Kochi is beckoning her youngsters to return and make a life right here. Some success stories

Not too long ago Mammotty’s Big B mouthed a dialogue about Kochi, “Kochi pazhaya Kochi alla…” (Kochi isn’t the same anymore). These four words sum up what the city is today – the most cosmopolitan among Kerala’s towns, a melting pot of cultures, forever open to, and welcoming of, new influences. It was nevertheless a cosmopolitanism couched in tradition, guided by ‘what will people say?’ If you wanted different things from life, you had to leave Kerala for a more happening place a la Bangalore Days.

A designer label with a pan-Indian presence; an alternative space for culture; a travel portal; a school for contemporary dance – ballet and jazz too; a gaming hub…Kochi is today home to such first-generation, offbeat and successful entrepreneurial ventures.

For young, up-and-coming fashion designer Sreejith Jeevan the ‘change’ the city has undergone over the couple of years is the reason why launching his label, Rouka, from Kochi makes sense. Big B“Kochi has changed; it is not the old Kochi. And it is changing fast. I don’t do the usual ‘chudidar set’ but people opt for my designs which are quirky and different,” says the National Institute of Design (NID)-trained designer. His label retails in stores across the country. The State’s rich and under-explored textile heritage also factored his return.

Dhanya Johnson, one of the founders of Springr Café in Mattancherry says, “I lived outside Kerala for 12 years but when I returned I was shocked by the drastic difference – at the change, by how things had opened up.” A space like Springr, a space for culture – a creative hub, artist residency, sound studio and art gallery – would have been unthinkable until a few years ago but today it is feasible. It is host to all manner of cultural activities by ‘bringing together independent artistes under one platform, which gives them an opportunity to create, exhibit and prosper’.

Noorul Hijaz Tharola who runs Chai Cofi and Woot Gaming Lounge in Palarivattom is a youngster who saw potential here. He quit his job with a public relations firm in Bangalore and joined his father’s business in the city. “All the while I nurtured a secret wish to start a gaming lounge. But it took me almost a year to muster courage and tell my father. Once I told him he gave me the go ahead,” he says.

It has been two years and Hijaz is looking for places to open a branch. He even gave up an opportunity to pursue his masters in business administration in London because ‘there are more opportunities here.’

The ‘change’ is intangible and unquantifiable but Sreejith prefers to go with travel and the exposure that comes with it. A small part of the credit goes to the Biennale. “For the Lakme India Fashion Week I tried to position my label as one from the small town of Kochi. But it came to be known as being from the Biennale town. It worked very well,” Sreejith says.

Dhanya was running a similar space in Mumbai at Lonavla, Rainmaker. The crowd that came there, she says, was largely from Mumbai very unlike the patrons at Mattancherry which offers a mix of Indian and foreigners.

Kochi is no more the place youngsters go away from, it is the place where people come back to after travelling. Parents seem to have let up pressure on youngsters to conform and let them follow their hearts. That coupled with the young techie crowd which is open for new experiences makes Kochi happening.

Otherwise who would have thought of ballet classes (Western) for kids would be so popular. The Floor, a contemporary dance school in Girinagar run by Maria Roy and Arunima Gupta teaches the basic form of the dance. Arunima and Maria teach jazz, contemporary, zumba and other forms. Arunima says the response to the dance school has been tremendous and encouraging. For the Bengali, Kochi was unknown territory; ‘destiny’ in the form of her husband’s job brought her here. She ended up collaborating with Maria. “We have created a family of sorts - our students, staff and us.” There is no let-up in those joining the classes.

Not unlike Arunima, marriage brought Priya Q to Kochi. In 2012 she started her travel portal, BucketList Travel Company. She translated her passion for travel to start her company with her husband and combined it with a desire for the luxury of time. Since it is an online portal, her reach is wider; she handles in-bound tourists to India and Kerala too. She says, “Attitude towards travel is changing especially when it comes to women. They are travelling alone.”

Jokes abound about how it is difficult to get a business going in Kerala, but none of these people have encountered ‘issues’.

Dhanya says they have included girls from the local community with some activities at Springr. “It is all about making everybody involved, a part of the process. And also about finding the right people,” Sreejith says. For Arunima it, “has been a great experience. We have had no hiccups. The people we have associated with have been good.”