People from different walks of life, led by Gandhian and writer N.K.A. Latheef, come together to record the history of the conglomerate called West Kochi

On a breezy evening in early September, a group of enthusiastic people, who have absolutely no training in the ways of history writing, gathered at the Shadi Mahal in Mattancherry’s Kochangadi to discuss what they felt was the need to write a proper history of the constituents that make up the conglomerate called West Kochi.

It was a lively gathering, possibly animated by the thought of the adventure they were about to undertake. Among them were writers and businessmen, artistes and lawyers, united by the quest to seek out history in the lanes and bylanes of Kochangadi, once the throbbing heart of the business hub of Mattancherry.

N.K.A. Latheef, Gandhian and award-winning writer who initiated the expedition, says people are the best sources of history.

And people are at the heart of the history that will be written.

Mr. Latheef says he wants to write a comprehensive history of West Kochi, comprising Thoppumpady, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. The work will begin with Kochangadi, he says, pointing out that a lot of people are now coming forward to help him gather materials and documents or offering what was available with them.

Kochangadi came to be called so from the large presence of Kutchi Memons in the area, who originated in Gujarat’s Kutch region but settled here for business. He recalls how Kochangadi area was the heart of seafood exports, including boiled and dried prawns.

Kochangadi’s lineage as a cultural melting pot is evident from the monuments of history that stand tall even today as the new Kochi hems it in from all sides. The Chembitta Palli, literally the copper-coated mosque and the shrine of Sheik Ali Ibnu Sainuddin Maqdum Thangal and his daughter Sainaba Beevi are a few examples.

Kochangadi was also the bustling centre for trade union activities as trade and business flourished. Great trade union leaders, who owed allegiance to different political visions, worked shoulder to shoulder in Kochangadi to better the lot of the workers. Mr. Latheef recalls that the fish processing export sector was one that did not face much industrial action even in those days.

Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived close to each other in perfect harmony as life’s callings brought them together to Mattancherry, the writer says.

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