Thursday, 30 April 2015

The longest relay protest venue in the world: Chappathu, Idukky district

The drive between the Vallakadavu and the Idukki dam along a stretch of around 40 kilometers through narrow winding roads that passes through steep hills and valleys is breathtaking. On one side are thick, dense jungles with tall, ancient trees and evergreen foliage interspersed by colourful flowering parts and little front yard gardens while on the other is the steep, deceiving valley of the Periyar. On rainy days, the river unleashes its full fury with a deafening, constant roar. 

Along this beautiful stretch of road lie the villages of Vandiperiyar, Keerikara, Mlamala, Chappathu, Parappu, Uppukara and Ayyapankoil. The proponents for constructing a new dam at the Mullaperiyar strongly believe that if the existing dam breaks, flood waters would gush from the Periyar dam towards the Idukki dam located more than 40 kilometers downstream the Periyar wiping away all the villages on its way.  Assuming that the Idukki dam is also full at the time of the collapse of Mullaperiyar, the extra 5 tmc water would not be withstood by the more modern Idukki arch dam resulting in the release of 70 tmc of water that could wash a significant portion of the state of Kerala including some top towns such as Kochi. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

The interwined histories of Palarpatti and Pennycuick

For the casual visitor, Palarpatti is like any of the hundreds of tiny hamlets that dot the lush green landscape between Cumbum and Theni in southern Tamil Nadu. Anchored by a meandering river with fertile farmlands on both sides and a stretch of modest homes cuddled together in the centre of the settlement, locals claim that around 650 families, most of whom are farmers, live here. 

But, Palarpatti is unlike any other village in Tamil Nadu or anywhere else in the country for it is probably the only Indian village where a British engineer is revered as god and is worshipped even so many decades after his death. 

Colonel Pennycuick, the British Engineer who built the Mullaperiyar Dam between 1887 and 1895 is that man.  Huge potraits of Pennycuick have been framed and hung in every home in the village and the residents of Palarpatti take pride in celebrating the legacy of this foreigner.  Even the community hall in the village has been named Pennycuick Mandapam after him. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Mullaperiyar water war: My moment of epiphany

During the several road trips that I took to Kumily and various other parts of Idukki, Madurai and Theni districts to interview people for this book, one particular incident that took place while driving alone in Idukki district on a warm summer evening put this entire effort into perspective. Until then, I was trying to conceal my skepticism at the prospects of writing a book on an ageing dam by mindlessly running around collecting data and interviewing people.

After visiting Fr. Joy Nirappel, chairman of the Mullaperiyar Samara Samiti at his office in Upputhara and visiting the six-month long relay protest venue at Chappathu, I was driving back to my hotel in Kumily along a steep, winding road that runs parallel to the Periyar River Valley with the sunset behind me. The road was almost empty except for the occasional jeep that sped past me transporting casual labourers from Theni district who worked in the cardamom estates here.  On one side of the road was a deep valley at the bottom of which the Periyar that had now been reduced to a trickle flowed.  Steep slopes covered with tall, green grass and wild plants accompanied me on the other. 
Giant pen stock pipes that transfer water from the Periyar reservoir to TN

I was driving past Anavilasam, one of the many tiny hamlets dotting the landscape that is identical to every other village I had passed along the road with a teashop, a provisions shop, a barbershop and an auto rickshaw stand at the centre of the village where a few men get together, smoke beedis and discuss politics after a long day’s work when a huge bug flew inside the car through the driver’s side window and I lost control of the vehicle. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

No launch for the book!

My first book ‘Mullaperiyar Water War’ which has been in the works for so long is finally out. I had originally planned an official launch by late January or February but had to give it up as I could not get a chief guest to preside over the function. The politicians, bureaucrats and even activists who know about the dam enough to speak about it refused to participate as they did not want to get themselves involved with this complicated issue. So, I decided to do away with a formal launch.
The book is available in most book shops and also on on Flipkart, Amazon and all other websites.
 When the riots broke out in Cumbum and Kumily over the safety of the Mullaperiyar Dam in 2012, I had been working as the City Editor of our Coimbatore edition and had been assigned to cover the violence. During the few weeks of reporting that I had done in Cumbum and Kumily in Kerala, I had witnessed extreme hostility from both Tamils and Keralites as I am a Malayali born and brought up in Chennai. Hence, neither group trusted me.
I had shared some of my experiences with a literary agent with whom I had been working on a different book upon my return from the riot coverage and the idea for this book was born then.
The book ‘Mullaperiyar Water War’ explores the 115-year-old history of one of the oldest and strongest dams in the country, the various conflicts and legal battles that have taken place between TN and Kerala over the safety of the dam through the past century, besides exploring the possible solutions to the conflict.
The book is written as a nonfiction narrative interspersing personal events and experiences along with historical facts and technical details of the dam. During my research for the book, I had met and interviewed dozens of farmers from Madurai and Theni districts, plantation owners and workers in Idukky district of Kerala as well as several prominent politicians and dam experts in both the states.

I am also attaching a link from the Rupa Publications website as well as Amazon and Flipkart. Please read my book and share your opinion on Amazon, Goodreads as well as in social media. Every little comment helps!!!!

This blog will contain updates on the issue as well as the book. I will also be printing excerpts from the book as a series. If you like what you read, please go ahead and purchase a copy. It won't disappoint.