KOCHI: Of the many things that bring tourists in droves to Fort Kochi, the prominent one is the St Francis Church, built in 1503. The church is where the mortal remains of Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama were buried, before being exhumed and moved to Portugal.The next is Chinese nets, an instant tourist attraction, which for long had ceased to be economically viable. The structure, which was brought to Kochi somewhere around the 14th or 15th century, has its charm still intact.
But, more than all these, it’s something else that’s been putting Kochi on the global map recently. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Just seven years into existence, this art fiesta has turned the soul of Kochi that it was the hook that prompted National Geographic Traveller to include Fort Kochi as one of the must-visit places in 2020, the only destination in India. Even popular travel guide Lonely Planet included Kochi among the top 10 cities to visit in 2020.
The people’s Biennale, quite literally
Kochi Biennale Foundation president Bose Krishnamachari thinks what is significant in the list is that Kochi is one of the few places that has been featured not only for its natural beauty or heritage, but for something contemporary and creative.
“Nature and heritage are primarily preserved, but the Biennale is created. Of course, Kochi is also beautiful and has rich built and intangible heritage. But, none of this is in the past tense or in passivity, all of this comes alive and is taken in new directions by the Biennale. I think what is important is that its creators and primary audience are the people here. It is this energy that has been acknowledged by various artists, critics, and publications,” he adds.
Boney Thomas, one of the founders of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, says Biennale is a quintessential example of how an event can alter the face of a city. “Kochi’s history will be recorded as pre- and post-Biennale. That’s the kind of change this art fiesta brought to this coastal town. So imbibed is Biennale in people’s life here that it is impossible to imagine Kochi minus Biennale,” says Boney.
The 2018 edition of Biennale clocked a total footfall of 6.2 lakh people from across the country and abroad.
According to Boney, Biennale lures in thousands of foreign tourists to the town. “Besides the St Francis Church and Chinese nets, it’s Biennale that placed Kochi on the global map. One can assume the significance of Biennale when you consider that it is just seven years old, while the other attractions are centuries old,” he adds.
He thinks Biennale is more than an art festival. “You can gauge its influence and impact on the economy when people, right from an artist to a homestay owner, want a bigger version every time. The heritage and welcoming culture of Kochi have added to its charm,” says Boney, adding how proud he is to be one of the founders of the event.
In deep slumber
Fort Kochi might still be a name to reckon, but the glaring lack of facilities and infrastructure is pulling it down. Absence of proper toilet facilities and waste management is threatening to derail its status as the most sought-after place in India.
K J Sohan, former Mayor and a resident of Fort Kochi, says it is disappointing and extremely sad that despite the world acknowledging Fort Kochi, the authorities are not concerned at all.“Can you believe, the St Francis Church, the first church built by Europeans in India, was flooded in the last three years? Or the Parade Ground, which housed the artillery of British and Dutch armies, was raised so unscientifically? Is this what Fort Kochi, with its rich tradition, deserves? The authorities are spelling the death of our historical monuments,” says Sohan.