A Kerala Holi Day!

This wasn’t really a planned holiday, but thanks to my AmEx card, we had a Taj voucher to use. That sum being reasonably insignificant in the Taj scheme of things, we wanted to limit the amount we spent for a ‘free voucher’, and that was how Kovalam was chosen as a destination. That, and a chance to see relatives we hadn’t met in over a decade! In line with our miserly approach to this trip, we decided to get there by train. Through some excellent inattention to detail, we ended up in a 2nd Class Sleeper and not the A/C ‘Garib Rath’. It had been a while since we made a summer train journey, and the lack of practice showed! Meanwhile, train journeys are an excellent discovery process – of towns one never knew existed – and this one was no exception. But to cut a long story short, Kerala in the morning was quite a welcome sight!

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Kochi Chronicles – Part 2

….continued from Part 1

Much as Willingdon Island has remained unchanged, Cochin itself has a completely different story to tell. As I’ve mentioned before, each time I visit, I am presented with a new landmark and a demise of an older one which belonged to an earlier era.

For lunch, we decided to go to a trusted old timer – Tandoor. At Chillies (1st Floor) they serve an excellent Andhra meal. It’d been a while since I tried the Chicken Biriyani, so I chose to have that while D and the other M hogged the meals. No meal in Tandoor is complete without their special Kadai Chicken, so we shared a half plate. Amazing as it has always been.

Chillies hasn’t changed a bit though Tandoor downstairs keeps changing the decor. A dimly lit ambiance that somehow manages to freeze time. Helped by the huge photos from a long gone era. (the owner is related to the Travancore Sisters, so you can find many like these featuring them and MGR/Sivaji Ganesan)

The plan for the afternoon was ‘Beautiful‘. A movie we missed in Bangalore. We watched it at Padma, one of the several ‘feminine’ theaters Cochin is famous for. Most of them have survived, though the multiplexes have begun their march. Beautiful lived up to its name, and I loved the way they have quietly, but wonderfully shot the city and Fort Kochi in the movie. The day before, the other M had asked us to note a house in Fort Kochi – the one that had been featured in the movie.

In the evening, I met a friend whom I knew from Bangalore. K suggested the Cocoa Tree on MG Road, a place that has consistently ticked me off whenever I have visited, but is still a fave hangout for many in Cochin. She had moved to Cochin only a while back and I quizzed her on her first impressions. A city in transition, we both agreed, and something that reminded her of Bangalore a couple of decades ago.

To me it was still a small ‘town’, where most people still knew most other people. I probably bored her, talking of old landmarks and routes to school, and how the skyline has changed since then. I told her that I’d never felt a Cochin culture, something I could sense strongly in Trivandrum, Kozhikode, Trichur etc. Cochin has always been Kerala’s big city, changing too fast to have crafted an identity beyond that. She showed me the photo of her house with an awesome balcony view. Once again, I began thinking of where my final home would be. Oh yes, it would be fun to walk the roads as an old man – to walk past the Public Library, where I have spent so many hours, the CISF grounds whose pitch has seen many of my ‘spin experiments’, the school and its surrounding areas which has seen me transition from walking to cycles to a motor vehicle, Foreshore Road, where a dimly lit university computer room hosted my first forays into the internet, and so many many others. But would they be the same? A thought that crossed my mind when I walked back home, seeing familiar faces that had grown older, same people, doing the same things, even as time passed by. A mirror of a different sort.

Dinner was at Kahawa, the owners were the other M’s friends. A coffee shop+ with a distinct character. Hand painted wall art, a book lending mechanism ( a tie up with another of their friends) and reasonably decent food. They also have a section upstairs which is opened on days that Manchester United has a match on. Also available are group discounts and discounts for the Mayor on Foursquare. :)



We tried the Mango Italian Soda, which could have done a better job with the fizz. The Choco Chiller was significantly better and so was the Mint Hot Chocolate.


In the main course, K had recommended the mashed potato and Meat Sauce, but the Roast Pork was too tempting. But sadly, it just about passed muster, as did the Chicken a la Kiev. The best dish was the Grilled Fish with Mornay Sauce. Once again D was the one who got lucky! There were a few options for dessert, but nothing that we really fancied.

Before we left for the airport, we stopped at Malabar Chips – banana chips for Bangalore. Familiar faces, though they didn’t recognise me. Except for one person. :) I wondered if this was the idea of home – a place that you can come back to after several years and still be  recognised, a place that thus gives you a sense of belonging.

As we passed the North Bridge, we saw the first signs of the Kochi Metro construction. There was a line that stayed with me long after ‘Beautiful’ – “Maturity is the loss of innocence” It probably is true of cities too, and I wondered if it was only incidental that there were huge hoardings of a TOI launch on Feb 1st.

We detoured through the University, and though the place shows small signs of transformation every time I visit, there are parts of it that refuse to change. Islands in time. Places where I could stand and travel back in time, because the settings were the same, all I had to do was remember. But I had a flight to catch, and a journey to end.

until next time, timed travel

Kochi chronicles – Part 1

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