To give you an idea of transportation costs in India, a public bus is far and away the cheapest mode of transport. It’s also the most harrowing. A cab is costly but will stop and start whenever suits you. A train is probably the most comfortable (in the higher classes) and is quite affordable, though you still need to arrange transport to and from the train station. For a typical 150km trip:
Bus – 6 hours, 150Rs ($3) per person
Train – 4 hours, 500Rs ($10) per person
Taxi – 5 hours, 2500Rs ($50) total
The drive into Kumily had easily been the most violent ride of my life. The road was pocked and hairpinned and our lack of adequate suspension gave our driver no pause whatsoever. At one point my phone fell on the floor and I couldn’t bend over to retrieve it until we stopped for fear of losing a tooth or adding another scar to my increasingly moon-scaped noggin (see forthcoming rant about the height of Indian doorframes). All we could do was try to stay upright and not throw up. I couldn’t stop grinning for the last brutal bit of it just out of pure disbelief and marveling that the bus didn’t disintegrate.
We had been taking buses whenever possible to save money. In Kumily, the state border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu is located in the main square and looking across it was easy to see that TN buses would be even less comfortable than the relatively clean and comfy Keralan buses. The drive from Kumily to Kodaikanal was supposed to be especially nauseating, worse than the drive from Mussoorie to Dehradun, which regularly makes Bethany hurl. Also, it being the end of Pongal, buses would likely be full of rowdy returning pilgrims. (In India, if there is an increase in passengers, no extra buses are scheduled; people just pile more tightly into whatever buses are there.)
And so, because the prospect of spending six nauseous, noisy hours on a cramped, dirty bus with sweaty Indian men on your lap was not appealing to the ladies, we opted to hire a taxi for the drive to Kodakanal. We were rewarded with the world’s greatest taxi driver: he drove slowly over rough road, he pulled over to answer his cell phone, he asked if his speed was satisfactory, he explained his actions and gave informative updates on the journey (“please roll up your windows; the next 4km are going to be very dusty”). It was worth every penny.
At Kodaikanal (known colloquially as Kodai, pronounced “Cody”), we again met up with fellow Woodstock teachers Sachi and Jesse, who since leaving the houseboat had gone down to the southernmost tip of India. Sachi graduated from Kodai 6 or 7 years ago and was for all intents and purposes our tour guide for our time in town. She was keen to take us to all her old haunts, including the Astoria hotel and restaurant, a pure veg joint known for its giant dosas.
Kodaikanal International School is Woodstock’s sister school in south India. Until maybe 10 years ago they even shared the same board of directors. At Woodstock we hear a fair amount about Kodai: so-and-so taught there previously, or this student transferred there, and so on. But none of us (except Sachi) had ever seen it.
Being at Kodai was not just bizarre, it was BIZARRO (or should I say bazaaro?). “Bizarro”, as referenced in both Superman and Seinfeld lore, is the alternate universe where things are parallel but also somehow opposite. Kodai–both the town and the school–felt so much like Woodstock, yet in very specific ways was clearly not Woodstock. It was so striking that we kept a running list of similarities and differences. Both are in hill station towns built by the British, but Kodai is in the town whereas Woodstock is outside town. They have a lake, we have the chukkar. They are an IB school; Woodstock is committed to the AP program.
For the six of us, it was also a bit of a professional development field trip. We met with our respective bizarro counterparts, observed classes and shared ideas. One of the most promising developments coming out of our visit is the prospect of future cooperation between schools.
Speaking of cooperation, let us tell you about our evening with Ms. Dash.
Naturally we were curious about the staff housing at Kodai and how it compared to our own homes. When Bizarro Bethany (aka Ms. Dash) invited us over for drinks after school we readily accepted. Ms. Dash is a hard-partying New York-born-and-bred musical theater veteran with an outsized personality and a wicked cackle to boot. She comes from a prominent Broadway family. As the story goes, she was in India studying with her guru and took a walk around Kodaikanal lake when she thought to herself, “I would consider moving here if I found a job…” At that moment, she saw the sign for Kodai International School. So she walked onto campus, into the HR office, and asked if they had any openings. As it turns out, they had been without a legit drama teacher for several years and the teacher they intended to hire had just fallen through. The rest is history and Ms. Dash has now been there for 6 years.
While her home was comparable, Ms. Dash was not. With help from her hyper dog, Squiggles, he entertained the six of us for the evening with outlandish tales (“Back when I worked for Alan Lerner…”), Austro-German sauerkraut recipes (“you put it in a ziploc and then you BEAT THE SH!T OUT OF IT”), and copious musical theater singalongs. For about 3 hours, Bethany was basking in her element. The rest of us were understandably amused and left late in the evening exhausted, full and shaking our heads in disbelief.