The road was steep. And the ambassador car we hired was moving cautiously as if getting prepared to avert any untoward incidents that can occur on the way. We were passing through a small forest and when I was told that the chances of coming across a herd of elephants or even a tiger are very likely, sent shivers down my spine. There were six of us in the car.
We were on our way to Kayattuva which is two kilometers away from ‘ Paniyeli Poru’ waterfalls, one of the tourist destinations in Ernakulam, Kerala. And it was during this travel that I met ‘ Thankappan Chettan’
Though an inaccessible place to the tourists, we came to know about Kayattuva from Mr M M Binu, a member of the ‘ Vanasamrakshana Smithi’ ( Forest Conservation Committee) whom we met along the way. Prior to that, our initial plan was just to see the Paniyeli Poru waterfalls as we did not know Kayattuva existed.
To speak more about Paniyeli Poru, it’s a beauty with dense mangrove forest, green capped hillocks and the chirping of the birds. But it is here, you can see ‘Periyar’ river in its unruly form. Perhaps,it’s the alertness of travel guides deployed by the forest department and the knowledge that the river can get rude anytime prevented me from getting into the water. But that did not deter me from enjoying the beauty of the place.
Finally, we reached Kayattuva. Sky could not be seen as there were tall and towering cocoa trees with fruits on either side of the road and we could also spot many empty small houses.
A few years ago, 25 families lived there and most of them owned (still owns) vast acres of land. But as their encounters with wild elephants became so frequent that they had to leave the place with their little children. At the same time, they could not abandon the place as most of their revenue comes from this land. Hence, the men in the family would come in the early hours, tend to their land till 5 pm and leave. Though elephants had destroyed many a things , they had not harmed any of the people living there. But they were not ready to take any chances.Since, we were a bit early, we could speak to some of them. Govindan shifted his house just because his newly wedded wife had the scare of her life when she saw a tusker with a raised trunk in front of his house.
Though many of them left, three of them decided to live and brave the encounters of elephants. Thankappan Chettan was one among them.He could not leave as he had no place to go. His wife and children abandoned him when he was diagnosed with cancer. Though his neighbours had another version to tell, I did not delve too much into it.
“ Are you not afraid of elephants?” I asked Thankappan Chettan.
“ No,” Pat came the reply. “ They would harm us only if we harm them,” he said. “ To scare them away, I would light a candle and place them in a bucket,” Thankappan chettan added.
It was then someone reminded him about his recent encounter with a tusker.
“ Yes, two days ago, a tusker chased me. I ran but couldn’t advance much as the pathway was too narrow. Somehow, I managed to divert its attention and climbed up the roof of that terrace house,” he said pointing at a house.
I was really amused when I saw that the terrace house he mentioned was only a little bigger than his small house.
“ As it could not spot me, it left after waiting for a while,” he added.
Time has gone by so quickly and it was around 6 pm when somebody yelled at us to disperse as there was a tusker lurking behind the trees and it would come down any moment.
On the way, we saw ‘ Mathayi Chettan ’. His wife was admitted in the district hospital and was taking food to her. We, somehow managed to squeeze him in the car.
Like Thankappan Chettan, he and his wife also decided to stay in Kayattuva.
“ I have married off my daughters and now at this age, there’s no pointing in shifting to other place. We have left everything to God,” he said.
Mathayichettan got down at the nearest Bus Stand and we were on our way to Kochi ( where I live ).
Chettan – ( Malayalam word for ‘brother’ also used to call somebody elder than you )
Paniyeli Poru – Ernakulam district, Kerala
And is 55 kms away from Kochi and 20 km away from Perumbavoor
Read similar story : Chellanam, untouched by urbanization and tourism, this small hamlet is a beauty