The Endearing Cousins & Kotagiri

(During the British time Ooty was the preserve of the Army, Coonoor was the place of  ‘box wallahs’(traders) and Kotagiri was considered the centre of missionaries and intellectuals. Today’s nugget is about two Christian intellectuals who were not missionaries. On the other hand, they both converted to Hinduism !!)

James Henry Cousins (he nicknamed himself Jayram Cousins) was a Irish poet, play write and  a teacher born in 1873. On par with poets like Yeats and Willam Russell, he joined the Theosophical movement in 1908 under Annie Besant and he and his wife Margaret  moved to India in 1915. James took to teaching and Margaret joined the freedom movement and went to jail.

The Cousins first came to Ooty in 1915 by which time Theosophical movement was well entrenched in Ooty. The founder Olcot  had purchased a summer house  there. The Cousins came to Kotagiri in 1935 for a summer vacation. At the peak of the freedom movement, from July 1939 to October 1943, the Cousins stayed in Kotagiri at ‘Ghat View. As Margaret summed up, ‘My doings at Kotagiri were a mix-up of domesticity, feminism, patriotism, humanism, occultism, nature and music’.

Kotagiri during those years was bustling with nationalistic fervor and the Cousins played host to a number of great reformers and Gandhians.  Deenabandu C.F. Andrews came up there in 1940 to complete his book ‘True India’. Dr. Maria Montessori and her son and Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy visited the Cousins in 1940. Gandhi’s visit to Kotagiri in 1934 had inspired a number of Europeans and Indians to work for the down trodden.

Margaret worked tirelessly for the poor and the handicapped in Kotagiri. In her final year she herself became handicapped by a stroke due to over work and exhaustion. Dr. Jeffry, one of the founders of the Kotagiri Medical Fellowship used to treat her. Margaret started a ‘Mother’s Home for Service’ in Kotagiri and I think the Kotagiri Women’s Cooperative too owes its origin to her.

Both James and Margaret were converted to Hinduism by the Maharaja of Travancore who also had a house close to them in Kotagiri.

James Cousins’ lasting contribution to the Nilgiris is his poetic tribute to the ‘Long Wood Shola’ in Kotagiri where they had spent a lot of time together. The poem combines the thoughts of Protestantism, Catholicism and Hinduism.

Margaret’s lasting contribution is the tune she set for the Indian National Anthem sung by generations. They both died in Madanapalle and buried under Hindu custom.

The times of the Cousins in Kotagiri were the formative days of my father as a budding journalist. He was freelancing for the English daily The Madras Mail. My father knew practically every missionary and intellectual in Kotagiri. He volunteered as a steno to C.F. Andrews for six months.

He was close the Cousins helping out in whatever ways he could. He was also close to Dr. Jeffry who had her hospital very close to our village.

The Cousins summed up their lives in their book, “We Two Together”. They presented a copy of the book as a wedding gift to my father. 

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