Kochi Gang

27 February 2013

Backstreets are awful at night time but pleasant during the day, especially when you have a bunch of Indians showing you their ‘gang ground’. Have any other tourists been through here? Did the local people treat me the same as everyone else?

It’s impossible to say. There were a couple of tourists on the ferry. I wonder if they noticed the smell of the black sludgy water of the harbour. Halfway between the modern part and old part of town was a floating pile of rubbish. It was easily missed with all the huge cargo ships sitting deathly still in the water. From Istanbul was a ship that had thousands upon thousands of tonnes of long tree trunks waiting to be unloaded. The stack was bigger than several houses put together. Countless cranes lined the port and you couldn’t see the end of them. So this is how stuff gets around.

Kochi is a port town. I suppose it’s famous for that. Actually it’s not. The thing that makes Kochi famous are Chinese fishing nets. They are basically tall structures with a net hanging off, levered into the water by a series of weights and people. I have no idea why people come here to see these. They never catch anything. How could they? It’s a busy port with container ships belching out this that and all else into the water–but of course so does the whole Kochi population–in India. The poor 1 or 2 fish who somehow survive in this water.

It was thinking about this that got me fortunately interrupted by Shanu and his friends. They ‘worked’ in one of the little tourist stalls selling the same old shit you see everywhere. There was about 6 or 7 of them and they joked quickly in Malayalem and English. They were actually really funny. Willingness to make fun from nothing like 14 year olds, but with the mind power of 20 somethings.

I assume you can afford to pester and be pestered by the local alcoholic, opiated village fool, or to reciprocate the game playing with the tourists, when you’re not scrounging around for a living from the shop. Most of these guys were students or had tradesman work painting.

‘Do you know pigeons?’ Misaj with glasses asked me.

That’s how we got to the backstreets. Shanu and his family had competition winning pigeons.

Explaining this would have been hard for them, and it was hard to understand. I interrupted the explanation because there was a big communist flag being flown. Then I remembered that the minister and many ex-parties in power for the state of Kerala are communist.

We arrived at a block of houses. The houses were really little communities. There was one gated entrance and all the houses front doors (if they had doors) faced inward to the little dusty space between them all. On top of the house was a group of children and adults; all family apparently. More people peeked their heads out of the windows and followed me as I walked up to the roof. More family apparently.

And what do you know? On the roof there actually were 30 pigeons all in cages. Some doves too. The children were desperate to tell me something. They tugged on my shirt until I looked down, then they would point forcefully at the cages.

‘They win competition! Prize! Washing machine as prize!’

I was introduced to all the cousins, nephews, nieces, grandparents etc., and they all had a look of surprise on their faces: why wasn’t I on the TV in their family room? What was I doing here? It was a surreal little setting. All the trees, coconut and mango trees, stuck out of and into the houses freely. No house was taller than the trees, so it felt like you were really amongst it all.

Of course a proud demonstration followed all the introductions. Shanu opened the cage, thought for a moment, then reached down and grabbed a pigeon in his two hands. We came outside again and he let it go and like a coiled spring, the bird shot out. The bird just kept flapping and spiralled up and up and up into the sky until it was a small speck in the clear blueness.

That afternoon most of the ‘gang’ had to go so I was left with the one who I discovered owned the shop. He could speak virtually no English and didn’t really have the brains to explain himself with body language. He still liked me a lot and thought we were very best friends as we played chess until the mosquitoes came out.

The next day nobody was even sitting in the stall so I walked past just a part of the navy base. All the captains and lieutenants had lavish colonial houses opposite. Those old trees’ branches hovered over the road like arcs of lighting.

That last day in India came. Little did I know that a quarter of a year ago, when I marked this day on the calendar, that this day would be like any other day in India. Things happen out of nowhere by just going with it. Aneesh the shopkeeper jumped when he saw me.

We went to Aneesh’s house for lunch. It was a really great curry that we ate with our hands. It was the last day I could think a little about my thumb scoop to mouth technique, keeping all the food in my fingertips. I noticed that it was a lot easier than a month and a half ago.

Saying goodbye to the gang wasn’t so bad at all. I jumped on the bus and waved goodbye and we all smiled.

Aneesh had brought his passport along that day because he thought that he could come with me to Australia. Like it was just hopping on a general unreserved class train carriage and off we went.

What was bad was the freedom to explain how different Australia was to India, but also how similar it was. I was leaving in just a couple of hours. It all poured out and I’m pretty sure that only the drug addicts ramble in India, but here I was rambling. I covered just about everything from tax to real quality of life to ‘love marriages’ with my own anecdotes of it all. Hopefully Aneesh and the gang understood now that it wasn’t a fair world, and I was fucking lucky to have the things I needed to do, and fucking luckier still to be going back to the place I’m going back to.