The farmer, once the king of Thalakkulathur, has fallen on bad days. The panchayat intends to crown him again.

The story of Rarichan and the runaway leopard is a popular folklore in Thalakkulathur panchayat.

The legend goes that 32 years ago, the local farmer and brave heart took on a leopard that was hiding inside the deep, dark crevices of Pongalodippara, armed with only an ancient rifle. Rarichan managed to draw the leopard into the open; he aimed and fired, only to miss. For the villagers, the climax is immaterial.

Instead, the legend reflects the gall shown by a middle-aged farmer, armed with a rusty gun, to take on the killer cat.

“At Thalakkulathur, both the farmer and the soil were once considered invincible. Nothing stopped us from having a good harvest, year after year,” said Cheriyekkan.

Green haven

The triumvirate, Chengottumala, Idinjimala and Eriyodumala, tower above, shrouded in the morning mist. The gurgle of Punoorpuzha meeting the Agalapuzha on way to join Korapuzha is sheer music. In the distance, waterweeds and hyacinth spread a carpet of green and pink in the still Narayanan chira (pond), where the Zamorin’s priests performed ritualistic practices.

Years ago, acres of paddy fields adorned the village landscape. But, shortage of labour, rising expenses, extensive quarrying, and sheer disinterest over the years took the farmer away from his land in search of ‘greener pastures’.

Today, the grama panchayat is trying to repair the dent. The farmers are called upon to put on display their age-old prowess to bend the now crusty soil to their will. The initiative by the local body is led by its president P.T. Prameela.

The panchayat is busy with a series of projects, from building new roads and bridges to cleaning over 7 km of garbage in the riverbed and reclaiming acres of cultivable land along the banks for paddy fields and organic vegetable cultivation.

“We go door to door to distribute seeds and manure. We are encouraging the new generation to take up agriculture, or at least cultivate vegetables for their household use,” said Anil Kombara, panchayat member.

On a larger scale, the panchayat has proposed the Pakkavayal-Pavayil water conservation project. This is a seven-km stretch where the water from the Kuttiadi irrigation project flows.

The starting point is at Pakkavayal in Thalakkulathur. The water flows through the Narayanam chira past the Pavayal check-dam into the sea.

In 1993, the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) built a pump house at Pavayal to supply potable water to Elathur, Chelannur and Thalakkulathur panchayats. But this led to the closing of the check-dam to prevent salt water from getting in.

“But the closing of the check-dam also stopped the free flow of water. The entire 7-km stretch became marshy all through the year. Besides, garbage and plastic waste got accumulated in the water. This affected cultivation here and almost destroyed the Narayanam chira,” Ms. Prameela said.

Sanction awaited

The project costing Rs.6 crore is awaiting sanction of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). It intends to clean up the water and make it deeper. The cleaned water will be used for cultivation of about 100 acres of river bank land.

On the other hand, the panchayat has worked hard to improve connectivity, linking cultivable lands with places where there is human habitation.

“During harvest season long ago, farmers used to fell palm trees and make a bridge for people to reach their fields and carry the crops,” said Thevarkkandiyil Sami, who has given part of his land for the Pavayil bridge.

“If we want to change, we can, together. Nothing can prevent us from living from the soil,” Balan Korambra, in his eighties, said as he sat outside the Rainbow Arts and Sports Club, barely a furlong away from where Rarichan challenged the rogue leopard.