If history is something anyone could weave out of imagination, a proud native of Thalassery would construe that the town was christened Tellicherry by the colonial rulers for a special reason. She would say that the ‘cherry’ was probably dropped on the name by a British planter who had walked into Mambally Baapu’s Royal Biscuit Factory for a piece of cake a century ago.
Jokes apart, the rare delicacy prepared then and the many more delectable food items exclusive to the region have found Thalassery a place on the culinary map for sure. Now that is just one of the many features the little town boasts about. After invasions by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and finally the British, Thalassery has an assorted culture, be it their food habits, educational progress or creative skills. The openness with which the natives welcomed these positive changes played a crucial role in their cultural development, observes artist and art critic K.K. Marar, a native of the town. This should be the reason why Thalassery emerged as a cultural centre in those days. The ethos of Thalassery is intact, but what is missing is an ambience which caters to its ingenious artistic cravings, he feels.
The educational history of Thalassery is exceptional. The spread of Sanskrit education among the lower castes, which was quite unheard of in any other parts of the then State, coupled with the advent of German missionaries gave a boost to the educational and thus the cultural emergence of the place. It being an administrative headquarters of those days, and the subsequent establishment of law courts paved the way for the inflow of educated people and officials from other parts of the country to the town.
Possessing a rich cultural heritage, Thalassery was once a synonym for North Malabar. Its pepper and cinnamon and culinary delights like ‘Thalassery biriyani’ were famous. It was a major commercial centre for collection and export of spices from Wayanad and Coorg.
Thalassery played its first cricket match long ago. “The younger generation watches cricket mainly on television. Imagine our elation while watching it here, live in our own town,” says K. Haroon Rasheed, retired professor and a native of the town. It was probably from here that this otherwise elite game got associated with the common man n Malabar, because the early players of the game in the town included the bakers, cooks and dhobis of those days who carried the game to wherever they went.
The town surrounded by the Arabian Sea and four rivers has seven hills lending it scenic beauty. The heritage monuments, including the Thalassery Fort and a pier extending to the Arabian Sea, both built during the British rule, give an imperial hangover to the place and its people. The fort with its massive walls and secret tunnels to the sea was the nucleus of Thalassery's development while the pier facilitated transportation of goods to ships in its days of glory. Churches, mosques and temples speak volumes about its communal co-existence and the educational institutions, about its academic prominence.
Thalassery is now on a path of revival after its being labelled a politically volatile place for some time. Political violence is a thing of the past. Learning from its past errors, the little town is all set to market itself across the world its unique features, foremost among them being the inimitable hospitality of its people. Many of its heritage structures have already been renovated while others are awaiting a facelift.
The Muzhappilangad drive-in beach and the Dharmadam Island are Thalassery’s own trump cards from a tourist’s perspective.