‘Whorled Explorations’ – at Fort Kochi’s Biennale

What happens when an entire town goes to art?


Goats doing what goats do, become part of the art on the street walls. But first, fishermen walk the planks to sink the fishing nets while a motley group erupts in forced laughter. We watch as an Orange sun rises. And cats wait for fishermen who wait for the morning boat, all waiting next to a street cart vendor selling piping hot coffee and pazhamporis (banana fritters). The coffee doubles over and laughs at the likes served at Cafe Coffee Day. We wait, relishing the coffee and our pazhamporis, watching them wait. Soon our universe takes the shape of a pazhampori and we savour, every moment of it. She makes small talk with the vendor. Life is an installation, someone must have said. All you need is to take the time to look.

If you are thinking, what quasi-pseudo stuff !! then my guess is, you’ll barely survive Aspinwall House, the biennale’s biggest venue. Also because it has over 60 installations, featuring artists from around the world – video and sound installations and well, those that take empty space and transform it, like us with our pazhamporis and the cats, installed as a metaphor. Aspinwall House is also a sprawling old trading house from colonial times with beautiful trees and large empty spaces.

That’s just the beginning. You have art scattered across venues – mostly, old heritage buildings; along the walls on the streets, in the squares, on the beach front and even up the trees. Dot the venues and it will look like a very adventurous cat went for a stroll in the Fort Kochi neighbourhood. I went about on foot too.

Seen on one such walk

Fort Kochi by itself, is starkly beautiful with its old colonial and pre-colonial artefacts – trees older than the really old buildings and the Chinese fishing nets that were fixed there a really long, long time ago. Older than Gandhi’s spinning wheel by at least a couple of hundred years.

A whole lot of Anglicizing also meant that they have really good cakes & coffee and everything continental in addition to the fish and other delicacies of Kerala. Yet when I think lip-smacking, the ones that come to mind are the pazhamporis, prawn pollichathu, steamed idlis with a prawn stuffing (at Dosa and Pancakes). And the gelato, enjoyed all by its own, much later one evening (at Gelato)!

My friend, at one of the video installations, Aspinwall House

At David Hall
‘Everything will be alright’ – video
By Guido Van Der Werve
The artist walks towards the viewer, getting weary as time goes by, yet walking on, breaking ice with his feet on a frozen shore off Finland. A massive icebreaker behind him, doing the job mindlessly, with no hardship, making his attempt look futile. Foreboding. Yet full of spirit, and my most captivating memory from the biennale.

Everything will be alright

At Vasco Square
Balancing Act
By Gulammohammed Sheikh
At Pepper house
458 meters/sec
By Peter Rosel, Germany

An installation whose only point is to make you feel how gullible and helpless a traveller you are, trapped and hurtled around at breakneck speed. At Kochi, Earth’s velocity reaches supersonic speeds.

Spot that if you can, it says!

earthvelocity2 earthvelocity3 eartvelocity

At Pepper house
Liquid history of Vasco da Gama
By Sarnath Banerjee
A delightful little series in charcoal and pastels that tell, yes, the story of Vasco da Gama in a not very flattering manner!

vasco1 vasco3 vasco4

Guess who?
The recent spurt of Banksy like graffiti across Fort Kochi…

graffitijoker graffitiKFC graffitiMcD graffitimonalisa

Humid Fort Kochi also taught me not to get too engrossed composing and taking photographs. Else you’ll have to listen to something no one wants to hear from anybody – you have dirt on your er back.
um?? You must have sat somewhere, he added with a smile. I just grin and quickly dust off that lime wash off my er back!

And Goats can stare, unnervingly so!

At least, this is what I saw.

Goodbye for now, Fort Kochi.



It takes two feet and a mind to wander…

On some days, that is.

You know how you can step out with nothing much, other than a vague promise of I’ll buy you lunch? And, not wanting to head to any of the usual joints, how you do tend to step off in the opposite direction?

Yet, today is different. It begins with a friend unknowingly peppering it with an intriguing story that involved a boutique, a quaint chat with the lady who owns it, a thailam (medicated oil), her healing knee and an odd book that she had wanted, waiting for her at Blossom’s, jutting out of the shelf.

Random occurrences that don’t feel so random make my recesses smile. Yet you preoccupy yourself with thoughts of how we’ve skipped breakfast. And maybe you shouldn’t be walking so much? Yet you continue. Not Mantri, I am thinking to myself, not the same old overpriced fare. Yet you take the turn. It’s the road I usually am on when I’m driving back from Mantri. You keep walking. I see familiar shops. And then at one point you turn a right and find yourself on ‘Sampige road’. Lost. Directions have never made any sense to me. Maybe someday we’ll run into a direction shaman! Until then…

So, you just walk on. ‘Holige Mane’? Weren’t we treated a few weeks back to some delectable holiges, exactly from this outlet? I walk a few feet more to see if Halli mane is close by as it is supposed to be. It was. People seem to be staring. It’s afternoon. Everybody is going about their business. Even the local loafer has his routines. Nobody looks out of place, except the ones who sometimes lose their way. Quite happily. 25 Rs for a juice, 20 Rs for an Akki roti and 15 Rs for a delicious dal holige, yet another road and a nice long walk.

6th January, 2015

around kumara park and malleshwaram

Hide and Seek


I loved ku phu the best. And every other name you called me by too. By the way, I was mostly messing with Ajay, just to piss him off. How can I not love him? But yes I loved you more.

Kufoos Kutties, I feel we put you through hell the last few days, adamant in our belief that we are doing the right thing, shutting you indoors…. I wish we had known better about wounds and such. How unfair it seems to have learned so much through your suffering!

Can we talk about the times we played hide and seek?

I knew you loved it! Especially the “where is kung fu”? part! The carpet! Sigh. Did we play enough with you?

Ajay is really good at making playthings out of nothing. The red stick and the pink string, the paper balls and the day he came back with those toys for me! And the times he spun me around till I was giddy, crazy character that he is! We had a good time, didn’t we?

I lost it the day he came home with the toys! I thought we were spoiling you and making you more horribly human, staying indoors and playing with toys! The free, crazy cat that I wanted you to be.

The little tigress of Langford road!! You get really cheesy at times!

Peace. Peace. Chicken Piece.

Question Mark!

And the zillion ‘NOs’!

You begged for all of it ku poo! Those mornings when I stepped out for my walk and runs! So much drama the two of us would be playing out and every time the same; like scenes straight out of the Groundhog Day, there on the road! Crashing into my legs, running between my feet and that final standing up and giving me a mock bite! And me carrying you back to the pillar of our gate and telling you ‘NO’. But what the heck, there you would come running to follow me again!
And then Ku phu kanna; you learnt to wait for me on our neighbours hedge….

I don’t understand how A can stare at the TV for so long. I tried it with him a few times, whenever you were late.


And that white ocean fish was horribluh!

You made that very clear! Then you would freak me out with your many prize hunts, yuck…baby rats, lizards and even a baby bird!! Who catches a bird! I’ve never seen you climb a tree!

The little tigress of Langford road. *smile*

It’s my memory…not just a pretty picture!

Sitting in a swivel chair, all it takes is a few lazy clicks to land you anywhere on the wide, wide, wide Net.
One day, while lazily browsing I happen upon an ad for villas in Pondicherry. I get idly curious. I follow the advert to find a neat website proclaiming the usual real-estate claims. Anyway, what catches my attention is the wide panorama frame at the top switching amongst pictures and one of them is that of the Gandhi statue in Pondicherry with the bay of Bengal behind it and the many pillars that surround it. The property I quickly glance down to check is somewhere on the East Coast road.

I stare at the picture long, my heart going places; but soon a vacant vacuum takes over and a single question looms. What is it doing here? A bitter thought follows the emptiness – The Net is indeed an empty place. A wide wide screen made up of little bits of information put together and stored in some wired bits of hardware ironically serving as a memory.

The Gandhi statue in Pondicherry is indeed a famous landmark and yes it stands right in the middle of Goubert Avenue, the beach front boulevard. But until you have stood next to it on the raised steps and felt the breeze from the graceful sea lying below… until you have gazed at Gandhi and smiled at some secret story that you know about the statue… until you have touched the old stone pillars starkly in some meditative mood after an early morning walk by the beach…until you have sat beside it and listened to the sea…until you have cycled past it innumerable times each time aware of its grandeur beneath that stark simplicity…until then…

what would it mean to anyone?

An August walk

The heart is gloriously happy in the simplest of moments. And if it is a walk we are on about, then doubly so…

It is a misty, overcast afternoon, late in August. We are in Ooty, Nilgiris country.

We step out to walk with no destination in mind. Just letting the feet take us to wherever. Soon a sign board catches our attention; just the “Elk Hill” bit of it and we decide to follow this path up Elk hill.

It is a steep climb but the air is pure, sharp and remarkably clear. The mist lies thickly over the hills beyond the valley below. The valley has turned into a passive bit of scenery set with little clumps of colored boxes amidst rolling stretches of green.

Some of the steeper slopes seem better tackled with a bit of backward walking thrown in, especially when tired. At least it works for me! An act borrowed from something Ajay begins in fun. The balance is better, I proclaim. In these incredibly heady, happily weary climbing moments.

A few truant raindrops surprise us, strange; it is rain in a small circle! We are laughing. Happy. It is quite random, just under some tall, tall trees. The grey clouds breaking into rain upon touching the tree tops? We step into quite a few of them, smiling every time.

We pause higher up, near some slopes of beautifully tender green land rolling down to some far way misty horizon. Ajay takes some panaroma pictures here. I sit down to a get a closer look at the plants. Later the next day we realize that they were baby carrots. A few women are here, squatting in a circle, tending these plants. We soon pass by a farm that smells of cow dung and cow urine (just a wild guess). A strong sharp earthy smell. We pass by some schools, the destination from the sign board that got us up here, a church and continue walking up.

A dog follows us around for a while. Ajay starts calling him our guide. A while later it disappears having found something more interesting, perhaps. I have it framed in a picture so those moments are there now, the dog forever with us, digitally preserved.

The mist gets closer and closer and pretty soon after some more climbing we are in it. I close my ears and shudder a bit in the cold. The few people we meet walking past are all covered up similarly, little woolly human outlines going about the hills.

On our way back we stop at the small store we passed by earlier to have some tea. The hot tea is refreshing and we stand there, our heads nearly touching the humble roof, and watch the sparrows seemingly doing some aimless hopping on the road. Hop. Hop. Hop.

A shrub with bunches of wildly waving violet florets is rooted so picturesquely by the roadside.

A kitten jumps on to the row of the jars that lines the store’s counter and seats itself on one of the jars. Comfortable. And not a bit shy.

Adieu, now, to this lovely walk.
August, 2012