The Flag Green

“Breezy” Romulus Whitaker (KIS ’60) Lands Padma Shri for his Life’s Work

The Indian Government honored a fellow-Kodai School graduate Romulus Whitaker with a Padma Shri, one of the country’s highest civilian awards, for his nearly six decade-long career as a conservationist. Rom or “Breezy” as he is lovingly known among his contemporaries, has had a lifelong interest in reptiles, which he has pursued around the world, from his birthplace in New York to various parts of India, including, Agumbe, the Andoman and Nicobar Islands, Kodaikanal, Mumbai and finally, his home in Chengalpattu, just outside of Chennai.


Even as a young boy of four growing up in Garden City, New York, Breezy was fascinated by snakes. As Rom explains it, it was no different to him from how other kids are smitten by tops or marbles, or cars or trains. He liked to bring home various catches, including, the garter and milk snake varieties, common to the area in the suburb where he spent his early years. Rom says his mother encouraged his interest, buying him books on the subject and taking him to the New York Natural History Museum during their time in the United States.

Before long, the family to Mumbai, India, where his step-father was doing work in the color film-processing industry connected with Bollywood. And shortly thereafter, Rom and his sister, Gail, began attending Kodaikanal International School in Tamil Nadu.

Rom’s time in Kodaikanal only spurred his childhood interest. On weekends, he would head for Tope, Rat Tail or some other far-flung spot, getting away from the routine of campus life. He was known for bringing back a range of fauna from his hiking treks in the hills. Stories of Rom’s pets include a parrot he would bring to the dining hall for tea and a python which lived under his bed in the dorm, where he stayed.

Rom’s interest in wildlife continued to propel him, taking him back to the United States where among other things, he worked at the Miami Serpentarium in Florida alongside legendary snakeman, William Haast, learning from the man Rom affectionately referred to as the “guru.” Rom returned to India a few years later and established a small snake park, which would grow and become established in Guindy as the Chennai Snake Park, the first of its kind in India. Rom continued his efforts over the next few years extending them to the conservation of various species of crocodiles, culminating in the set-up of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology (the “Crocodile Bank”), a reptile zoo and herpetology research station just outside of Chennai.

Through his leadership and work on crocodiles and turtles at the Crocodile Bank, Rom would go onto establish the Anodman and Nicobar Environment Team, a research station focused on environmental sustainability in the famous Indian archipelago located in the Bay of Bengal; and then, the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, a field-based conservation effort in the Agumbe Reserved Forest in the central Western Ghats. Over the years, Rom has also been known for his work on the King Cobra as well as the Gharial, a fish-eating crocodile now considered to be a critically engendered species. Rom’s work has won him many accolades including an Emmy award for his critically acclaimed documentary about the Kind Cobra, produced for the National Geographic Channel’s Explorer program, entitled The King and I.

Rom jokingly refers to himself as a “rabid hippie conservationist,” and confidently reassures his audience that it is entirely a figment of their imagination. This was in a TEDIndia presentation back in 2009. After Rom’s talk covering the critical juncture of conservation efforts in India, he was asked, how he is so comfortable around what makes most people scared. He replied:

I take the sort of humble approach, I guess you could say. I don’t say that snakes are huggable exactly. It’s not like the teddy bear.… there is an innocence in these animals. And when the average person looks at a cobra going “Ssssss!” like that, they say, “My god, look at that angry, dangerous creature.” I look at it as a creature who is totally frightened of something so dangerous as a human being. And that is the truth. And that’s what I try to get out.

Rom, thank you for opening us to a new perspective. We can all be grateful for your special attitude and your devotion to the conservation of these creatures and their habitats in India.

– Stan Kuruvilla , Class of  ’93


Our Commitment to Sustainability


As a member of the Green Schools Alliance, KIS is committed to becoming a pioneer for environmental protection and sustainability here in Kodaikanal. The environmental program on campus includes taking measures to improve our solid waste management and recycling, increasing our use of renewable energy from solar power, and offering environment education to all our students — encouraging them to think about the problems they will face in their lifetimes from climate change.

The most recent initiative on campus this school year has been to reduce our production of plastic waste. KIS took a significant step towards sustainability by stopping the sale of throw-away plastic water bottles on campus, starting in January 2018. This is the first phase of a larger pursuit to reduce all plastic waste produced on the KIS campus.

In preparation for this new policy, students were first asked to respond to a survey about their drinking water consumption habits. The purpose of this survey was to understand why students were regularly purchasing throw-away water bottles. According to the responses, we learned that the number one reason for buying bottled water was “convenience”.

To initiate a cultural shift among our student body, we realized we needed to provide students with an alternative. Our team came up with a two-pronged solution. First, we started constructing drinking water fountains at prime locations throughout both of our academic campuses. Second, KIS gifted each student a free, reusable, stainless steel water bottle to carry with them throughout the school day, which could be refilled at any of the newly constructed water fountains. Any new student joining KIS would also receive a reusable water bottle, setting the expectations for sustainability on campus at an early stage.

We also repeatedly emphasize to students the negative effects of plastic water bottles on both the environment and their health. Some important facts we’ve shared with students are:

  • It takes 3-5 times the amount of water to produce a plastic water bottle than it does to fill it
  • It takes 300 years for that plastic to disintegrate
  • Plastic bottles leach phthalates into the water, which have been linked to a wide range of developmental and reproductive concerns

Since the start of this new semester, it has been such a joy to observe how students feel they are making an impact with the use of these new facilities. It is clear that they have internalized this serious issue of plastic waste on our planet. As KIS expands its environment program, we will continue to make changes on campus to encourage sustainable and environmentally conscious behavior among our students and staff. This is our duty as a Green School. Stay tuned for our next project!

– Iti Maloney, Social and Environmental Experience Teacher

Alumni Weekend Reunion – Back to School for Classes of ’92 and ’97!

Class of 92

The Alumni Weekend Reunion was well attended by members of the classes of ’92 and ’97 who were in KIS to celebrate their 25th and 20th anniversaries respectively. Most of them were returning to Kodai for the first time since graduation and were very excited to be back. The day started with a brief introduction at Assembly and a campus tour. In the evening, they had tea with the senior class. An interactive session during which the alumni introduced themselves to the students who went on to ask several questions about their experiences at KIS and the path to choosing their various professions. A tree planting ceremony on Highclerc campus had several of the alumni getting down on their knees and planting sholai, orange and hibiscus saplings. In the evening, they attended dinner at Benderloch, hosted by Nandita Stixrud (class of ’87 and Principal’s wife). This was accompanied by Music performances, which showcased both students from the elementary and high schools. On Saturday evening, the Student Council (STUDCO) organized a special dance (Canteen) on the Quad in their honour. We would like to invite the Classes of 1953, 1958, 1963, 1968, 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998 and 2003 to join us next year following the success of this Alumni reunion.

-Yvonne Dovlo, KISCO

Service Day at KIS

Care Day.jpg

August 04 was declared a non-instructional day at KIS so that students could commit themselves to observing CARE day (Choices, Attitudes, and Responsibilities, for Everyone). This was a great opportunity for students to engage with a multitude of activities in the campuses and around town, focusing on the environment and social issues. Kodai School is a member of the Green Schools Alliance, along with 8000 schools from around the world. The Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, publishes an excellent environment magazine ‘Down to Earth’, which through one of its programmes, encourages students to do an Environment Audit of their school. KIS is now a part of this ongoing programme.

The day started with a presentation by Clarence Maloney at the school assembly (volunteer for Environment) He spoke about the relevance of KIS being a Green School and linked our environment consciousness to world climate change expected to occur in the lifetime of these students. Dr Rajamanikam (visiting expert working with the school and town for 3 months) also addressed our students about his work in other schools in Kodai and in the town where he is educating students and the community on recycling and better waste management.

Barbara Block, our HS Coordinator, and Mr Varghese, Head of SEED (Social and Environment Experience Dept.), organized a large number of student activities. The students set out for their assigned activities, carrying lunch and water. They worked on : composting in round cement bins using kitchen and other organic waste; the 2 school Recycling Centers; Poombari village on a clean-up drive with local school students; Poondi camp to clean up and take samples of water and soil for testing; planting sholai (native) trees; cleaning up the old cemetery and parks; and at an orphanage. In addition, 4 bus-loads went down to the Kodai dump 16 km away below Prakasapuram to see the mountain of burning trash which pollutes the stream. They took samples for testing from this water, which is used by the village folk for drinking.

On Ganga compound, our younger students started a vegetable garden and cleaned up the campus. Videos about world environment were screened on both campuses.

Students reflected on their activities and their impact, and presented some of their observations in the following Assembly.

It was a day all will remember!

-Clarence Maloney, Volunteer

The Robotics Club is back!

It has been a while since the KIS Robotics Club (KRC) won the regionals and represented our school at the all-India FLL competition.

Moreover, this semester, the KRC is back!


Ms. Shalini Ambrose and Mr. Audric-Jai Cauvet will guide the Club, and I will be the Club Mentor.

This year, the KRC plans to have junior and senior teams representing our school at the prestigious First Lego League (FLL) robotics competition.

FLL teams research a real-world problem and are challenged to develop a solution. The teams will build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORM technology to solve a set of missions in the Robot Game. All teams must operate under the FIRST LEGO League signature Core Values, celebrating discovery, teamwork, and Gracious Professionalism.

The Junior FLL, for ages 6 to 9, has an Aqua Adventure theme that involves finding out where the water we use in daily life comes from, and what happens on its way to us. The senior FLL, for ages 9 to 16, has the theme of Hydro Dynamics, or learning all about water as a resource – how we find, transport, use, and dispose of it.

-Rehan Balsara, KIS Robotics Club Mentor

A visit to remember

At one of our first assemblies this semester, we welcomed an inspiring guest speaker to our school – Mr Amin Sheikh. Amin is a former street child turned entrepreneur who had an amazing and inspiring story to tell our students. At age 5, he ran away from home no longer able to handle his abusive stepfather. He struggled on the streets of Mumbai sleeping on platforms, doing odd jobs and stealing food, just to survive. When he was 8 he got another chance in life when he came to meet Sister Serafina and Father Place who took him to their orphanage – Sneha Sadan. He lived there for 10 years and then he decided he would start his own business. Today he owns the Bombay to Barcelona Library Café, where he employs kids from the orphanage where he grew up. The café, which is affordable for everyone, offers some small products made by street children. All of the earnings go back directly to the children.

Our students really enjoyed listening to Amin’s story and his message of perseverance, passion and the determination to live his dream. His determination and vision for his cafe is something that really struck our students and we hope they will remember Amin’s story as they embark on their own journey and dreams.
-Stephanie Cauvet, Digital Marketing Officer

The Hiking Season kick starts…..

After a year without ‘permits’ to hike in this region, both HS and MS hikes headed to Gundar Pool. Shocked to find a large machine built dirt road right to the Pools and on past it (preparation for a new dam that will flood the pools and both valleys, though Forest Department and Environmentalists continue to fight to stop it). The road had one benefit…no leeches. Our short cuts are still in place though only two of the knotted wattles remain. The last stretch to the pools required a fast dash. Treasures found on the journey included rollie Poochies, a bison skeleton, and a ridgeback lizard that could change colour! It was a grey day, with a drizzle around 11 o’clock that encouraged us to start back earlier than planned. Then the sun came out as we walked down observatory.

-Barbara Block, HS Coordinator

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