At the Mahatma Gandhi Road station of the Kochi Metro, Ajith Krishnan Nair, owner of the Krishnan Nair Studio, points at a photo taken in 1950, of a large open area facing the backwaters. “Most of the political meetings during the pre-and post-Independence era took place at the Rajendra Maidan. I have a family story linked to it,” says the 68-year-old.
Ajith’s father MP Krishna Pillai was the secretary of the All India Students Congress. A meeting had been planned in 1947 to protest against British Rule. But it was banned by the Cochin administration, which was under the control of the British. Protestors were lathi-charged and his father was taken to the Viyyur Central Jail in Thrissur and spent several months there. After India gained independence, he was released in 1948.
The black-and-white photos on display at the entrance include images of the iconic Hotel Sealord, which had been the only building at the present-day Marine Drive, the Assembly building which is now the Law College, the Ernakulam Town railway station, the High Court boat jetty, Maharaja’s College, as well as the Rama Varma Club. Beside each photo, there is one showing the present-day building. Most of the prints are of a width of 9 ft or 12 ft and at a height of 3 ½ ft.
When Kochi Metro put out an advertisement asking for photos of the old Kochi, Krishnan reached out with 75 images. “The idea was that by looking at earlier photos, we will get an idea of the progress of Kochi over the years,” says APM Mohammed Hanish, Managing Director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited.
Ajith’s studio was set up by his grand uncle in 1910. But it was his uncle Krishnan Nair, who began running the studio in 1930 and made it a success. Soon, there were branches in Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam and Thiruvananthapuram. Ajith’s father began working at the studio in the 1950s. Today, Ajith has a collection of over 200 photos such as one of Mahatma Gandhi who had come to Vaikom in 1925, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on a visit to Kochi, a dapper Jawaharlal Nehru at the railway station and a smiling Indira Gandhi on her first-ever visit in 1956. Meanwhile, Hanish says there are plans to put up more old photos in the other stations. Ajith is, once again, ready to share his treasure trove for free.