There is a rebellious spirit in Fort Kochi. Despite existing almost entirely for tourists for the past forty or so years, this old Portuguese/Dutch port seems to be a vibrant hotbed of politics and art. The former is evident in the many hammer and sickle flags and murals that grow in prominence as you enter the town from the airport and through Ernakulum. This culminated- it seemed – in the communist office next to my hostel (Maritime) emblazoned with the image of Che Guevara flanked to the far left by a pensive Karl Marx, the quote underneath extolling the virtues of death on ones feet rather than knees. Kerala, it turns out, is one of the few places the Communist Party of India has a strong following. While I was there they were protesting against the privatisation of the former government owned ferry service, which had reduced its service significantly.
(Photo credit: Penny Steele)
The town’s art is equally visible. As is the Indian way, few spare patches of house, wall or fence go unadorned with murals or flashes of eye popping colour. From a full jungle / city montage facing the local school – I assume a comment on growing urbanisation – to banksy-esque silhouettes to simply beautiful jade coloured doors speaking of the crumbling facade’s former splendour. Perhaps the most impressive works are found on the trucks, though. With one motorised celebration of Jesus too spectacular for words.
This was, infact, parked outside of a small Christian Shrine that I stopped to look at. Mixing Hindu traditions with Christian iconography, worshippers purchased a small bottle of scented oil from the industrious temple vendor then queued to pour this on the crucifix before walking around the statue of the virgin twice. It made me smile to imagine this same ritual in an English church where I’m sure pouring oil on a cross would be seen as some sort of demon worship.
Later during my wander around town I also met a local artist, Victoria, who proudly displays her feature article in The Hindu (South India’s best selling daily, so it claims) at the entrance to her terracotta house and studio ‘Namasthe’. A tiny woman of around 50, Victoria told me she had recently lost her mother and so her recent work is concerned with her childhood. Her paintings are mystical and deeply feminine – the largest work showing two girls sitting underneath a banyan tree, one drenched in daylight, the other moonlight.
‘Jewtown’ – further colonial echoes – housed the most bizarre little museum I have ever seen. Like the galleries and museums of Morocco, you have to walk through a shop to access the ‘antiques’ housed inside, where the displays include purported 3,000 year old water urns, an ‘ancient’ Christian printing press (made in Finsbury, London) and a pile of used cameras, all presented with equal historical status.
Kochi, like India, makes its own time.