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
|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
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|
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!
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
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
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
P.P.S.: For opportunities to work with me, click here