there is no water in the bore well & new ones even upto 500 feet no water!

Even though certain level can be seen in the reservoir how much of the water can really be used? How much of it is silt deposit? No one can tell precisely.. sadly I don’t see any where anyone is controlling the consumption of water… seems like business as usual & everyone virtually behaves like there is no tomorrow.

Interestingly the Kukkahalli keri within the premises of Mysore University Campus, home to many migratory aquatic birds, which used to be full for as long as I can remember is been shrinking drastically. Inspite of that there are plans to turn it into money making machine by introducing boating, kayaking, etc. Bangalore is gone to dogs with the greed of blind politicians & builders, & ever increasing human waste & plastic. Sadly Mysore seems to be the next victim…

While I was growing up, my dear Kodagu had a good environmental balance. This balance was achieved by practicing harmony with the nature & flora & fauna in the form of a good relationship between human settlements, forests & water resources. The traditional cultivation of cardamom & coffee had kept the trees standing tall. The floor of the cardamom plantation never even saw sun light in the mid afternoon… kept the moisture safe {of course along with umbulu (leech)}. Deva-kadu (sacred groves) along with the reserved forest by the government made the district green & kept the fresh air intact. Punda pada (Bamboo bush) along the River & Creek banks kept the water from heavy evaporation & the banks being eroded. The expanse of paddy cultivation helped the ground to absorb the water leisurely along with the grass from the plains acting like sponge to retain the rain water. Cattle grazing maintained the bane (plains) like mowed landscape along with producing milk & organic fertilizer.

Birds sang & bees buzzed… The beautiful sound of everything happened around at dawn & dusk were a synchronized/rhythmic act of people & the nature in harmony. Evening watching the flock of birds flying home was a feast to eyes & their murmuration echoing around still echoes in my ears. The sunset had its own rhythm with the walking home of the herds of the cattle, mothers sometimes calling for their calves & the gante-mani (bell in the neck) ringing along their movements & the cicadas announcing their presence with tymbals. Early morning along with the fresh cool breeze came in the dawn chorus of birds creating an unusual melodious symphony with so many different specifies, as if they competed with each other in announcing to the universe I am the happiest & I am the happiest… the drops of water collected on the leaf of grass from the night long mist gleamed on the early morning sun like diamond with myriad of colours…

However sadly the entire scenario has almost vanished or vanishing into thin air like the moistureless mist I experienced on 11th February 2017 night. Now the excessive use of artificial fertilizers & pesticides seems to have not only sucked the insects & birds but also the land out of its natural immunity along with increased usage of land with ever increasing population. Cattles are a thing of the past & even the crows do not come for the rice offering for the soul.

So where does the fault line lies? Whom to blame for this environmental disaster? The human lives have become like the plastic flowers without smell or texture or soul. Should we blame the people who have changed everything around them in the name of modernization? Should we blame the pesticides & artificial manure & the countless hybrids popping around? Should we blame the increasing tourism & the ever increasing garbage & plastic? Should we blame the politicians for the greed of money-power-votes changed the scenario or the sand mafia or the paper making & matchbox making or uncontrolled population growth? I remember my parents grumbling every time a loaded timber or bamboo lorry passed by making a heavy engine sound while climbing uphill… there goes another load & mercilessly cutting the mother’s womb, chopped as if their father had planted them.

Either the strategic importance of Kodagu is underestimated or it is utter ignorance & short sighted, the use-misuse-abuse on Kodagu haven’t seems to be ending any time soon. Sadly in 2015 the state government played havoc with Tippu Jayanthi, hurting the psyche of the Kodavas & death of an innocent person in the name of vote banking drama. Now they want railways then high tension wire to pass through which will result in tree felling & link the streams & rivers, perhaps flooding part of the Kodagu in the bargain… The unreasonable state government (blinder than Kaurava parents) plans does not seems to ending any time sooner. There is a say that one life is not enough to make all the mistakes & learn from it… I think it’s time to use the God given common sense & work wisely than filling their coffers.

Last but not the least, to add further from old fashioned thinking, there is a belief in Kodava culture that Goddess Kaveri had promised them to keep Kodagu blessed with all her grace as long the Kodavas lived there. Now that many Kodavas moved out of Kodagu & also the traditional culture seems to be taking a big U turn. Did the rush to modernization & beautification of Talacauvery back fire?

Or perhaps a major earth quake is brewing underneath? Or perhaps even heather to unknown underground volcano sucking the moisture? Whatever may be the reason if the rain God does not smile on us, & no proper planning for the future (whatever left of it) is done, Karnataka’s future is seems bleak… no drinking water.. no food.. no electricity.. while the population fought with each other, the jobless politicians can either sleep or instigate naked rain dance.

Bloomington Diary – Part 2 – Catskills

After landing in New York our destination for the weekend was not Central Park but Fleischmanns Village, upstate New York, approximately 140 miles north of New York City. Fleischmanns is located in the Catskills mountains, an unusual name for a place of Delaware County in the state of New York. It’s a pretty little place with loads of wild flowers that seem to bloom practically everywhere; a small river with crystal clear water, which seems to be passing all through the place. Fresh mountain air with moisture from the previous rain suddenly gave the impression of entering into my home town. After crossing a little bridge, we landed in our accommodation. The minute we entered the place all 7 of us had the same feeling- it’s like entering a house in Madikeri during the rainy season both in sense of look as well as the scent!! It had that old damply moist smell we all of us knew so very well. The next sentence from my daughter was I want a house like this!!

It was a break from the din & roar of the city to spend quality family time & as well as a special meeting. I was meeting my would-be son in law for the first time. I had met his parents a couple of times back home & knew them before too but not the boy himself. After landing at JFK he had joined us. Funnily, we were 7 different people from India, Kuwait & 4 different parts of the USA itself, holidaying at another town in the country. The world really is shrinking!

We three ladies wanted to explore the village. Before that, we wanted to soak our legs in the river & could hear the children’s laughter from below the thicket. As we passed the little bridge we could see a large, simple building. We thought it must be a school or something, through which we could go to the river. There was no sign board but when we entered we could see many picnic tables behind the building, where a lot of women & some kids were just lazing around. Then, towards the gate walked a teenager with 4 other kids following him. He was immaculately dressed in a black suit with a white shirt & a black hat.  We asked him whether we could go to the river through the compound.

The teenager turned his face away from us as if he had seen 3 ghosts!! One of the girls, around 7 or 8, smiled at us & when we asked her again she said we could go but walked off without telling much as the teenager signaled her to continue walking. We were not sure if we were trespassing or something so we returned to our accommodation.

We had to get some groceries & we three again wanted to go out & explore, knowing that we could find something interesting. But as we started walking our first impression was, what a rundown ghost town, as if we had gone into the sets of some ghost movie or something. All the restaurants were abandoned. One old fashioned boutique which was cute was also closed! Finally, we found one little supermarket opened but we were the only customers. To our utter surprise, it was owned by an East Indian. We bought some onions & marshmallows (luckily it was available!!). He did not talk much to us but warned us not to go out in the night…  we were taken aback as were already little paranoid of the looks around us!! However when we asked him why & he said…”The bears!!”

When we came out of the shop it was almost evening & we could see so many people, practically everyone immaculately dressed in white & black, all in groups of family or friends. Seemed like everyone shared the same tailor! Some men wore some kind of round hat resembling Old Russian style hats. The most interesting thing for us was that all the boys had cropped hair (it was not clearly visible) leaving just two lock of hair on both sides of the ear (payot) which was neatly curled up & was flying in the air when they moved.  It was a sight to behold. Everyone seemed to engrossed in their own thoughts or maybe suspicious of foreigners because no one even acknowledged our presence there..as if we never existed!! Just coming from Bloomington it was a different kind of experience for us.

Then it occurred to us it must be an orthodox Jewish community & today being Sabbath, everyone was taking everything easy. Then the round hat was confusing to us too… anyway we reached back home as we were very hungry. The main problem was the late sunset which was confusing what time of the day it was & going from Asia, our system could not get used to it!!

We had a great family time & it was really refreshing with all the fresh mountain air & loads of wild flowers & unspoiled natural beauty. Next two day, whenever possible, we walked around but no one ever smiled at us except one time when we were at the deck one lady walking with her husband waved at us. When I wished her she did not reply… on one side of the village many houses are occupied by Native Indians but even they did not acknowledge our presence. I have no idea if it was because we were from another part of the world or they just wanted to shy away from someone outside the village border.

We had made few trips to the super market & tried to go to the little boutique hoping to carry some souvenirs but it was never opened.. even though an ‘Open’ placard was on the pavement. Anyway, I was bent upon finding out why the town was so abandoned. On our last day, we three ladies went to the supermarket with the pretext of getting chocolates, (the owner was little mellowed by then, yet reserved) & popped the question. What I heard was really sad.

The place was abandoned not by choice but by the wrath of Mother Nature in the form of devastation through hurricane Irene; it was really sad. However, I could not understand how the water from the low lying river/creek could cause such a huge flood. Then he said that the water came from the mountain as if a tide had washed if off. It’s beyond my understanding capacity how a tropical wave starting somewhere in Africa could have such a monstrous effect thousands of miles away. It is a mystery showcasing the power of nature, in front of whom we are nothing but a nano-dot or perhaps even invisible. The truth hit me hard that in the hands of Mother Nature’s fury, we are just puppets. He said that the water level in his shop was three feet high, submerging everything. Most of the residents had left the place as the houses had become inhabitable & the state is now searching for ways to prevent such happenings in the future before rebuilding.

Even though at first I thought that the behavior of the Orthodox Jewish community was unusual, then I realized we had lessons to learn from them. Against all the odds & the backdrop of all the calamities, this group has stayed tall- proving the phrase United we Stand, Divided we Fall. I thought of the olden days when even in India people lived in groups {like balyamane (big house) of our own community, Taravads of Kerala, etc.,) & joint families. But with the so called new age, families are becoming nuclear & divided. Divorces have become the order of the day, which often leaves the children in lurch/doldrums, depriving them of so many good things in life such as sharing, loving, respecting, etc. Not very long ago, irrespective of the caste, creed & religion people in villages lived in harmony, I have witnessed it myself growing up. Sadly many a times till trouble knocks on our door or stands at our threshold we don’t bother because it’s not our problem… let the neighbor face first then we will think about it. Unfortunately people are Dividing, Sub-dividing & slowly Fragmenting.

World is really shrinking but sadly with fragmented thought streams. Hope the days are not far away when we will learn to live united…