Once upon a time in Kochi: Instagrammer immortalises city's history on the internet
History enthusiast Johann Binny Kuruvilla's Instagram page, Kochi Heritage Project, documents the past of the Queen of the Arabian Sea.
KOCHI: For Johann Binny Kuruvilla, history has been a fascinating subject since childhood. Be it his family’s history or the country’s, he was always curious to know more. A couple of years ago, he started making a serious effort to learn the history of Kochi, a project that culminated in the contents of the Instagram page Kochi Heritage.“I make sure all my posts have a unique story to them — facts that are not that famous or known to many. It requires thorough research and patience to confirm these,” Johann shares. He makes sure that at least three sources confirm the information before putting it out online. “The research mostly takes a week,” he says.
Peep into the past
The history of the Kochi Heritage Project itself is interesting. Johann, who was working in the Middle East, quit his job out of his love for travel. He came back to India and spent many months backpacking across the country in 2017, learning interesting stories from the places he visited and documenting them on his blog. However, the dream run came to an abrupt halt when he exhausted all his savings.
“That’s when I started researching about Kochi, my own city,” Johann shares. He was impressed when his friend started a heritage walking project in Mumbai. “One day, while I was visiting him, I spent a day walking through the city collecting some facts for him. During that walk, I studied his process and was fascinated with the city where many cultures coexist and interact, much like our Mattanchery,” he adds.
Back home, while working as a freelance travel guide, he amassed many facts, some unknown, about the city’s heritage. He started conducting heritage walks with the details he had. “I wanted to learn about my city and pass on the information I have to the next generation,” he adds. He also conducted special walks for a few film producers, directors and actors on request. The tagline of the project itself is ‘Our past also needs a future’. He feels the youth is disconnected from their history.
“In schools, for the majority of students, history is a boring subject. It is important that they understand the heritage and culture around them and work towards preserving them,” he says. During the countless walks, Johann noticed that many participants were archaeology students. “Others should also find it fascinating. Because there is a lot of interesting stories our city has to offer,” he adds. This is why he moved to Instagram, where most youngsters come to spend time.
Long road ahead
The pandemic has limited the project online for now. When things get better, he plans to conduct documentary screenings and discussion groups. “I am planning to restart the heritage walks too, and take my weekly clubhouse talks to physical a platform,” he shares. Right now, Kochi Heritage Project is a passion project for Johann. But his dream is to be an official source, a go-to person for all things in Kochi’s yesteryears. “Our history is mainly recorded by a particular section of our society. Dalit history and the lives of common people and minorities are almost always missed out. They are spread orally. Right now, there is space for even the layman to record history,” he says.