This ‘Lanka’ fears losing a vital link

Ezhikkara island with the rickety bridge in foreground.  

For the last over a fortnight, the people of a tiny island in Ezhikkara panchayat near North Paravur have been up in arms over a rickety bridge that has been their lifeline for nearly three decades.

The bridge, now considered just about safe for pedestrians, could collapse any time in which case, the residents fear that their place may come to mean what its name originally signified.

Decades before the bridge was built, the island had assumed the name ‘Lanka’, as it was considered inaccessible as the mythological demon kingdom by that name in the Ramayana.

Surrounded by a river on one side and sprawling pokkali farms on the other three, the geography of the place got so engraved in the psyche of its residents that they literally adopted it as part of their identity. Thus members of 20-odd families on the island now have Lanka, or rather ‘Lankayil’ (in Lanka) as part of their names.

“It is also said that the residents constructed a temporary bund across the river as part of their agitation for the bridge, and that perhaps added to the lore of the name, since in the epic an army of monkeys built a bridge for the Lord Rama to help rescue Sita from Lanka,” said Lenin S. Lankayil, a resident.

But often the name evoked sentiments beyond amusement that strayed to the realm of suspicion. “Often it happens that they don’t take our name at face value, and we have to show identification documents like Aadhaar card to be believed,” said Gireesh Lankayil, another resident.

But none faced as much trouble as Mr. Lenin, a photographer, did back in the late 90s because of that name when he was contracted to cover the visit of the late President K.R. Narayanan to Kochi. That the Sri Lankan civil war was far from over meant that the law enforcement agencies had their antennas up the moment they saw someone with “Lanka” as the second name.

“The police visited our island multiple times to probe the ‘Lankan’, and eventually it took my relative Sundareshan Lankayil, who was at the time Fort Kochi Revenue Divisional Officer, to clear the air and bail him out,” guffawed Ramachandran Lankayil as he recalled the incident.

Notwithstanding the sporadic troubles, the islanders have no plan to shed their “unique identity” anytime soon.

Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 8:10:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/this-lanka-fears-losing-a-vital-link/article32699808.ece

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