Once a street lined by godowns and workshops, Customs Road today is a cosy hub for new businesses that merge well with its quaintness

It is a slip of a street like the myriad ones that make Kozhikode. Of course, there are umpteen bigger ones; historically richer, culturally vibrant and architecturally more intriguing. However, Customs Road is quaint. Though in the city centre, it is severed from all its cacophony. The road, a little over 100 metres long, links the Kozhikode beach and Vellayil Road — a bustling street with workshops, scrap dealers, shops and thickly-packed residential colonies. But enter Customs Road from either end and one steps into a sound-proof zone where life is remarkably laid back.

Firstly, modern monsters, the high-rises, are few here. The skyline is drawn mostly by red-tiled roof buildings. Buildings that smack of age line either side. A handful of them are nearly a century old and most in different stages of disintegration. Being close to the sea, the street bears close links with trade. One can spot parcel units, some locked and out of business, others still on. Old Nirma godowns and new offices too are here. Automobile workshops work behind mangled gates and out of crumbling buildings. Hotel Vijayalakshmi is a promise to frill-free fare. In between are a couple of houses and plots where houses have been pulled down. Darius Marshall, who once lived on this street, says, “I remember running down this road with ayah Elizabeth to play on the beach.”

The old Budha Vihar from where Swami Dharmaskanda tried to propagate Buddhism in the city is on the street. “Inside the Buddha Vihar were statues of Budha and one also of social reformer Mitawadi Krishnan,” remembers MGS Narayanan, historian. Today it is a quaint residence with gigantic Banyan trees and flowering bougainvillea fencing it. At one end is the office of Kerala Arts Lovers Association. The road all along is scarred by crater-like potholes and drains filled to the brim.

Yet, over the past few years, a quiet change has been sweeping over Customs Road. Old businesses aside, new ones have sprung up here, importantly, keeping intact the heritage quality of the buildings. Sahir N.M. and his partner converted Marshall’s Dinbai House, over 70 years old, into the Kingsbay restaurant. The run-down building got a new lease of life with minor alterations. “It took us over a year to steady our business,” says Sahir about his restaurant in an unlikely location.

An atmosphere for art

Nigilesh T.G. opened an art gallery, Art Alley, out of yet another rented, old space. “In art, footfall does not mean sales. This is a comfortable location for us, quiet and with an old-world feel,” says Nigilesh. Tomy Mathew has been running the organic store Elements Homestead Pvt. Ltd. for 14 years now. Coffee Beach, a coffee shop, is set to open next to Art Alley in little over a month. “It is a well-known road with its own heritage,” says Mohammad Siraj, partner of Coffee Beach. “The wooden ceiling is naturally cooling. It is a perfect space, close to the beach, to enjoy your coffee and burger. I am confident of opening business here,” he adds. The image makeover to Customs Road is opening a window to its immense potential — a walking or heritage street or one that offers a different shopping experience.

Its possibilities have not missed A. Pradeep Kumar, Member of Legislative Assembly, either. He dreams its conversion into a food street, an idea that was also considered during a meeting of architects attached to the Indian Institute of Architects in the city last year.

The legislator’s project envisages the conversion of the street into a food hub in the evenings. He, though, insists, it is still in the nascent stages. “We plan to have a meeting with the people of the locality this month. The interaction is meant to seek their co-operation and know if they have any objection,” says Pradeep Kumar. If residents give a green signal, he says, the street will be a novel experience to people. “Kozhikode had an active nightlife once. Going out with family for dinner is still a practice. With this street, we plan to make dining out an affordable experience to ordinary folks,” he adds.

Retaining the heritage value of the street is part of the project. The walking path will be paved, ornamental lamps introduced and minor facelift given to buildings, he adds. “Enjoying food in the backdrop of the beach can be a great experience,” says Pradeep Kumar. If the proposal materialises, he adds, after every evening of food safari, the street will be cleaned up and opened to vehicular traffic in the morning. “It will be a perfect jogging and walking track. The project has been on my mind for long. But the meeting with the residents is most important,” he says.