The land of incredible joy. The land of mystical novelty. Fort Kochi has many definitions to me. Today, I went into a reverie again. When I saw the supermoon outside, when I saw the photos of the year-ending Fort Kochi carnival in the news, I realized I was missing Fort Kochi this time. This New Year, I am missing the beautiful place which has made this city the Queen of Arabian Sea. I could be some distance away but the festivity had already engulfed me, pushing my mind to travel past the physical limitations towards the magical place.
I take a turn to left from the church in Thoppumpady and the change in the vibe of the surroundings is immediate and drastic. The weather changes, the mood shifts, the architecture transforms. Every striking church façade speaks of a lineage still remembered by. A colonial culture donated by the explorers and invaders of the Dutch and Portuguese. The long winding road flanked by old shops leads finally to the Veli ground where stands the giant Banyan tree towering over the rest of the greenery as if it’s conscious of its significance in the whole Christmas fervour of the region. To witness the sprawling tree adorned with all the embellishments of the celebrations, lights and stars in its vividness, is itself a grand spectacle.
Further ahead lies the beach which I love just because it’s a beach; where sky meets sea. Where vastness teaches you the meekness of your being. Every emotion that I see spreading across the multitudinous nameless faces is influenced by the sea wind and the sound of the waves washing ashore. The next stop is the reminder to pursue life with infinite endeavour; the Dutch Cemetery. Strangely, I find cemeteries deeply beautiful. May be writers are a strange set of species and any other explanation would become insufficient. However, I feel this one built by the Dutch in Fort Kochi tenders a special appeal to every eye. Its tiny gate and moss filled old concrete walls could any time be a marvel to a romantic. I arrive at the Princess street which sunbathes in the afternoon with the company of spice shops, curio outlets, bakeries, boutique hotels with vintage appeal, patisseries which emits the heavenly scent of baking. The sensuousness of the street makes me smile mindlessly and I enter the Elite bakery to relish the Chocolate brownie with a cup of tea set on old but charming wooden tables and humble chairs. A few of the gregarious foreign travellers wish me and I wish them back.
I finish the tea and brownie in an elaborate ritual of unhurried sips and small bites and head to the next stop which is the bookstore. The tiny book shop teases my senses with its cosy cupboards and book shelves and the smell of fresh and old books. Also, the small pocket diaries with handcrafted pages and covers. The spot I prefer is behind a shoulder length cupboard; I hold a book and glance through the entrance door which is right opposite me, at the street where the happy Indian and foreigner is walking past every few minutes. My dream would be to be frozen here for time eternal. A very soul-stirring dream.
Right after the bookshop is the Vasco house; with the staircase painted white, the European glass windows overlooking the road and the board “Vasco House”. Houses tell stories. Stories of people who have lived there, who are living there and who would have influenced them. This house definitely has a big story to tell, with an overload of Portuguese influence. The story of Vasco De Gama and thousands who would have resided in, after him. If there was a mechanism to travel to yester years, I would have done that just to map the Journey of Vasco house!
As every story is bound to end, Vasco’s ended too in Kochi, as history goes. I step in to St Francis Church, which housed his mortal remains for years till it was moved to Lisbon, his home town in Portugal. The eerie silence of the brick church creates a strange sense of reflection and the sight of the marked area where Vasco’s body was buried throws open the powerful truth of transience of life.
After the encounter with the lessons of history, I stroll, to the Chinese fishing nets and experience the magnificence of a coastal line which bespeaks a heritage and occupation that has served the natives for a very long time.
My mind’s journey reaches the finish line at the benches near the central Fort Kochi Park overlooking the sea, where I can hear the shouts of the fish vendors on the concrete pathway, the calls of the temporary cart owners who sell every item from peanuts to bangles, and where I can still look at the sea and attain silence amidst the chaos. I thank the land immortalized by New Year Carnival and Pappanji burning, I thank her people whose incandescent spirits had revived and maintained a Portuguese tradition which could have easily been forgotten.
…..I have been doing this almost every two months and every year for the last six years! Irrespective of the times I have visited, the place still captures me with its magnetic charm and it offers me something new during every visit. I think I am slowly fathoming the emotion of Fort Kochiites when they say “Fort Kochi isn’t just a place, it is a feeling!” It is one deeply rooted feeling, now I know… because…..
Because…I am missing Fort Kochi this New Year!