With temperatures of around 38C in Maudrai and high humidity it was refreshing to spend Easter in Kodaikanal, high up in the hills. There it was 19C and the mountain air fresh and clear, a completely different climate. I was there from Maundy Thursday until Easter Day, a guest of St Peter’s Church, one of the two English speaking churches in the Diocese of Maurai-Ramnad.
St Peter’s stands on the top of a high hill, surrounded by trees and a beautiful garden with panoramic views of Kodai. A highlight was the Easter Day service at 5.45am outside the church; we started in the chill, dawn mist and then afterwards, an hour later, enjoyed tea and buns in bright sunshine.
The town was full of pilgrims over the weekend attending a major Hindu festival and a large number of tourists; Kodai draws families escaping the heat of the plains and is built around a huge lake, popular for boating.
Here at the CSI Women’s College classes are now drawing to a close and students are preparing for examinations from late April until mid-May, when the academic year ends. Ahead of the exam period the college has been holding cultural competitions; students have been buzzing with creative enthusiasm and taking part in sports, craft and performing arts.
The off-stage craft categories included vegetable carving (my favourite was daisies with white petals intricately made from radishes and bright orange centres from carrots), fireless cooking (an imaginative array of colourful food and drink, including a gorgeous pink beetroot juice), recycling (the winning idea was earrings made from plastic bottles, decorated with mail varnish), clay modelling (the theme was robots), henna decoration (intricate designs traced on hands, wrists and forearms, usually for special occasions such as marriage) and kolam (pictures made on the ground from tiny coloured beads and powders, the theme was natural disasters and there were vivid representation of a volcano, tsunami and forest fire).
On-stage in the college auditorium categories included classical Indian dancing, mime and group singing. The theme for the singing was Village Songs, each group composed their own tune and lyrics about rural culture and issues – the winning song was about the use of mercury to speed up crop growth and the adverse effects on agricultural workers and consumers. The mime groups focussed on environmental issues such as climate change and water shortage.
Following the competitions there was College Day, when the Bishop came and distributed prizes and the Principal, Dr Jessie Jeyapriya made a speech about the events and achievements of the past year. This included Graduation Day on March 1st when 500 former students came back to receive their degrees from the Vice Chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University, to which this college is affiliated, a great occasion.
After the College Day speeches and prize-giving there was an air of excitement and celebration as students proudly showed off their trophies, certificates and book prizes. Staff and students in different departments wore matching saris to show mutual support and pride in their collective achievements; the English Department gathered in the chapel to give thanks for winning the most prizes.
It was moving to see such energy, enthusiasm and commitment and a privilege to share in the celebration. Later the Principal reflected with quite conviction that everything achieved by the college community was by God’s grace alone: “Without God,” she said, “We can do nothing.”