THEVARA JUNCTION: A nondescript, busy junction has been witness to great political and social change
Every place has a story and a history waiting to be uncovered. The busy, yet nondescript, Thevara Junction is one such place. The many shops in the vicinity of the junction seem to be heaving and pushing…jostling for space. There is really nothing that sets Thevara Junction apart from any other overcrowded junction in the city. But long ago, what used to be Perumanoor Junction, which is what the junction used to be called, was witness to some interesting nuggets of political and social change. It also played an important contributory role in nation building.
Ironically, in the beginning, there wasn’t even a Thevara Junction. It got that name much later because it fell on the way to Thevara College (Sacred Heart College). Until then and for sometime afterwards (up to the 60s) it used to be called Perumanoor Junction. Some people even today refer to it as Perumanoor-Thevara Junction. Today, the Cochin Shipyard occupies the pride of place and that is its claim to fame.
It was the 60s, a young independent and confident India was growing and a shipyard, it was felt, would contribute to developing India’s blueprint for growth. This part of Perumanoor was chosen and close to 400 families, voluntarily moved out to make place for the shipyard. It was for development, says veteran journalist K. M. Roy, whose family was among those who made way for the shipyard.
It was not just families that moved out, even the centuries old Varavukkatt Kurish Palli was given up and a cemetery was moved too.
The Venduruthy Bridge connects the Naval Base (Willingdon Island) to the mainland and Thevara Junction is the first stop this side of the bridge. “There was a time when this area was known more as Bonda-mukku. Work was in progress on the Venduruthy Bridge, the Naval Base and the old airport. In the evening womenfolk would get bondas stacked in baskets for sale, the sole source of food for famished workers. There were no hotels or anything,” says Roy. The name stayed from the late 30s to the 60s, “that is until some of us youngsters got together and threatened to beat up bus conductors who called the place bonda mukku,” he adds.
The seemingly insignificant junction was the site of what was probably the biggest lathi charge in Cochin State, Roy says. Sir C. P. Ramaswamy, the Dewan of Travancore, had come to Cochin for the inauguration of Chevalier C. Paul Luiz Memorial Industrial School which is now the Anglo Indian School at Thevara. A group of students from Travancore organised a protest against Sir C.P. There was stone pelting, the police was called out, and a lathi charge was ordered. “It was, probably, the first and biggest lathi charge in the history of Cochin. Former minister, the late Baby John led the protestors,” Roy reminisces.
He says, as a youngster, he has heard stories of C. Paul Luiz’s timber yard which was the biggest in Cochin, extending from Thevara Junction to the Thevara canal and that it employed 26 elephants.
The railway line runs close to the junction. There was even a Perumanoor halt, for students from ‘far off’ places like Chowara, Chalakudy etc. to come to Thevara College. “This is also probably the only instance of people (of an area) asking for a railway station or a halt to be removed. When buses started plying on this route we said we did not want the halt anymore,” he reminisces.
Although the government had acquired land for the shipyard, from 1961 to 63, there was nothing to show. “In 1967 we, evictees, decided to do something. We made a ship (a scaled down version), mounted it on a trolley and took it around the city. And even set it sail in the waters. It created quite an impact. The news even appeared in the newspapers in Delhi,” Roy adds. Indira Gandhi, apparently, took notice and work on the shipyard began, he says.
The shipyard came, kin of evictees found employment there, and Perumanoor Junction came to be known as Thevara Junction. As a result of the proximity to the Naval Base, small businesses came up with life and attitudes changing.
“Those were the times when womenfolk, especially those belonging to my mother’s generation rarely stepped out of their homes, for purchases. The late actor Nutan’s husband Commander Rajanish Behl was posted here at the Naval Base. Whenever she would be here on holidays, she would come to small shops at the junction to shop. My mother and her contemporaries realised that if ‘Nutan can shop then why can’t we?’ it was a social change of sorts,” Roy says.
Change, some wise man said, is the only constant. Perumanoor is today known more as Thevara, the shipyard has changed it beyond recognition. The only thing that hasn’t changed is, probably, that solitary lamp post in the middle of the junction. The stories it could tell.