I have something of a Grammar Nazi in me; the kind whose face turns pallid every time she makes an error herself. It is this alter ego who, when she has her backpack on, scans everything within eyesight for rib-tickling humour in the guise of misspelt signage – be it the name of a store or a street – and makes a dash to take a photograph of it. It is during these quests that I have come across ‘Laddies’ written right outside the restroom meant for women and ‘No Refual’ in shiny paint across a taxi!
|The streets of Kochi don’t just have names; they also have character | Kochi (Kerala) June 2016|
It was no wonder then that armed with my camera, I leapt to my feet when I read ‘Princes Street’ at Fort Kochi earlier in June. It had to be Princess, I reasoned to myself and even caught sight of another that spelt it in that way.
|This is where the story began – Princes Street | Kochi (Kerala) June 2016|
Laden with colonial vestiges of the Portuguese who were defeated by the Dutch in 1663 who were in turn defeated by the British in 1795, the streets of Fort Kochi have an allure that transcend time. Lined with the old while brushing shoulders with both the decrepit and the revamped, most of which dates to when the first of the colonial rulers – the Portuguese – arrived in 1503 and even beyond, Fort Kochi is guaranteed to make any shutterbug squeal with delight.
The Santa Cruz Basilica Cathedral and the St. Francis CSI Church are at a distance of a mere 400 metres from each other. The former is symbolic of the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in India and the latter is renowned for being the burial site of Vasco Da Gama before his remains were taken to Lisbon fourteen years after his death.
A kilometre away is the Indo-Portuguese Museum that houses the relics of the Portuguese influence in Fort Kochi long after the Dutch and the British took over and destroyed most of what was there. The SNC Maritime Museum, under one kilometre from Fort Kochi beach, located at INS Dronacharya is a journey through the history of the Indian Navy as we know it today.
Mattancherry where the Dutch Palace and the Jewish Synagogue stand tall is three kilometres from Fort Kochi.
Is it any wonder then that it is a walker’s dream destination where everything is within a 4 kilometre radius and therefore, walkable?
|When the love of walking meets the love for quotes | Kochi (Kerala) June 2016|
The more I walked, the more I clicked and the more I clicked, the more I wanted to walk. And in less than two days, I had not only seen almost everything that there was to see but also navigated my way through every lane; much to the amusement of the rickshaw drivers who could not fathom why I refused to hop in and get a ride.
It did not take too long for my homestay host to pick on my idiosyncrasies. And only to make sure, one morning after breakfast he enquired, “Are you interested in the local history and myths behind the names of streets here in Fort Kochi?” To which, of course, I nodded my head vehemently in affirmation and got handed over a folder. As I pored and leafed through the newspaper clippings and copies of articles in it, I began to layer over the streets I had been walking the story of their ‘naming’
|Kochi is many things all at once Kochi (Kerala) June 2016|
It turned out that my alter ego would have to eat her own words. According to Dr. Bauke Van Der Pol, a Dutch cultural anthropologist ‘Princess Street’ was initially called Princes Street in honour of Dutch Princes Maurits and Wilhelm. But when the British took over in 1795, they would pronounce Princes Street quickly, so over a period of time, it became Princess Street. That of course left me wondering whether keeping signboards that had both Princes and Princess Street written on them was intentional!
Lying perpendicular to Princes Street is Burgher Street – which incidentally has nothing to do with anything dietary! A burgher as it turns out was somebody who has been set free from his landlord and had voting rights. The people who lived on this street did not work for the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (or VOC also known as the Dutch East India Company). They were free men. They made a living on their own and got married to women with Portuguese blood. Similarly Petercelli Street is not as one might guess named after a person. Because Petercelli is the Dutch word for parsley, a herb. So this might have been an area where a vegetable market would have functioned.
|Spelt correctly it would be Burgher Street | Kochi (Kerala) June 2016|
|Who’d have thunk this would have anything to do with parsley? | Kochi (Kerala) June 2016|
And while it may seem that all names are telling of the backstory of the streets, the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry had left me wondering why it was even called so when nothing about it was Dutch. I would soon learn that it had been the Cochin Raja’s Palace and truly has nothing to do with the Dutch, in terms of architecture or occupation, except that the VOC gave the Raja some fund for its renovation! And that’s the story behind how it has come to be known as the Dutch Palace.
Even more interesting is that Fort Kochi does not have a fort – not one that can be seen, not any more at least. Unless of course, one makes a trip to the Indo-Portuguese museum to see the remnants of a submerged arch in the basement.
The next time I am tempted to ask out aloud “What’s in a name?” or make a dash to photograph what seems like a typo, I am going to try not being as hasty!
Let’s work together
I’m open to both, workshop as well as content collabs. Let’s explore