In the suburban alleys of Mulavukad, the air still carries the sights and smell of Portuguese legacy. On leisurely evenings this neighbourhood of Kochi is abuzz with the murmurs of chapel goers and with neighbourhood tea-time chit chat. It is not hard to single out Baby Correya from among the churchgoer lot. She stands out in her red-check thuni and blouse, a dress known as kavaya or kebaya.
Double- layered wraparound
In her late 70s, Baby is perhaps one among the last few Cochin Anglo-Indians of Portuguese descent, who continue to wear this attire. The Kavaya, is a full sleeve, close-fitting, knee-length jacket worn with a double layered wraparound (thuni) similar to the ‘lungi’ worn by men in Kerala or the ‘dakmanda’ worn by Garo women of Meghalaya. Baby continues to love wearing the kavaya even while her friends have moved on to frocks, saris and churidhars. Her neighbour Thresia D'silva aged 80, endorses her love for the kavaya but laments about the unavailability of the thuni these days. According to the magazine ‘Anglo Indian Voice’, kavaya was introduced by Eurasian Nonas of Malacca and Macau, many of who were brought to Kerala and given in marriage to Portuguese settlers. Even today kavaya is the regular dress of Malaysian and Indonesian women. In days of yore this was the trademark dress of Parangi women from Kollam to Kannur. This has changed and has given way to Indian saris, frocks and other western dresses. While kavaya in South-East Asia comes in vibrant colours, Cochin kavaya traditionally remained in just two colours – deep red and black checks. The red one along with floral jackets is for daily use and the black (along with a black jacket) is worn for bereavement in the immediate family. Baby remembers the last time she wore a black kavaya. It was 17 years ago when her husband passed away. The black kavaya has slowly disappeared from its usage among choochis (elderly Anglo-Indian women). The kavaya was originally worn with gold buttons interconnected with a gold chain. They also used accompanying ornaments like the ‘cotinha’ (a type of gold chain) and ‘alpaneth’ (a brooch like accessory), along with a bun as hairstyle. As the number of choochis wearing kavaya plunged in the recent years, the stores have stopped selling kavaya thuni. Earlier a few stores in the city used to sell the thuni brought from Thevara, called Thevara or Madras thuni. Now the only remaining outlet to buy kavaya thuni is from Gregory's store, renamed as Swapana, at Elamkunnapuzha.
At a local gathering
A native of Elakunnapuzha, 82-year-old Baby D'Cotha remembers the local church gathering of fourteen kavaya wearing choochis held couple of years ago. According to her it may be the largest and the last gathering of kavaya wearers. A few of the participants have passed away since then. In the years to come, as generations wither away and traditions fade, kavaya may shrink to be just memories in a photo album or in a local museum. Till then one can revel in the last remaining stories from a passing generation clad in red checks and floral jackets.