M.P. Praveen

The community is impressed by the city’s cleanliness

Most of the members of the Bengali community are now fluent in Malayalam

KOCHI: Living 32 years in a place is long enough a period to feel at home despite being away from home. No wonder Arup Gupta feels so strongly about this city as he had once felt about Kolkata, his real home.

The omnipresent greenery was what overwhelmed him when Mr. Gupta first came here in 1976 to take up his job at Apollo Tyres.

“We were impressed by the city’s cleanliness and the helping nature of its people. That they could speak English was quite helpful in the early days,” he recollects. Good roads and low traffic also stands out in his memory. Kochi has never disappointed anyone who came to its shores and this is reflected in the society here, which is a mix of multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic groups. Among them are about 50 families each from Bengali and Oriya communities. Kajal Banerjee, manager of Raksha, a school for children with special needs, happened to settle down in Kochi quite accidentally. She and her husband had come to visit her father-in-law here 30 years back, and just got hooked to this city.

“Quiet and calm place compared to Kolkata,” was her first impression about the place. One of the significant changes she had noticed over the years is the drastic change in the dress sense and architectural style.

“Earlier most young girls were in ‘pavada and blouse.’ Now it’s trendier. Similarly, even construction of houses has deviated a lot from the traditional Kerala style,” Ms. Banerjee says.

B.C. Nayak, chief consultant anaesthetist at the Indira Gandhi Cooperative Hospital, has a stronger emotional reason to come here 22 years back, as his wife is a Malayali.

Hailing from Keonjhar district in Orissa, known for its iron ore mines, Mr. Nayak’s early memories of Kochi revolve around tasty food and how cheap it was. “For ten rupees you could have heavenly food,” he says.

However, the Malayali’s tendency to grease the palm afflicted him not soon after reaching here. For, he got his ration card under 30 minutes by what he describes as “under the table business.”

Mr. Nayak who is also the president of Utkalika, the association of the city’s Oriya community, loves Malayalam films, especially those humorous ones. And his favourites are Dr. Pasupathi and Akkare Akkare Akkare. These people invariably feel part of this city even as they denounce the pathetic condition of roads, snarling traffic, poor waste management and frequent hartals that plague the city.

Mr. Nayak finds Malayali’s complete disregard of traffic rules strange; so much so that he says that he feels like a Malayali except on roads.

Mr. Gupta feels that the city has turned more cosmopolitan over the years but is concerned about the increasing cost of living.

Atanu Banerjee, hailing from Hooghly district in West Bengal, describes hartal as a ‘disease’ for which Malayalis should find a cure at the earliest. Most of the community members, especially the younger generation, are now fluent in Malayalam.

“Both my daughters can read, write and speak Malayalam,” Mr. Atanu says. However, most families prefer to use their mother tongue at home.