Most cities in India house at least one neighbourhood that flaunts of affluence. Pavements flank the roads which for once, entertain the purpose they’re meant for, instead of the customary sighting of labour-saving parking. Mahogany and mulberry trunks line up the streets intertwining in lacy roots at the base, thickening and broadening on their way up, demonstrating a continual and relative coolness. The otherwise peaceful routes sense occasional vibrations as a luxurious automobile cruises through solidified tar in leisure, making way to its destination. Row houses, duplexes, independent houses and buildings embodying tasteful flats pile up in neat rows. Except for a periodic rustle from the mutual kissing of the leaves in the air, there is pin-drop silence. Once in a while, a resident walks by in attire fashioned by a global designer label. Those with a fitness conscience pervade the elaborate pavements in late afternoons or evenings.
Such neighbourhood(s) outcry of silence, bringing to life new-age concepts of seclusion and privacy. They feel like desolated territories so much so that an ordinary passer-by can feel threatened of encroaching upon a haunted stretch.
Cochin Club in Kerala was once accessible only to colonisers. In its early days, the club’s membership was restricted to Britishers. It eventually transpired into a management run by Indians for Indians. The upscale coterie facing the Arabian seafront is situated in a well-known tourist area, Fort Kochi. To the extent to which a naked eye can observe, the club is done in tasteful measurements. Gold emblazoned letters spelling C.O.C.H.I.N. C.L.U.B. adorn a side of the main gated entrance. Aesthetically potted, pruned, and planted into-the-earth greenery fawn the building’s circumference, a one-storied structure coated in a tinge of crème fraîche. Either side of the tinted windows on the first floor stay obstinately shut. Everything about the club seems fathomable except for what happens inside it. To the extent, that even the door to the building is on another side – away from a passer-by’s prying eyes. Once in a while an Audi or a BMW halts, even if for a moment, before making its way to the valet parking. A bouncer flanks the gated entrance for scrutiny, an access that’s otherwise meant for members only. He stopped me from entering the premises of a building to which I was misguided, as a potential location for the Muziris Biennale. He pointed me through to the outer perimeter of the club, a side that ran a narrow strip leading to the beach. And there it was, the usual signs of the distinct Biennale – its official logo with details of the art on display.
As I pored over the elucidation of the installation, I felt a prick at the nape of my neck. Leaves from the adjacent mulberry tree caressed the hot afternoon as though soothing its crudeness with a reassuring lullaby. A rhythmic ‘click’ of a stiletto accompanied by an unrelenting banter to settle-for-nothing-but-pasta-for-lunch rented the air. Strollers and tourists alike searched for a ‘cafe to grab a bite’. The midday sun played the gold to its advantage by shining right in everyone’s eyes. Mine wished to weaken to the tunes of the breezy sway in the background, as an account of this exhibit evoked within a sense of sudden despair. A bungalow and a posh structure fringed the club’s vicinity, these gated edifices a zebra cross away. And here was an art display at one of the town’s prime venues that talked about an ‘informal’ community in eastern Mumbai.
A community that believes in existing without boundaries. Figuratively. Literally.
Here is a community that offers a living space to dogs and flocks of hens per their wishes. Here is a community where utensils are mopped, and construction bricks are laden in the same area. Here is a community where residents conduct business from home – bringing to light a renewed seal to the concept of ‘work from home’. Here is a community that converts rooms into a sleeping area, living space and a kitchen at the wave of a magic wand. Here is a community where dwellers attend to nature’s call in its faithful surroundings – amidst nature. Here is a community where hose and steel pipes, and motor sets run amuck within the abodes, the only chance of survival being to live with them. Here is a locality where clothes hang in the open, are stacked inside steel drums, or dumped in polyethene. Here is a community where a lazy Sunday could mean entertainment on &Pictures watching Apna Sapna Money Money. Here is a community where they bring up toddlers with the happiness of being unaware of a tomorrow. Let alone living in anticipation of what it holds for them.
Overlooking this Biennale Pavilion on one side is Cochin Club and on the other, a slice of the Arabian Sea. Although a stark contrast to the source, both are lands (or waters in the case of latter) of riches, nonetheless.
Affordability is subjective. And so is affluence. In a diversifying land as India that buries a treasure trove of such-and-such stories, there is no dearth of ironies.
Photos: Cochin Club, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016