Ernakulam Boat Jetty was a hub of political and social activities

There was a time, from the close of the nineteenth century, when the main boat jetty was the most ‘happening’ place in Ernakulam. It was perhaps busier than Broadway or Banerji Road. Not any longer.

State transport buses operated out of the boat jetty those days and boatful of passengers landed here from Kollam, Alappuzha, Kottapuram, Kodungallur and the other islands nearby.

“I used to take the bus from Chendamangalam to Ernakulam. That green State transport bus used to start and terminate at the boat jetty. I still remember watching the two double-decker boats ‘Lord Hari’ and ‘Champachan’ in which many of my friends used to reach Maharaja’s College, everyday. They alighted at the boat jetty, so conveniently close to the college,” remembers Ravi Kuttikad, senior journalist.

The boats used to switch off their engines and were then manoeuvred manually and anchored close to the jetty. That parking place is now part of the Children’s Park, the little pool, at one end of the park.

Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, whose first book stall functioned from one end of the veranda of Cochin Bakery on Canon Shed Road, bang opposite to the boat jetty, later started one at the jetty. This one was close to the ticket counter.

“Basheer’s book stall became a meeting place for litterateurs of the time. There was a small tea shop run by a person called Pokker, close to the jetty. Basheer was a regular here and Pokker even became one of his characters. When Basheer left he handed over his shop to P. K. Balakrishnan (novelist, critic and historian).”

Basheer later came back to Ernakulam to start another book stall on Press Club Road.

During the politically turbulent times, when there was widespread opposition against Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer in Travancore, most political activists with arrest warrants against them took the boat to Ernakulam.

“They landed here and sought asylum in Cochin State. The Maruthi Hotel, close to the boat jetty became a political hub with most of the political leaders making this their place of stay in Ernakulam.”

The boat jetty also became the centre of numerous political and social agitations. “Since the State Legislature Assembly (the present Govt. Law College) was located near the boat jetty protestors usually assembled here. In fact, most of the agitations began from here. There was this police lathi charge against protestors who were against the freedom of press law passed by the State. This happened when Panampilly Govinda Menon was prime minister of the Cochin State. Then there was this mammoth protest by the workers of Tata Oil Mills led by Mathai Manjooran that turned a bit violent. Again, the impact of the famous ‘one anna’ protest, demanding withdrawal of the hike in boat fares, was felt here also. Much later, during the Emergency A. K. Gopalan was arrested from here for leading a protest.”

The boat jetty was certainly a beehive of activity those days. “Colleges - Maharaja’s, St. Teresa’s and the Government Law College were nearby. Broadway and the Ernakulam market were just a stone’s throw away from the boat jetty. Buses started from and terminated here. The principal of Maharaja’s H. R. Mills stayed at a lovely cottage opposite the jetty, in the place where the Revenue Tower now stands. Later, this became the residence of Anna Chandy, the first woman chief judge.”

Life in Ernakulam then largely centred around this place.

The boat jetty was the gateway to Ernakulam for people who took the boat from nearby Mattancherry, Fort Cochin and the other islands. “I have seen foreigners from Fort Cochin landing at the jetty and walking over to Cochin Bakery to buy those delicious cakes, breads and buns. Then there were the islanders who came by boat with their merchandise, which they either sold at the jetty itself or took it to the market. Another memory is that of the bookseller who carried loads of books, the latest novels, shouted out the titles he had, and sold them at the boat jetty.”

Perhaps the most significant event associated with the boat jetty is the historical visit of Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda is said to have arrived at the jetty on December 3, 1892. He had come to Kerala from Mysore by train. He arrived at Shoranur, reached Thrissur in a bullock cart and then took the boat from Kodungallur to Ernakulam. From the jetty Swami Vivekananda was supposed to have gone to the Collector’s office (site of the present Revenue Tower). “According to other accounts Swami Vivekananda walked straight to a house on Canon Shed Road where Chattambi Swami was waiting for him. That house (Unniyattil, a famous Nair tharavad) is still there,” says Ravi Kuttikad.

It is to commemorate this visit that a statue of Swami Vivekananda was put up close by in 2005. Talks are on to rename the boat jetty after this great thinker-philosopher.

Some landmarks at the jetty, mute witnesses to the times and events gone by, still stand. “The entrance to the boat jetty has not changed; the huge tree, spreading its shade, still stands there. The iron pole on which the gate to the jetty once stood has been swallowed by the tree now. Also, Aravindakshan’s book shop. I think despite the massive changes that the city has undergone, down the years, the boat jetty, more or less, remains unchanged,” concludes Ravi Kuttikad.