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Kochi Chronicles: A Sequel
I have a love hate relationship with my job – more specifically with the rigorous, almost haphazard travel regime that it bestows. Most of my tours materialize suddenly – at times at such a short notice that one barely has enough time to pack. My other lament about these unpredictable sojourns is the brevity of their duration. Most trips are of the morning-in-night-out variety and if for some reason (usually excessive work or poor connection to Bangalore) I do end up staying overnight, the next day usually ends up getting choked with business meetings; arranged to fill in the void till next evening flight.

Still there are reasons that make the entire grind worthwhile. I get to visit states, cities, towns, that I’ve never visited before. And there are odd instances when I get sufficient slack in my schedule to experience the cultures and cuisines of places playing host to me. My recent Kochi visit was one such fortuity. I was visiting Kochi for the second time ever - my last trip to the city had been just a year or so ago.

My itinerary last time had left me little time to do anything but observe the city landscape as the plane landed and to pass pithy remarks on the ungainly hoardings that dotted the road from airport to the city. While I got ample opportunity to indulge in both these activities this time around as well, I could squeeze in a lot more (thanks to friends) on the first night and second day of my stay.

My landing at Kochi airport was a rough one, as if the plan had suddenly stumbled upon the concrete runway amidst the sea of coconut trees. The wait at the airport was again annoyingly long. As I impatiently stared at my watch for the nth time, the conveyor belt gave a squeak and started moving, carrying forth my suitcase. The duo of my car-driver (holding a sheet of paper with my name printed on it in English) and the clammy tropical afternoon breeze, greeted me together. In no time I was racing towards the hotel. While I had intended to brave the weather, my driver wasn’t so keen on the idea and before I could even roll the car windows down, he had turned the air-conditioning on. He then proceeded to regale me with music that suited neither my taste nor the occasion (run of the mill Bollywood stuff) but spared me any greater agony by staying away from the remixes.

Kochi landscape had changed little since my last visit, save for an occasional building or two being constructed by the road side. The hoarding landscape however showed a marked change. The hand painted jewelry adverts are being replaced with adverts of telecom/cellular providers proclaiming affordability of their latest tariffs. Most other hoardings ranged from the trite to outright disgusting. Of these, I must mention at least two: an advert for a software company showed a computer with a spanking new LCD screen lying on a desk. Nothing wrong with it except that to add a touch of surrealism, there was a hand dangling by the wrist from the monitor with its index finger tapping at the keyboard. The ad’s intention – purported or otherwise – continues to flummox me.

The second hoarding was split into two frames. The frame on the left showed a lady tied in a contest of arm-wrestling with a ruffianly looking swarthy man; his back facing you revealing a ghastly tattoo on his left shoulder. The second frame was given entirely to our grinning damsel who held a cup of hot tea close to her chin. Apparently the contents of that concoction had caused her to beat the villainous bloke. A good brew can indeed pull of wondrous feats.

The movie hoardings were largely dominated by Mohan Lal and Mamooty though this time I saw a new crop of young talent get their fair share - and banner for at least one of the movies was very tastefully done.

The remainder of my journey was spent tackling interpretation of the few new Malayalam characters I had learned from graffiti, road-signs and posters.

My hotel room for a change was warm and welcoming – a pleasant deviation from the routine. The floor instead of being carpeted with neglected, smelly rugs was covered with tasteful wooden tiles. The room faced south and was bathed in light of the afternoon sun. The view outside was brilliant – the horizon rank with files of countless coconut trees – and a little backwater stream in front with an occasional boat trudging through it. I couldn’t help contrasting the backdrop with the dreary, hazy skyline that I had seen from my hotel room in Mumbai a few days ago:

I freshened up and headed to the latest elevator. The doors of the small elevator opened to reveal the most diverse cross section of crowd you can ever get in a setting like this – a police inspector, a padre dressed in bright red robes and a few other people though of relatively common occupations. I reluctantly lent myself to the diverse population 5 and the entire entourage descended to the lobby at one of the most leisurely paced elevator rides that I’ve experienced recently. The remaining day had nothing leisurely about it and by the time I stepped out of the last meeting the sun had already set. The drive back to the hotel at was pleasantly cool due to the evening showers.

At night I met two friends at the hotel lobby who not only took me out for dinner but were also generous in giving me a tour of the city. I learned many things about Kochi and how it was evolving from several loosely connected towns. For the first time I saw a real ship docked at a wharf. You see ships in the movies or read about them in books but the overwhelming enormity of a ship only registers when you see it for real. We then drove around the Kochi port which was surprisingly devoid of any traffic – vehicular or human. An entire stretch which I thought should have been swarming with tourists and couples sauntering after dinner, resembled an eerie ghost town – with an occasional boat with its distant lights tottering along aimlessly in the backwaters. After a quick round up of the city and Wellington Island (which was reclaimed from sea years ago!) we headed back. The coffee we all had had after dinner, kept us awake and chatty till midnight. We finally exchanged good-byes and I went to sleep.

The meetings next day kept me thoroughly occupied. However, even after my last meeting I had some 3 hours to spare. I thus decided to indulge in a touristy escapade. On the way to Kochi airport you will spot a cylindrical, domed building – a museum dedicated to the history of Kerala. They host an hour long sound and light show thrice a day. The last show begins at 4:00 but this being a working day I was the only person at the ticket counter. I purchased the 8 Re ticket and sauntered in the museum’s small but very well maintained garden. Since photography inside the museum was prohibited, I made the most of the moments outside:

The curator beckoned me in sharp at 4:00 and the show began. It was remarkably cool inside despite lack of air-conditioning and dark too. Never before in my life have I been the sole soul inside a museum! This made the entire experience a little spooky. I kept thinking of my plight if the life-sized mannequins were to come to life – the power-cut which intervened just before the first half of the show ended, did little to make me comfortable. The show provided a concise but interesting insight into the history of Kerala and I would recommend it highly to anyone visiting Kochi.

As I resumed the drive back to the airport, the sun was setting again. This being September, Kerala is now witnessing “retreating” monsoons. The sky even though it looked dark and threatening didn’t pour but provided a fantastic milieu for my little photography session before sunset:

When I reached airport, there were still two hours to my flight. The airport was completely deserted and for a moment I wondered if I had come to a wrong building. Only minutes before the flight was there any activity near the check-in counters and I was eventually issued my boarding pass. As I stepped out of the airport terminal to board the plane, a queer chill rand down my spine. Mine was the only plane standing outside. Except for a circle of arc-lights suspended from a three storey high pole, there was no light for miles and miles ahead. The entire setting made me feel extremely small. I looked up and saw no moon in the overcast sky, instead my eyes caught a couple of mosquitoes glowing in the dark as they hovered high above the plane. Ten minutes later, the plane soared above the clouds and struggled through the rough weather to Bangalore.
posted: 28.9.04


Deepak, your prose is poetic. Well, that I need not tell. But those pictures - ha, I want to run to Kochi rightaway!

Well, here's another one, dying for home. Sigh.

PS: Remember me?

By Blogger sajith, at 28.9.04  

Hey Sajith, thanks for dropping by on my blog! Yup I remember you! [I am usually not very bad at remembering people - in fact lot better at it than I used to be at calculus :-)]

By Blogger Deepak, at 3.10.04  

Your entry captured the two things that mean a lot to me: Mumbai and the monsoons. Hazy skyline or not, you are very unlikely to hear a critical remark on the city from a hard-core Mumbaikar like me. I have been in the US for the past few years, and the one thing that I miss the most are the monsoons. Coming from guy who gets rains all the time (I live in Seattle :-)), you can imagine the kind of impact they must have had. The perceptible drop in temperature, the gentle breeze beginning to gain force, the first drops crashing to the ground, the water carried by the wind on its shoulders .... I could go on. Anyway, it was nice reading your blog, hope to do so more often.

By Blogger Parth, at 7.10.04  

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