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  Opinion   Columnists  17 Mar 2024  Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How I lost the debate with Mr Development

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How I lost the debate with Mr Development

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer, novelist, columnist and screenwriter
Published : Mar 17, 2024, 12:46 am IST
Updated : Mar 17, 2024, 11:55 am IST

How could it be anything else for someone who thinks Business — and “Development” — came before everything else?

Kodaikanal, the hapless, once idyllic, hill town in the Western Ghats has, of late, been abused so brutally by tourism that its unique, priceless flora and fauna is in grave danger.
 Kodaikanal, the hapless, once idyllic, hill town in the Western Ghats has, of late, been abused so brutally by tourism that its unique, priceless flora and fauna is in grave danger.

Alarmed by the mad love being showered on a movie called Manjummel Boys, on the seventh of March, I posted something on Facebook. I must confess that, while it came from my own love of all things quiet, I also have a personal stake, sort of, in Kodaikanal. My plant-loving, environmentalist in-laws have lived there for nearly half a century, and watched Kodaikanal slowly wither away in front of their eyes despite their tireless efforts along with a small group of people who care.

My post went something like this:

“I don’t care what anyone says but I won’t watch Manjummel Boys. On principle.

I hear it’s based on a true story, a survival drama, in which a gang of boys (men, really) go to a remote place, a location popularised in a movie, trespass into a prohibited area, and pay the price.

Here are the reasons why:

1. Any movie that romanticises all-male groups and bonding is a no-no for me. No good has ever come of a large, unsupervised group of men on holiday, irrespective of where they congregate.

2. The movie paeanised in Manjummel Boys is Guna, a ’90s film in which the protagonist, a mentally unstable stalker, kidnaps a girl and holds her hostage in the cave that the group of men in the present film go to. This cave is off the town of Kodaikanal, TN.

3. Kodaikanal, the hapless, once idyllic, hill town in the Western Ghats has, of late, been abused so brutally by tourism that its unique, priceless flora and fauna is in grave danger. Illegal construction and deforestation have led, for instance, to herds of gaur straying into town, endangering both themselves and the townsfolk. The unceasing efforts of environmental activists have had little or no effect. The biggest perpetrators, other than the people of Kodaikanal’s home state themselves, have been the lovely folk (mostly loud, drunken, unhinged all-male groups) of neighbouring states.

4. We live in a world today where it has become a rite of passage for jobless men to emulate the protagonists of movies. Poor Kodaikanal, thanks to the success of this movie, will see a doubling of large, ugly, noisy, all-male gangs on bikes and in vans, hell-bent on causing even more damage on this struggling hill town in the name of nostalgia and male-bonding, leaving empty bottles, bewildered animals, terrified women and a devastated landscape in their wake.”

A few people liked my post. Many didn’t. I was somewhat luckier, thanks to my obscurity no doubt, than poor Jeyamohan, the Tamil writer, whose piece (ninth of March, on his blog) that carried similar sentiments earned him no fans.

But just as I was thanking my guardian angel, my old pal, S.K., invited me for a drink. I’ve found that whenever I say something about the environment, poverty, unemployment, stray dogs, orphan children, anything at all with a whiff of humanity, somehow, S.K. The Businessman invites me for a drink.

‘Why do you write such rubbish, da?’ was his opening gambit. I had barely tasted the Talisker he was buying.

Before I could respond, he showed me three articles in quick succession on how tourism had doubled in Kodaikanal even though it was off-season, and how local businesses were rejoicing at the inflow of revenue. Just as I had predicted in my piece, sigh.

“This is development. You can’t stop it,” he told me, tapping his phone with the authority of one who had experienced much development. “How do you expect the owner of the tea stall to survive if there is no tourism? This is nature.”

Nature it wasn’t, but I nodded and ordered my second. I might as well, I figured, because there was no way I was going to win this argument.

As S.K. provided evidence of the hundred ways in which I was an idiot, I thought of why the very idea of anything that questioned the sacred cow of continuous, exponential growth scared businessmen even more than a visit from the ED guys. S.K. was an engineer, for god’s sake. How could anything, even that holiest of holies, Business, keep doing a 45 degree ascent on the time-turnover chart, till the end of time? Even Arjuna’s arrow aimed at the sky, fuelled by Veda Vyasa’s mythic prowess, no less, descended to Mother Earth, did it not?

Didn’t someone say what goes up must come down? Perhaps this is the time. For things to come down. Even Business. There, I said it. Maybe it should have come down yesterday. Or the day before. And given way to a tree or two.

“If you continue this kind of thinking,” I heard my friend say as if from far away, “we’ll have to go back to prehistoric times…”

I imagined my friend as a prehistoric man. His first words, when early human language consisted of grunts, clucks and growls, would have been “cash flow”. And his cave drawing would have been a pie chart of his share of bear meat versus how much went to the rest of the cave.

How could it be anything else for someone who thinks Business — and “Development” — came before everything else?

Tags: kodaikanal, manjummel boys, jeyamohan
Location: India, Delhi