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Kochi: The other side of emptiness

Thulasi Kakkat | Updated on June 05, 2020 Published on June 04, 2020

With silence hanging heavy on the desolate streets of Kochi, a city lover voices a deep longing for visitors

* Kochi to move at its own leisurely pace, unmindful of the impatience of those who inhabit it. That was the norm until all of it — the streets, the sea, backwaters and shores — suddenly fell silent as the country went into a lockdown on March 25 to combat a pandemic.

I cannot recall when exactly a house with sea-facing windows and a door that opens to the street began to inhabit my dreams. It was a strange longing for all that I had not seen in real life. I had always been fascinated by streets milling with people and packed with history. Perhaps it was because I was born in a village with no sea, streets or anything worth a mention in the annals of history, and grew up without electricity. And that, perhaps, also explains why even a decade of close familiarity with Kochi’s streets and the sea that hems them has not dimmed their allure for me.

It is the port city where adventurous sailors docked their vessels; a place that was ruled for centuries by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in succession. The buildings in this tourist hub of Kerala bear hundreds of years of history and on its streets have roamed folks from faraway lands. The house with sea-facing windows and a door that opens to the cacophony of the street must be here somewhere.

To watch the sea, the narrow roads and the burgeoning urbanscape raised on the unsteady bog from atop a building on the Bazar Road has been a favourite past-time. I would watch the harbour dotted with multicoloured ships, fishing boats and canoes. Its streets treaded by the lonely walkers as well as tourists speaking different tongues. Across the backwaters, sunburnt migrant labourers building the city brick-by-brick. Kochi, though, moving at its own leisurely pace, unmindful of the impatience of those who inhabit it.

This was the norm until all of it — the streets, the sea, backwaters and shores — suddenly fell silent as the country went into a lockdown on March 25 to combat a pandemic. The historic Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica is unlikely to have ever witnessed a more desolate Easter in its centuries-old history. The harbour bridge, the beach and the jhankar (ferry) jetty are all deserted. But more lonesome still is the Santo Gopalan Memorial Library; the barely visible sketch of the Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara adorning its dark walls must never have felt as forlorn before. Travellers from faraway lands, when are you going to return to Kochi which is as much yours as it’s ours?

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Published on June 04, 2020