Review of an Eco-critical Essay on Coorg authored by Dr Subarna De
By C.P. Belliappa
Dr Subarna De, an eco-critic and an early-academic, writes about Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka in her scholarly essay titled “Rooted in Hills, Rivers, Forests, and Land: Reading Stories from Coorg,” published in World Journal of Gender and Literature (Volume 4, No.2, December 2017).
She has done an ethnographic study and documented various cultural aspects of Kodagu for her doctoral research. She has also interacted with many inhabitants in Coorg to understand the ethos of the place.
“With rich biodiversity and cultural heritage, Coorg, the anglicised name of Kodagu, has always been an important ecological and cultural destination of India. The natural world of Kodagu forms the bedrock of the indigenous knowledge system of the Kodava people” (De 159).
Dr Subarna De says, she was highly inspired on reading my book Tale of a Tiger’s Tail & other Yarns from Coorg (2004) and found the stories to be authentic literary representations of Coorg.
In this book, I attempted to pen my personal experiences and anecdotes of my childhood days and what it is like living in Coorg after spending many years outside Coorg.
Contextualising these stories, in the essay, Dr De discusses relevant points about how the Kodava people are emotionally connected to their land and how this bond attracts them back to their homeland even after spending long periods away from Coorg.
Dr De focuses on our ceremonial activities that are founded upon the relationship between our nature and culture. She mentions about the ancient custom in Kodagu of burying the umbilical cord (pokk) of a new-born deep into the earth. This practice is in the belief that it keeps a Kodava always rooted in place irrespective of the distance, and that it invariably brings the Kodava back home. But with globalisation, these belief systems are rapidly fading.
With attractive employment opportunities for the well-qualified, there are many cases of permanent migration of people these days. After parting with their ancestral land, their emotional bond with Coorg weakens. This trend has been of concern for many inhabitants and scholars who work on ecology and migration. I have also been abroad to pursue my education and career in various parts of India; and finally felt the tug to return to my coffee estate in Gonikoppal in Coorg.
Interestingly, select stories about my past and present experiences of living in Kodagu from my book Tale of a Tiger’s Tail & other Yarns from Coorg, encouraged the author to study the ‘Kodagu indigenous lifeway’ and our sustainable coffee plantation practices.
The essay exemplifies the innate emotional bond of the Kodavas with their land and states how the Kodavas have preserved the pristine environment of Kodagu for many centuries. However, in the essay, Dr De laments about the intrusion of urbanisation and globalisation that has changed the ecology of Coorg in recent years.
In the essay, the author explores the ‘Kodagu lifeway’ from the bioregional perspective of living-in-place. “From an eco-critical perspective, bioregion is a life-place where living-in-place is how a human community relates to its immediate non-human world” (De 161).
The author investigates the ecological lifeways of the Kodavas, our present relationship with nature, the celebration of ‘kailpodh,’ (festival of arms), the traditional practice of ‘nari mangala’ (tiger wedding), and puthari (harvest festival).
With examples from my stories this essay offers an in-depth study of how even today, despite the intrusion of urbanisation and globalisation, the Kodava inhabitants are deeply rooted in their place of dwelling and practice various methods to connect to the natural life-support system of the place. Dr De addresses these practices critically and considers them as sustainable practices that help in maintaining and restoring the land from the tragic consequences of deforestation, unregulated tourism, the encroachment of devarakadus (sacred groves) and the increasing human-animal-conflict.
I believe my book Tale of a Tiger’s Tail & other Yarns from Coorg (2004) (first published by Rupa & Co., available at https://www.amazon.in/C.-P.-Belliappa/e/B003F4TXGA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 ), also referred is P.T. Bopanna’s Coorg: Land of Beauty & Valour (2010) (available at Coorg: Land of Beauty and Valour eBook: Bopanna, P.T.: Amazon.in: Kindle Store), and Dr Subarna De’s paper (available at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Subarna_De) could together contribute to understanding the past and present Coorg, and might be an exciting read for those involved in protecting the environment.
De, Subarna. “Rooted in Hills, Rivers, Forests, and Land: Reading Stories from Coorg.” WJGL, vol. 4, no. 2, 2017, pp. 159-173.
Belliappa, C. P. “Tale of a Tiger’s Tail & Other Yarns from Coorg.” Rupa & Co., 2004.
Bopanna P.T. “Coorg: Land of Beauty & Valour” Prism Books Pvt Ltd. (2010)