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Kochi now

April 22, 2008
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I was in Kochi a week ago, getting there by a train that reached in less than half the time it took fifteen years ago. As we entered Kochi my friend called on the mobile phone and said he could see a train coming in. He was wondering if it was the train I was in since he wanted to send his car to fetch me from the station. I wasn’t sure. He asked me to look out the left window and see if I could spot his apartment in the middle of the lagoon. I said, Oh my god, yes! Far away it stood like a stocky, pink and squarish stork on water, one of a large flock of tall high rises. If I had a boat I would be in his apartment in minutes. As it turned out the car took nearly an hour through the choked roads to reach his place. Kochiites have learned to live with dwindling infrastructure and mushrooming urban growth.

Later I stood on the twelfth floor balcony letting my eyes get used to the humungously wide seaside panorama that lay spread below me. A golden brown brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) circled slowly over the water searching for fish. Something seemed strange about the sight. Then with a shock it came to me. For the first time in my life I was looking down instead of up, at a flying brahminy kite. I felt like some petty little god in his new-found empyrean. I was an intruder into the perfect world of bird and fish. I was a rank upstart in this age-old scheme. Surely time will tell on everything and all the high rise buildings and other things we have created shall go and then the brahminy kite shall fly high over all again. There shall not be a me or others like me to look down upon his majestic tawny back.

For now, Kochi lay stretched out silently below me and away to the distant haze of the east where stood the Western ghats. In the pale, green lagoon a few boats of varying sizes were plying on some unknown errands. Only a largish inland barge that lay low on the water, heavy with some load, made some noise as it chugged into a lazy turn, bound for the harbour to the west. Here and there I could see small country boats, hardly seven feet in length, lying still. Local fishermen at work with a hook and a rod or a small net. I was surprised to see them here amidst all this urban growth. From this height (about 150 feet) the water looked quite clean to me. Perhaps the lagoon yielded enough fish for the fishermen to feed their families.

Kochi has been home to many waves of foreign visitors over its long history. Most of them made their fortunes in spices from the rain-drenched mountains to the east. They shipped the precious pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and what-have-you through these very waters. From the port the spices were loaded on to sailing ships that then sped silently over the seas to Portugal, Spain, England and Venice.

The synagogue in Kochi is one of the oldest in India where services are still held. Most of the Jewish population has migrated, mainly to Israel. Only some die-hard families remain.


The Napier Museum

April 10, 2008
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The wrought iron fountain stands to the western side of the Napier Museum in Trivandrum. It’s a handsome Victorian piece from when the Industrial revolution and its effects of unbridled enthusiasm in invented things and technology were peaking. This fountain, though, shows no impudent flourishes.

This fountain stands within one of the few public spaces left in a growing city with shrinking land spaces.

I spent hours of stolen time here during my college days. The sedately laid out spaces and the somewhat formal gardens surrounding this fountain made me feel comfortable, like some cherished visitor, not some fugitive intruder from the rigors of academic regimen.

About the Napier Museum itself there is much to tell but that’ll have to wait.



Posted in art, birds, environment

Crows

April 10, 2008
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on street lampEasily the smartest of the free-flying birds. Dumbest being the pigeons. After cats crows (House Crow – Corvus splendens) are the most independent creatures that share our space and food. They are very choosy about what they eat. No scattered grain and a few leftovers. Crows are, I think, brighter than dogs. They don’t exhibit their brightness and get chained up and made slaves to us humans, like the dog did!

Another strange thing about crows. A friend once pointed it out to me. Considering the number of crows around our cities and villages, how many times have you seen a dead crow? That got me. I don’t remember too many in all my years. Where do they go to die? Is this like that fabled elephant graveyard thing!