Through the lens..: On people in Kerala relying on boats and canoes to commute

In the wake of a boat accident that left a schoolgirl dead in Kottayam, TNIE lensman T P Sooraj spends a day with people who are still forced to depend solely on boats and canoes for commuting.
Two people wait at Vaduthala jetty for a boat to Korangotta
Two people wait at Vaduthala jetty for a boat to Korangotta

KOCHI: Kochi, with its intricate network of waterways, is a photographer’s joy. I must have clicked over a thousand pictures capturing the way of life along the coastline, and on the islands off the city. 

People commuting on boats and canoes often make for picture-postcard frames. However, one was reminded that there is another side to the placid imagery while watching the news of a 12-year-old schoolgirl dying in a boat accident at Aymanam in Kottayam, and the subsequent wail of the region’s residents. 

Not many on the other side of the camera find the daily boat rides joyful. They have no other choice but to depend on boats for commuting.  

Thanthonni Thuruthu, just a stone’s throw away from Marine Drive, is an example. About 50 families live on this island, and the only means of connectivity to the city are boats.

Local residents say the place got its name from ‘thaan thoni’, conveying that each one relies on his/her own canoe. Though government-run ferry services operate to and from the island, the residents are frustrated. 

After numerous agitations demanding a bridge linking to the city, people here say they have “lost faith in the administration”. 

“Several protests have been held in the past years. There is not even a primary health centre here,” laments islander Saritha Suresh. “In case of emergencies, we have to depend on our boats. Several people have died in the past due to delayed medical attention, or boat capsizes.” 

Similar frustration lingers at Cherungal along the Ernakulam-Alappuzha border. Shibu P R, who has been the oarsman of a government boat service for 23 years, shrugs with a wry smile as he shares his longtime dream to see a 40m-long bridge come up, connecting Cherungal to Chellanam. 

“For years, we have been hearing promises that a bridge will be built. However, I don’t think my dream won’t come true any time in the near future,” he laughs. 

In Kumbalangi, amidst the picturesque settings, some households continue to rely on old wooden bridges to access the outside world. “During emergencies, we have to depend on the canoes. We have no other way,” says P T Nanappan, a local resident.    

On the way to my final stop, at Korangotta island, I bump into a former excise officer named Sadanandan. While waiting at Vaduthala jetty for a boat, he smirks in response to questions on the long-pending promise of a bridge. 

“There are about 90 families on the island. We have given up. Several media reports on our plight have been published. Our demands keep falling on deaf ears. You can see articles on plans and proposals going back over a decade,” he says. 

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The New Indian Express