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Looking back at Kochi

The cover of Jamal Kochangadi’s Ethente Kochi

The cover of Jamal Kochangadi’s Ethente Kochi   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Journalist and author Jamal Kochangadi’s Ethente Kochi is a nostalgic tribute to Kochi and its forgotten history of people and places

Kochi remains a nostalgic longing for Jamal Kochangadi. It was in this historic port city that Jamal spent his childhood and the best part of his youth till he moved to Kozhikode in the late seventies. Even though the world around him has moved on, Kochi, its history, myths, people, music and other cultural aspects, remain classic. Jamal’s to be released work Ethente Kochi, (published by Bamboo Books, his first on the city, is a chronicle of this prolific journalist-writer’s memories in which the city turns into a routine as well as an adventure.

“I have realised that what you end up remembering isn't always what you have witnessed. They are not just memories, not just about the rich history of which we have read so much; they are also not just about the legends that anyone associates with Kochi. It is more about the immediate past, which very often goes unrecorded,” says Jamal.

In this work, which is a reworked version of Jamal’s serialised column in a Malayalam fortnightly, he wanders quietly among the remnants of West Kochi, putting together fragments of experiences in the various fields of interests that shored up his life. “Even today when I stand before the Chinese nets, gaze at the waters and islands beyond, when I walk the streets of Fort Kochi, I reflect on the past, not necessarily a remembrance of things as they were but as was handed down. At Rose Street I can still hear the sounds of the many printing presses, where the early newspapers and magazines were published from.

Jamal’s attempt is to unravel hidden aspects of West Kochi and many of its forgotten people. Of course, many of these might be familiar to a generation that has grown up or read about the city. But it will surely fascinate a young generation who know this place simply as a tourist paradise or as portrayed in many films. “The footprints of many blessed souls have been erased. Filmmakers and scenarists have turned Fort Kochi and Mattancherry into a Harlem or Dharavi and lost are memories of all those great souls,” writes Jamal.

There’s a list of names that Jamal records with a thumbnail sketch of each one and their sphere of activity. Many of the names like that of Sheikh Zainudeen Makhdoom I and Makthi Thangalor, the legion of ‘vaidyars’ who could predict death, even their own, are precious nuggets of history that Jamal unravels. Perhaps, this part forms the most interesting part of the book.

West Kochi in the 1950s and 60s was a hotbed of political and labour agitations. Those were days when headload workers at the Mattancherry wharf fought among themselves to latch on to a ‘chappa’, a copper coin thrown to them, which was wages for a day’s toil. Mattancherry was also witness in 1953 to a police firing at workers who were protesting against the chappa system. Jamal’s memoirs take you to those days. Incidentally, Jamal’s short story on this system was made into a film, Chappa, by P.A. Backer. The film went on to win the National Award for the Best Regional Film in 1980.

Jamal Kochangadi

Jamal Kochangadi   | Photo Credit: H. Vibhu

Jamal started his journalism career with an evening daily in 1963. He went on to work with numerous regional newspapers, periodicals and magazines. He started Imprint, a printing press in Jew Town, Mattancherry, worked as office secretary of Kerala Sahitya Parishad, before moving to Kozhikode where he now works. In between his journalistic career, Jamal penned two plays, Eniyum Unarathavar and Kshubitarude Ashamsakal, wrote the story, script and songs for the film Thaliritta Kinakkal and lyrics for the film Marakkilorikkalum.

Towards the end of his memoirs, Jamal details the rich cultural history of West Kochi — cinema theatres, once flourishing amateur theatre, many celebrated singers, playwrights, songsters, composers and selfless patrons like Abdul Khader Vakil. The last section of the book is devoted to Jamal’s family history and follows it up with an afterword in which he writes about the famous children of famous fathers such as actor Riza Bava, singer Afsal and television producer Diana Sylvester.

What Jamal does not mention is his article on Mammootty, the first published one on the actor. “This happened in 1979. Mammootty along with his friend, Sharfuddeen came to Mattancherry where a film shoot was on. I accompanied them to the location. That was a time when Mammootty was on the lookout for opportunities. He had done a couple of films and asked me if I could write a profile of his in one the film weeklies for which I used to contribute. I wrote one and it was published prominently on the back page of the film weekly with a photograph. It happened to be the first of many articles written on the actor,” remembers Jamal.

Ethente Kochi will be released on May 10 at 5 pm at Uru Hall, Kochangadi, West Kochi.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 4:05:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/jamal-kochangadis-ethente-kochi-is-a-nostalgic-tribute-to-kochi-and-its-forgotten-history-of-people-and-places/article23499834.ece

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