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Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
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RIVERS: JULY 01, 2001


The Kabini

Text: K. Santosh. Photos: Sudesh

Drive past the Thamarasseri pass on the Kozhikode-Mananthavadi route and proceed to the heart of Wyanad. The Kabini is invisible at times because of the dense green overhang and the coffee and tea estates that skirt the ascending road. This is Pazhassi country. Fighting the Kerala chieftain in the wilds of Wyanad, Arthur Wellesley had learnt a thing or two about guerrilla tactics, and this, history says, helped him take on Napoleon Bonaparte in Spain, with confidence.

About 6 km north of Panamaram, the Kabini takes birth. It is the confluence of the Panamaram river, originating in the Western ghats near Lakkidi, 4,500 ft above sea level, and the Mananthavady river, springing from the 5,000 ft Tondarmudi. The Kabini is, perhaps, the most feminine of Kerala rivers. The flow of life on its banks is incredibly peaceful and dream-like.

Things were, however, different in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, when peace was shattered in the emerald expanse by the Naxalite uprising. The Kabini had then turned red, lamenting which, P. A. Backer crafted a film much later.

"Go to Perikkallur. There, you get a good view of the river," Basheer, a shop owner at Pulpally, tells us. As evening peace descends over Perikkallur, people gather by the river-side. Here, the Kabini is demure, but upstream, it is coquettish, curling out of a group of smooth black rocks. There are farmers, grocers, vendors and others waiting to catch the ferry to the neighbouring Karnataka village, Bairakuppa. "Most of them are going for their daily dose of Mysore hooch," says Joseph, a farmer. The Perikkallur population comprise a good number of settlers from central Kerala.

The Kabini flows through Kerala only for a stretch of 8 km. It covers about 12 km along the Kerala-Karnataka border, before moving northward, at Kalvalli, towards Mysore. Neither Kerala nor Karnataka is taking an interest in river-side development, villagers on both sides allege. The best example of official neglect is the foundation stone laid for the Bairakuppa bridge in September 1994 by the then Karnataka Chief Minister, Mr. Veerappa Moily, and the then Kerala Minister, Mr. P. K. K. Bava. The bridge is still a dream for villagers.

"Lack of official attention is a blessing in disguise, so much so that the Kabini remains unspoilt," argues scientist Sathish Kumar. "Unplanned development, which is the order of the day, will strike a deadly blow to the biodiversity of the area."

Summer heat has taken a holiday at the Kuruva sanctuary, on the river bank. Clumps of bamboo, natural teak and other trees of different shapes and sizes lead you to a quiet oasis. Walk past bottle-green ponds under thick fronds of forest roof and you find a noble Kabini reclining against a green bed, enjoying birdsong.

The river seems to be in a prayer, in a kind of serene tantrik rite that precedes the union. A little away, her lover, Cauvery, is waiting to embrace her.


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