Walk into Fort Kochi today and you cannot but wonder whether you have you lost your way and stumbled upon some mysterious Mediterranean or European settlement?
The sight of European tourists increasing at every turn and juncture as you head towards it makes you wonder thus. What further fascinates is that the foreign tourists here do not look like tourists. Dressed in casuals and strolling leisurely as though in their homeland they blend perfectly with the scenario. You are further intrigued by the numerous kiosks, art galleries, curio shops, handicrafts stores, homestays, eateries etc lining up the quaint streets.
Listed as a precious heritage site it has changed from a tranquil multicultural seaside locale to a veritable sought after destination where travellers from all over the globe flock.
But how has this change affected the people of the area? Have they adjusted easily with the changing times? Are they proud that their locality is now a hot spot? Or do they feel out of place and long for the old and familiar when theirs was a quiet neighbourhood where different communities coexisted peacefully and in harmony?
K.C. Rajan Clement, a resident of Princess Street in Fort Cochin, since the late fifties says, “Our locality has been transformed from a residential area to a commercial one. Accordingly people here have benefited a lot monetarily due to the tourist boom. However, today when I walk down Princess Street eight out of ten persons I encounter are foreigners. Unlike earlier when this street was lined with residential houses today there are only a handful of homes and families as almost the whole of this street is now occupied by shops and restaurants. This is in stark contrast to the time when I grew up here in the sixties and early seventies. The neighbourhood then was closeted with warm and close knit families. My childhood memories of interacting with friends and families of different communities- Jews, Anglo-Indians, Hindus, Muslims etc is something that I shall always treasure. But today with just five or six houses on our street it is difficult for families to stay connected. The few friends of my children stay quite far away. I am sorry that my children cannot experience the joys of my childhood”.
The unhurried, serene spot that was a melting pot of many cultures and ethnicities is now just a memory living in the hearts of the early residents. Many residents, though they miss old times have gradually accepted Fort Kochi in its new avatar. Presna Anish, a resident of Dutch Cemetery Road since the sixties says, “I have always enjoyed the idyllic charm of Fort Kochi and my lovely green and peaceful neighbourhood. Luckily for me the street I lived in for 40 years has not changed much unlike other streets. The tourism boom has resulted in multi-cuisine restaurants springing up and I relish eating out with friends and family. But the only downside to this is that the otherwise quiet neighbourhood has become too crowded in the evenings”.
David Lawrence, who like many others, converted his old Portuguese mansion on Parade Road into a homestay admits that though he misses the good old days he feels that it is a change for the better. He says, “Change is inevitable and the change in Fort Kochi is a well balanced one. It is true that many especially the older generation may not be able to adjust and may long for the old times, yet it is better to be practical for the lives of many like me in this area have also changed for the better. Today a small piece of land here is a gold mine and can generate a substantial monthly income improving the quality of life unlike earlier when this area was mainly residential and incomes were generated from other parts of Kochi. Such a positive and constructive change is surely not too heavy a price to pay.”
For many this once serene locality is now a land of promise, hope and opportunities. Yet nostalgia and old memories linger. Many treasure and clutch fervently the memories and musings of another day.
Dorrel Nunes, a septuagenarian on Lily Street, who lives with her two dogs for company, reminisces, “The atmosphere has changed very much and life especially for the older generation like me has become lonely. With the migration of the Anglo-Indians, Jews etc and the mushrooming of centres of tourist interest, my street is now bereft of any neighbours and friends. I am the lone resident now and miss the old days. But now only memories and recollections of the past remain. Those beautiful reflections keep me alive and happy today. It is not easy to adapt, yet one has to move along with the times and not fret and worry.” Her two children live abroad.
Eternal Fort Kochi
Yet some things in Fort Cochin are eternal. No change can affect them. Apart from the beautiful landmarks and relics -the Chinese fishing nets, St.Francis Church, the old tree on parade maidan, the Basilica, the Dutch and Portuguese architectural homes, the quaint boulevards etc.
Keywords: Fort Kochi