It is not uncommon for the KIS community to have visitors tracing their genealogy and family history to Kodaikanal. Being in existence for close to 120 years, KIS has a wealth of historical archives that provide visitors with a treasure chest of stories. We recently had Martha Donovan, on one such quest to research about her mother, a Kodai School Alumnus, for her next memoir. Having Martha in the community provided our students and staff the opportunity to tap her writing expertise through multiple workshop forums. Ishita Pandey from the Class of 2020 was one of the participants in her workshop and had the following to share about her experience with Martha.

Being the historic institution it is, KIS is a place intertwined with the stories of many different personalities, various lives, the ups and downs of each and every person who has been a part of this school, which are etched immortally into the nooks and crannies of the Chapel walls, the fields of Bendy or the sturdy trunks of the trees in Arts Block. Looking to discover one such story, the renowned author Martha Donovan, daughter to a Kodai Alumni, traced her mother’s steps back to our school, learning more about her mother’s experiences and also sharing her own by conducting writing workshops for the KIS students.

Martha is the author of the book Dress Her in Silk and her essay, Dangerous Archaeology: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother (and Others) has been awarded the title of ‘Notable Essay’ by The Best American Essays 2013. She maintains a blog called One Writer’s Excavation: Narrating a Life Piece by Piece, by which she attempts to delve deeper into her mother’s experiences, of which KIS was an essential part, drawing her here, to our school.

The experience of visiting Kodaikanal, as the first of her travels in India, she found to be very fascinating because of the welcoming warmth which she felt emanating from the solidarity of such a small yet immensely diverse community. Not only this, but hearing stories of Mrs Boyer, upon whom the Boyer dorms have been named, the tales of the original missionaries who laid the foundations for the school and the developments the institution has incurred since the very beginnings of when it was created were all greatly intriguing for Martha, as she added each and every bit of information into her diary of fragmented memories and musings.

She imparted the knowledge she had acquired in her many years in the field of writing to students and teachers alike through her interactive writing workshop, as well. Creating an introspective environment, providing the works of well known authors as guiding principles and invigorating prompts, she cultivated the participants’ ideas and their capacity to truly ponder upon which memories in their life have lead to their current personalities. The students understood the importance of each and every one of their experiences, and in so many of which KIS has played an essential role. In addition to the development of writing skills, everyone present was compelled to admire the power of Kodai to bring together so many people of varying thoughts, cultures and backgrounds. Through this we have the opportunity to learn about one another and provide each other with the most enriching experiences, gaining from the society we live in, but giving back to it at the same time.

– Ishita Pandey, Class of 2020

Post her visit to Kodaikanal, Martha shared on Facebook:

What a pleasure to talk and write together in the company of such engaged and thoughtful students and teachers/mentors. I cherish my visit to KIS. Thanks to all for welcoming me so warmly.”