The city of Kochi is best known for its share of historic monuments, picturesque locales – pepped by pristine beaches and backwaters, its urban lifestyle and delectable, traditional Kerala cuisines. But not many know that the state’s commercial hub has a literary heart. Here’s a trek through the many generations of such writers.
Mentally attuned to Kochi
It has been 15 years since poet Chemmanam Chacko moved to his house at Padamugal near Kakkanad after his 53-year stay in the capital city. “For a long time, my home was in Vazhuthacad near the radio station in Thiruvananthapuram. When I came here, the people around here named the road in front of my home as Chemmanam Road as a mark of respect to me. Can there be any bigger honor for anyone? How will I be able to leave this place after being honored like this? That was indeed a clever move by the local residents,” he says.
The Kerala Sahitya Akademi winner is all praise for Kochi and its people. “Kochiites are smart people. Give them an idea and they will turn it into reality. The Trikkakkara Cultural Centre here witnesses a variety of programs every day. Whenever I go there, I suggest novel ideas. Before long, they would be bringing it to fruition! I entered my 92nd year on March 7th. The secret of my energy even at this age is the love and goodwill of the local people,” says Chemmanam.
Inking the city experiences
Cities lend intensity to a writer’s experiences. English writer Anees Salim recalls the string of unforgettable experiences that the city of Kochi has gifted him. Anees, who had lived in Mumbai and Hyderabad, recognized Kochi as his territory in no time. He was born in Varkala and grew up surrounded by books. MT and Basheer were part of his early reading. He dropped out of school when he was all of 16. When he was overpowered by the passion to be a writer, he realized that reading alone would not take him there and embarked on exploring the country. He tried his hand at copywriting and advertising jobs in the meantime.
“I first landed in Kochi with a half-finished novel in hand. I completed it while living here. This contributed in large measure to my falling in love with the city,” says Salim whose maiden work is ‘The Vicks Mango Tree’. It was in this city that he wrote his subsequent books such as ‘Tales from a Vending Machine’, ‘The Blind Lady’s Descendents’ and ‘Vanity Bagh’. “I still travel. However, the writings happens when I am here,” he says.
Interestingly, Salim is now working on a novel, which features the sights of the city, including the ongoing Metro Rail project.
Constantly beckoning city
“I am no newcomer in Kochi. I have close bonds with the city going back twenty years. Kochi is described as a city that is changing by the minute. But how much ever it changes, I will continue loving it,” says writer and screenwriter Santhosh Eachikkanam.
“I have been transported to a city far away from the tiny Eachikkanam village in Kasaragod where I was born. This city uniquely offers you the kind of people you will never encounter in the village, strange relations and unique moments of life.
“These experiences were unraveled for me by the city. Had I stayed put in Eachikkanam and continued writing there, my stories would have been boringly repetitive. The city provides plenty of raw materials at the disposal of a writer. Life in the city helped me learn deeply about friendships, conversations and the vagaries of time. Wherever I go, the city beckons me to return to it soon,” says Santhosh.
Constructing Kottayam, in Kochi
It has been over four decades since die-hard Kottayam man C.R. Omanakuttan became a Kochiite. His passion for Kottayam being indelible, he did not think twice while naming the home he built in Kochi as ‘Thirunakkara’! He thus became a Thirunakkara man in Kochi too.
“Kottayam pervades my thinking. It was that city that gave me cinema and literature. It was there that I was exposed to world famous film makers, including Charlie Chaplin. Then there are the memories of friends like G. Aravindan and John Abraham. I live in this city with those treasured memories for company. I was able to share them with several generations at Maharajas,” he says.
Omanakuttan’s distinction is in penning Kottayam stories while sitting in Kochi. At Maharaja’s College, he had many disciples, including actor Salim Kumar. Now he can be seen playing a notable part in Salim Kumar’s movie ‘Karutha Joothan’. He had earlier appeared in Rajeev Vijayaraghavan’s ‘Margam’ and M.P. Sukumaran Nair’s ‘Drishtantham’.
Kochi sights captured in fiction
Writer K.A. Sebastian who migrated from Alapuzha to Kochi and set up base in Thoppumpadi has decided to give up short story writing for now! He has embarked on a novel, which marks the lives of a few people he met in Kochi.
“Kochi has always enchanted me. Stories abound here. My childhood was in Chethi in Alapuzha. After education I worked for a while as a teacher in Mumbai. However, Mumbai did not appeal to me like Kochi does. I am not sure if a city can make a writer. But Kochi is a different experience. It is a source of energy for story tellers. I have many writer friends who were raised in Kochi. The city appearing in their works used to mesmerize me. My Kochi experiences are captured in the stories in the recently published collection ‘Yantrasaraswathinilayam’,”
The solace of temple bells
It has been several months since K.B. Sreedevi shifted based to Tripunithura after a long stint in Thrissur. The seeds of a new work germinated in her mind after she started living in the house adjacent to Sreepoornathrayeesa temple. Presently, she is working on the final chapters of a novel with a scientific backdrop.
“While in Trissur, I woke up to the sound of the Vadakkunnatha temple bell at dawn. Now it is the bell of the Sreepoornathrayeesa temple. That is the only difference. I get up at four in the morning and write. Like many other writers who are housewives, I too find the early morning time, when children are fast asleep, ideal for writing,” says Sreedevi.
By relocating to Tripunithura, she had cried halt to a stay nearing a golden jubilee of years. Sreedevi had arrived in Thrissur in 1969 for her son’s education. While in school, Sreedevi had spent a year in Tripunithura, doing her ninth class in the Palace Girls’ High School. She then lived with her valiyachan who was a Thampuran of the Tripunithura kovilakam. Now, she stays with her son’s wife in Tripunithura.
“The people here are a loving lot. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. Enquiries come from everywhere about my writing. It just feels like I have shifted house from a city and come to another. The pains of those around me urge me to write. I like to observe humans. Nothing ever changes about them and their lives.” The writer who remarks thus about the human psyche is neither elated nor distraught about anything.
Pastureland of friendships
Writer Narayan had planned to move to his hometown of Kudayathoor in Idukki after long years of service with the Postal department. But he was to slowly realize that a life removed from Kochi was impossible. “Even though my writing draws inspiration from lives in tribal hamlets, the stories and novels came to be written in the city of Kochi,” Narayan says about his post-retirement life in Kochi. He adds that migration to Kochi also resulted in the city and its public life featuring in his works.
‘Nagaram Paniyunna Pennungal’, his novel published last year is based on the lives of women construction workers in Kochi. Currently, Narayan is working on an epic novel about the royal clans among tribal people. “I like to write about the travails of ordinary folk in the bottom strata of society. In Kochi, I have assimilated the experiences of many, including those who have come here from other places for work.”
‘Kocherathi’, written in the light of experiences of Malayarayar, a tribal community of Kerala that lives in relentless struggle against nature, is Narayan’s first novel. Narayan entered postal service after passing SSLC from Kudayathoor High School in Idukki and retired as postmaster in 1995. His friends’ circle encompassing former colleagues, writer friends and publishers is wide indeed. “As someone coming from a remote village, I carry on by fighting and making peace with this city,” he concludes with a smile.