I grew up in a typical middle-class family in Kerala where parents had to toil and work hard to make ends meet. My father was then teaching in a school and my mother was a housewife. Teachers never ended up earning much monetarily – then and even now. When I write about ‘making ends meet’ mind you, I am from Kerala which means ‘making ends meet’ included sending your kids to the best school in the locality. Education for children and coconut oil for hair was never compromised on. But yeah, unlike the general misconception, we did use shampoo and conditioner after applying coconut oil.
Coming back to my story, expensive education and reasonable standard of living meant no money for vacations. This also meant, I never understood what is meant to go on a vacation as a kid. In my small little world, vacation meant going over to my maternal- grandmother’s house or playing with the neighbour’s children. So, after one of these two months of summer vacation, the class teacher of upper kindergarten asked all of us about a vacation trip we took during summers. She explained that it can be any trip taken by you with your parents wherein you saw new places, ate chocolates, ice-creams and had lots of fun. The little me immediately ruled out going to neighbour’s house as a vacation since parents never accompanied me. I usually ran across, or my mother passed me over to my friend’s mother over the boundary wall. I contemplated the trip to maternal grandmother’s house. But that was not a new place. I was going there since I was born. In fact, that’s the first house I lived in for 3 months after my mother popped me out. Just when I was about to ask for further clarification, the teacher proudly called out my name for starting the narration. Though confused deep inside, the confident little me swung my ponytail in the air and began my vacation trip with my father to buy nails and a hammer!
The mention of the trip made my teacher and the little smarty pants of the class giggle. Completely ignoring them, I described in detail the ride on my father’s rickety old Bajaj scooter to the town nearby, the beautiful sweaty summer morning, the stop on the way to buy ice-cream, a minor breakdown of the scooter which led to a detour through a park till the mechanic arrived, our stop at the shop to buy the nails and hammer and of course the final stop to buy some chocolates for the sister. Afterall, she missed out on the trip. The teacher was, I think, in retrospect amazed at my ability to tick all the boxes as per her definition of a vacation and patted my back!
Once the other kids started narrating their trips to nearby hill stations (Munnar, Ooty), longer trips to North India (Delhi, Jaipur) did I realize that I may have made a fool of myself.
All said and done, I can bet that the 4-year-old little me who went to buy nails and hammer had a lot more fun in those few hours than what I had during the numerous trips I took around the world during the pre-covid era.
As I always start the posts in this series – Ideally one shouldn’t need reasons to stay happy in life! But at times some incidents give you that extra dose of happiness Mine are as follows:
I am finally going home for a 10 whole days in the month of March. That seems like a long vacation and after a very long time. I plan to do a lot of things during the trip. Some of them being –
(i) Trip to my Alma Mater – Thanks to Annayum Rasoolum for bringing Fort Cochin back in to my life. From the moment I saw the little girl in the uniform of the Delta Study , I am wanting to go to my alma mater and just be there!
(ii) Read Malayalam novels – I have decided to start reading Malayalam novels. I read the translated version of ‘Khasakkinte Itihasam’ and realised that I am not doing justice to the great authors if I do not read it in Malayalam. I can always order it online – but going to DC book store, spending some time and picking the books is something that I will always enjoy.
(iii) (Kayikka’s) Rahmuthala Hotel – New Road, Mattancherry – I want to go and eat my fair share of biriyani! It has been really long.
(iv) Old Harbour House Fort Kochi – This is one place I want to take my parents out for a dinner. Fort Cochin is one place that has given us some beautiful and lovely memories. Want to re-live them once again with family.
The most important of all – spend time with mamma and daddy 🙂 . The countdown begins for March 23, 2013!
My take on the music and the movie will definitely feature on this virtual world upon release of the movie. The presence of a dear friend – Muthumani Somasundaran and current craze – period are more than one reasons to dedicate a separate space for the movie.
For now – it is about Fort Cochin and more so my childhood memories about the place!
As always, I asked Wikipedia about the city just to top my experiences with some history. Thought I did read about the city in detail- what interested me most was the origin of the name Fort Cochin:
“The name Cochin implies “co-chin”, meaning “like-China”. It looked like China when the Chinese came to the region during the 14th century and installed Chinese nets. Mattancherry is the nerve town of old historic Cochin. In old Malayalam it is maadan-cherry, cherry meaning town. Maad or cow was the stamp of Old Royal Fort of Rajah of Cochin, who built his palace after the fall of Kodungallur or Mussaris port due to a gigantic tsunami in 1341 AD”.
This is one bit of information I was not aware !
Leaving history behind lets visit Fort Cochin as I remember it!
My trip to Fort Cochin was at the age of 6 when I attend a wedding of one of my father’s colleagues. I don’t remember the visit in great detail. Just vaguely remember the Cochin Airport which was back then close to Fort Cochin, crossing the Mattanchery bridge and seeing the Chinese fishing nets. What I remember clearly was that I wore a blue dress – a birthday gift!
At the age of 7, it was decided that our family shall be moving into the accommodation provided by the school in which my father worked as the Principal – The Delta Study, Fort Cochin. Thereafter, I was to continue my education at Delta . Unlike my sister, I was super excited. She was in standard 7 did not want to leave her old friends, her school, and teachers. I remember we even went and enquired about the hostel facilities of the school we studied without letting our parents know. She preferred staying at a hostel rather than joining a new school and being part of a new environment.
I was on the other hand excited about going to a new school. The primary reasons being- I hated my old school and more so hated the one hour travel to school every day. The new house was inside the school campus and hence zero travel.
Back to the city:
Fort Cochin according me is a mini Goa! Some of the lanes, buildings, houses that share the same wall – all look very similar to Old Goa. It exudes a charm, a beauty that is unique and very different from the rest of Kerala.
I would start the description of the city with the house I stayed in . It was an old Portuguese built bungalow and HUGE! By ‘huge’ I mean very ‘huge’!!This bungalow is a part of The Delta Study which was once a warehouse – built in 1808.
As a 7 year old, who has lived in a moderately small ancestral home – the first look of the house left me stunned. The highlights of the house were wooden flooring, a ball room, a gigantic bathroom, bathtubs, huge balcony! I used to get lost in the house due to its sheer size.
Though we never used the ballroom for the purposed intended it was an apt playroom for me!
The boat ride from Fort Cochin to Vypeen has been my first ever. It was exciting and scary. Scary trips as the boat never used to be in the best of conditions! If a ship happens to sail through the route any time the waves used to become so unruly and restless that the boat used to start dancing in the sea.
Living five minutes away from sea was, I think the best part of being in Fort Cochin. Our parents used to take us to the beach side every other day and also treat us with a mango ice cream from Chariot Hotel!
At one point in time major beautification and restoration works were conducted around the beach and police security was present at the beach 24/7. Felt safe to be around the place. No idea how it is now.
Every time any cousin came to visit us, we used to take them around Fort Cochin – the Jew street being one of them. I used to love going there as a child and beyond – for the sheer old city charm that it has. The narrow lane , the small shops selling antiques, the Jew synagogue at the end of the lane holds a charm unique to that place.
Kapithans was a very famous ice –cream shop – more famous as a hangout area. The cassatta and mango ice cream from Kapithans were yum!Couples went there to treat each other, ‘school gangs’ went there got their birthday treats!
Shop n’ Save was the one shop stop for all stationery items during my school days. I am sure a number of other shops might have cropped up now. Going to the shop to buy new notebooks, pens, brown paper to cover the books excited me as a kid.
As the name indicates the apartment faces the sea and has one of the most beautiful views of the sea. This apartment holds a special place as some of my friends used to stay there and I used to go there in the evenings. I remember seeing the deck of a ship through a binoculars from the balcony of a friend’s house. That was probably the first time I used a binoculars!
I have not had tastier plum cakes from any other part of the World. Elite hotel in Fort Cochin used to bake one of the most tastiest plum cakes in Fort Cochin! Talking about cakes I remember we received more than 50 cakes, during the first Christmas in Fort Cochin. People greet each other for Christmas with plum cakes.
Cochin Carnival conducted on 1st of January every year is one of the biggest events in Fort Cochin – processions, dancing on the road – an evening full of fun and frolic. The Carnival comes to an end at the beach where a huge Santa is set on fire – indicating burning away of the bad. Strange – because Santa is set on fire – but unique.
People from across the state come to see the carnival. We were lucky enough to have one of our balconies facing the road on which the Carnival proceeds. Our house used to be full of friends and family who wanted to watch the Carnival!
A land of keralites, numerous foreigners which includes Europeans, Americans, Africans,Chinese and just about every nationality, a nepali watchman, a class full of tamilians, marvadis, konkanis, Punjabis, gujaratis – hindus, christians, muslims and Sikhs – what more of a cultural and religious diversity do you require!
Kethu ram – our watchman is someone I would never forget. All credit for the little hindi that I know goes to him!
Though I have seen it for about 10 years of my life, it has never ceased to fascinate me.
Be it the Santa Cruz Basilica or the St. Francis Church, these churches have always fascinated me for its vastness and beauty. I have been there a number of times as travel guide to my cousins and friends. Surprisingly, I have never attended the mass there.
There wouldn’t be a single person in Fort Cochin who hasn’t tasted Kayikaa’s Biriyani. If KFC chicken is patented it is a sin not to patent this recipe. I am not sure if the future generations has been able to carry forward the unique taste – the last time I had it was more than 10 years ago!
Kashis Art Gallery /Coffee Shop
Though Kashis was a part of the city during my school days, it shot to fame during my college days at Ernakulam. We used to travel an hour from Ernakulam just to have a good breakfast or the famous chocolate cake at Kashis.
Fish and Fish Fry
Sea fish used to be a part of our staple diet since we used to get fresh ones. Many a times the fishes were alive when it was brought home. As soon as amma placed them into the water it used to start swimming. Since mom was scared to kill live fishes we used to wait for our maid Tulsi to come the next day. I used to love watching the fishes swimming in the vessels till it became ‘meen fry’ on the dining table-loved them even more after that 🙂
Sip –ups are not Fort Cochin specific . However it forms an integral part of my experiences in the city. I used to collect money from mom and dad to buy them. It used to cost 50 ps. To 1 rs.- back then! Do I sound too old?!
Christmas and new year decorations
I have not seen any other city in Kerala decorated in so much grandeur as Fort Cochin is during Christmas, New Year time. The streets are lit by hundreds of stars, every house will have a Christmas tree!
Pani Puris and Bondas
Under the pretext of attending computer Classes I used to go with a couple of friends to Pandikudy. Konkani Saraswathi Brahmins reside in a the area around pandikudy. With a temple in the vicinity and array of houses around the temple the area had a Palakkad feel to it! More than the computer classes we used to enjoy the walk through the streets, the hustle bustle around the temple, the knee length water in the area during monsoons, the pani puri competition at the chat shop and the bondas from one of the thattu kadas!
The memories associated with Fort Cochin in the form of places, people and emotions are numerous! I would require many more posts to describe my childhood there!
A day that seemed like old times! Some fun, lots of cluttered thoughts, a plain notebook and a random novel from one of my favourite book stores in Kerala add to the nostalgia.
Talking about notebooks, I have always had a fascination for them – plain notebooks, diaries and those costly recycled books. Writing a few pages and leaving it for good has always been a part of me – the intent has always been to write my cluttered thoughts which hardly goes beyong the first tro pages.Nonetheless, I have got one more of them. Hoping that this time around I am able to reflect my thought on paper.
While walking through the bookstore today and looking thorugh the books, I was feeling like old times , when i used to spend hours at the bookstore at shivaji park. And I feel glad about it.
The nostalgic feeling that I am going throught can be soley attributed to a wonderful movie that I saw today -“thattathin marayathil” – kerala -college – first love- divides of religion- More than one reason to be nostalgic :). As I hear to the songs of the move while sipping some ‘hot chai’ – I am loving the moment.
Some random thoughts- feelings- emotions that thats a part of me today consitutes my first blog- August 28, 2012.
Someday when I feel confident enought I will open this to the world. Till then this one is for me.