Amidst the wealth of precious heritage in Fort Kochi , a non-descript Rose Lane bears one of the most curious vestiges of the past, an air bridge between two heritage hotels — the brick red Koder House and the newly revamped Spice Fort. Currently not functional, the bridge was once a lively passage between the two houses that belonged to the prominent Koder family of paradesi Jews.
Queenie Hallegua, daughter of Sadu Koder who has been part of the living history of the Koder houses says, “My grandfather bought the house from its Portuguese owner sometime in the earlier 20th century, roughly 1910-15. It was then demolished and the present Koder House was built by a gentleman named Cohen. The bridge was built around the same time.”
Overarching Rose Lane, and connecting the top floors of the two Koder Houses, the bridge had a prototype at Santa Cruz High School, recalls Antony Thommen who has recently brought out the book Fort Cochin, The Heritage city of Cochin — Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow on the rich history of the area. He says that the style of the two bridges was identical. “The school bridge connected the laboratory and the headmaster’s office. It was brought down sometime in the seventies when it became too dangerous for use. This bridge is now one of its kinds.” The approximately century-old bridge is built on an iron rail track fitted with wooden planks. An ornate grill makes for the railing.
Prakash Burleigh, a family friend of the Koder’s and nephew of K.J. Herschel who was Municipal Chairman of Fort Cochin for 23 years, remembers his uncle talk about the requirement of a building permit for the bridge. His wife Pearly recalls going across the bridge from the pantry and work areas of the Koder House on Tower Road to enter into a party hall on the house on Princess Street. “For sometime, before he moved to Jew Street in Mattancherry, Elias Koder, brother of Sadu, used to live on the top floor. Below was the famous S. Koder store that old timers will fondly recall.” “It used to sell interesting merchandise. I used to go there for stationary and rosary items,” says Antony adding that a textile shop by the name of ‘Alexander Brothers’ existed in the adjacent house in the early fifties.
While the bridge had the footfall of the family and friends of the Koders, the Rose Lane below was witness to quotidian activities. Antony says his research shows that the Portuguese had built eight broad roads which were intersected by narrow lanes. K.J. Sohan, former mayor and a history buff from the area, adds that Rose Lane, as against the more prominent Princess and Rose Streets on either side, was a service lane. “The lanes were narrower than the streets, which were the main roads. A lot of scavenging activities went on during the colonial times. These side lanes were used for that, and by the bevy of staff of the sahips.”
Clement Abraham, a retired professor of English from Aquinas College, who lives in the house neighbouring Koder House, remembers the inebriated merrymaking at a bar at the end of the lane. “The bar used to open early and sometimes the morning began with drunken brawls.” His corner house, earlier called kachoda veedu (business house), today is home to the popular side walk café, Chariots. “It was called so because all my uncles had little shops and did business. There was a bakery, another small shop…like a line of shops,” he recalls. A butler of an English manager of Peirce Leslie Company also used to stay in a small house in Rose Lane. It was demolished later and now a hotel has come up there, he says.
In the recent past, after the two Koder houses became independent hotels, the bridge remains accessible only to Koder House Hotel. In 2008 it was used by artist Charmi Gada Shah to hold an exhibition. Interestingly, she painted on the wall at the end of the bridge, a door that opened into its imaginary past. Currently it is used by the hotel spa for sunning; an armchair lounges lazily on it.
Today, Rose lane continues to be a service lane for the elegant heritage hotels that have morphed out of the bungalows of yore. The Old Harbour Hotel, Koder House Hotel, Spice Fort, the revamped XL Bar and Chariots eatery all have their side or back entrances on to Rose Lane. Provisions are brought through these humble backdoors; and the staff uses it too, but its activities are no match for the life on the high streets that flank it. It remains a sideshow, a bit forgotten, a bit unsung, except for the quaint little bridge that connects time and lives that cross over and under it.