It looks as though the cosmos reads my posts, well almost. The 2 hour bus ride to Cochin was spent near the window seat, close enough to see the night lights. Especially at the stadium where the Kerala Strikers were trouncing their Bollywood opponents in the CCL, and the collective star power was only eclipsed by the floodlights, which dominated the sky. Dinner was the must-have dish on every Cochin trip, from a restaurant which I used to frequent, but whose special dish I discovered much later thanks to a distant relative. The restaurant has shifted since, but thankfully, the dish survived the trip.
A trip to a hospital which has been witness to many childhood exploits was the first agenda of the next day. The backbone apparently had its own growth agenda, the tangential perks of a daily face to monitor relationship with the computer. Reminders of mortality too, but a trip I was looking forward to was scheduled for later in the day, and that dispelled the morbid thoughts.
Despite living in Cochin for more than two decades, Fort Kochi and Mattancheri had always been faraway places for me. My connection to them, for a long time, had been that they used to be the final destinations of the buses I used to travel in. Whenever I saw someone take a ticket to these places, I used to look at them curiously. A “where do you live, what happens there, what is it like – living there” look. Later, I had quite a few school friends who used to live there, and I knew the names of the localities they lived in and talked about – Cherlai, Kappalandimukku… I had a friend in college too, my regular travel companion, who lived in Pandikudy.
But it was only much later, when I started working in Cochin, that I actually visited these places. Despite frequent biriyani trips, I could never master the lane mazes there. An era before Google Maps. And despite the familiarity these trips created, these places, especially Fort Kochi, never lost the little bit of magic it held for me. The last time I visited the place was around 4 years back – part of an official trip, and as a ‘tourist’.
This time, the other M, my sister, a regular visitor, kept teasing D in front of shops with “Madam, you want Kerala sari?” We went by the synagogue, the Police History Museum, visited Jew Town, and watched the backwaters from a cafe + curios outlet which charged tourists for window shopping. At Fort Kochi, a walk along the Chinese fishing nets was mandatory, and on the wall nearby, someone had painted his expression of the Mullaperiyar controversy. A refreshing iced tea + chocolate cake at the Kashi Gallery+Cafe later, we were on our way back.
But there was one stop left before we got back home. One of my favourite areas in all of Cochin – Willingdon Island. Island, which has always remained the same. From Cochin’s old airport, which was returned to the Navy a long time ago, to the shipping container yards, the KV School grounds, the shipping offices, warehouses past their glory days and now in disrepair, and buildings which seem to tell us stories of another time. The world has changed, and yet they remain, like a living snapshot of another era. These are the places where I learned to drive a car, where numerous hours were spent convincing people to buy broadband internet, where endless cups of tea were consumed dreaming about the future. Time on Island has always stood still for me. We stood by the sea, watching the Vallarpadam container terminal come up, the Rainbow Bridge, Bolgatty and so on, as ferries carried people home.
Cochin might be a big city in the making, but it sleeps early, for now. Even as we got out for dinner, at just after 8, most shops were closed/beginning to close, and traffic was minimal. We had dinner at 14 Avenue, which served some excellent pasta and cannelloni. The best way to end the day is with good chocolate cake, and that’s exactly what we did.
The thing with hometowns is that there are many streets and places which activate memories. It is as though they are always waiting for me, to share a common story, to ask me if I remember, to tell me what has happened since, and if I will pass by to see them the next time I visit. Though our paths have separated since, each road has shared a journey with me, and every time I step on them, I step out of myself and think of the younger me who walked these roads.
until next time, walk on