05 Mar 2014 India: Kochi Calling
“Fine Arts Hall Kochi?”
“Ok, Ok Madam”
“We’ll pay you Thirty Rupees Ok?”
“Naw ! Naw ! Tondy is Ok!”
What? What? Did we hear right? Here we were, offering this rickshaw guy Rs 30, but in return he furiously waggled his hands and head, insisting that 20 was just fine! We shrugged in disbelief and slid into the spacious rickshaw, staring hard at this specimen-of-sorts who was grinning at us through the rear view mirror.
“You are too cool Mister”
“Ok Ok. Very Cool Madam”
Welcome to Kochi !
Possibly the first city where I felt like I was literally living out the Theater of the Absurd – where the stage was the city’s landscapes and my co-actors, its people! And I mean this in a nice way.
For someone who’s lived in Mumbai most of her life, I’ve met honest drivers, hoteliers and shopkeepers here too but this was something else. As a woman and an ex student of sociology, Kochi city fascinated me like few others have.
Indeed just like in the movies, people did pronounce money as ‘menny’ or running mate as ‘renning mate’. But it was so cute hearing it spoken live. Even better than the Goans and their ‘what men bugger’.
Before setting foot into the south Indian state of Kerala, I associated it with the 2 usual suspects — flash strikes and food drenched in coconut oil. Clearly there’s so much more. (and by the way, the food here is delicious, and not always cooked in coconut oil)
This was also my first visit to Kerala, and what a privilege for Kochi to be my first point of contact into God’s Own Country. My sailor granddad who I never met had scores of intriguing tales to narrate through his children about Kochi’s proverbial port where his ship docked in the dead of the night . One night, Cece and me sat at a very desolate jetty in the Jewish Quarter, watching the lights of the bejeweled port opposite slowly fade into oblivion while audacious fish splashed about in the dark waters. A few male students who arrived to take the last ferry home to Ernakulam shot us a curious but polite stare before returning to their animated conversation. Unbelievable!
Having traveled through my beloved but incredibly macho north-western state of Rajasthan for years on end now, I guess I’d grown immune to eve teasing from local men who paint all women, out at night and unaccompanied by men, with the same sexist brush. And maybe, maybe it happens here in Kochi too – only local women will know it. However the few days I spent here were enough to make me want to relocate for a while!
This fetching and unusual seaside town that is spread across islands dotted with sturdy boats safely ferrying its people from dawn until the late hours.
I could go on about my observations but will instead choose to ‘talk’ to a few people I met during those few days. Chances are they will never read this but then again, that’s not the point is it?
– To the cashier at a cute local joint in Mathancherry (Jewish Quarter). You told us that our food bill was 32 Rupees (very inexpensive considering all the fried fish we had!). We heard 82 (There-Tee Two sounded like Eighty Two). We gladly handed you a 100 Rupee and were walking out when you screamed out, “Hey! 32! Come back. Take change”. Now why would you do that?
– To the driver of the prepaid taxi who got us to Kacheripady Junction but willingly went all out (even sometimes in circles) to help us locate the guesthouse. Mr. Driver, you know if you were a prepaid taxi driver operating from the airport in Mumbai, you could have manipulated the situation to bullying even a hardened Mumbaikar to pay a few hundreds extra for not getting off at the mentioned destination. You didn’t!
– To the guy at the airport prepaid taxi counter who told me that Kerala State Road Transport Corporation’s bus services to-and- from the airport to the main city center were a blessing to those who couldn’t afford or didn’t need cabs. This was pleasantly paradoxical especially coming from you whose industry could easily be threatened by these economical airport shuttles! People of Kerala, the rest of India may jokingly refer to you as the communist state on perennial strikes but at least taxi mafias aren’t allowed to burgeon and harass locals and tourists with unchecked abandon. Goa, are you listening??
– To the rickshaw driver who took me back to the airport. Thank you for stopping at places you deemed necessary for me to have a closer look at, and also signalling to your watch each time I lingered a bit too long. I got the flight in time and had the privilege of catching a few unplanned ‘extra sights’ in Kochi on my way out. And oh, thanks for never adjusting your rear view mirror and peering into it like some of your lusty compatriots do in other parts of the country while ferrying female passengers!
– To the policeman at the airport who rushed to assist the helpless woman with a baby whose suitcase burst open. You helped her arrange everything back meticulously, successfully quietened the screaming infant with those ingenuous monkey faces while simultaneously scanning every inch of the airport hall with unparalleled vigilance. Whoever said men can’t multi task?
-And finally… To Kochi. I only saw what my eyes saw. But if this is what You are like on any given day, then I salute you and your people.
A beautiful seaside town, so artistically and elaborately intertwined with rivulets, estuaries, backwaters, ports and ferries, may your honest and laid back energies prevail for always.
You do India proud!