Kochi Journal

Fisherman and their impressive nets in Kochi. Copyright Simon Bonneau.


Spent the day walking the waterfront in Cochin, admiring the Chinese fishing nets that have been in operation here for over 500 years. The huge nets are suspended from frames made from heavy wood and counter-levered with large rocks. Despite the rocks, it still takes seven men to pull them out of the water.

From the windows of my hotel room, I can see a school in the distance. Every morning, the children assemble in the yard to perform some sort of game that involves holding what looks to be rubbish-tin lids. It seems ridiculous, I know, and perhaps my eyes are failing me.

The level of literacy and numeracy in Kerala is amoung the highest in India. I speak to the hotel owner, Anthony, about it and his pride is clear: the state should be a model for others. I agree with him, but at the same time, could such a system be emulated in India’s poorer states? It is their high levels of education that has lead to wealth or is their wealth that has lead to higher levels of education? The chicken and the egg.

Detail of an installation at the Kochi Biennale. Copyright Simon Bonneau.


Walked around the grounds of the old Aspinwall Trading Company today, established in 1857 by an English trader of the same name. The complex is big, and, at the moment, brimming with art – Cochin is hosting India’s first art biennale, showcasing the work of 88 artists from India and around the world.

One particularly interesting installation comprised of a number of small wooden trays attached to the wall, filled with different species of native rice, and a book listing 33,000 more varieties, all now threatened with extinction due to the cultivation of modern, high-yield varieties. In another large warehouse, an installation comprised entirely of rocks of various sizes, forming a sort of miniature lost city of buildings, arches and monuments.

Note: I deeply regret not recording the names of the artists in question. If you know who they are, please let me know through the contact page, I would much appreciate it.

Another detail of an installation at the Kochi Biennale. Copyright Simon Bonneau.


Took a trip through the backwaters today on a small narrow vessel with lots of other tourists. It is a bit of a clichéd thing to do, but then again, there is a reason for that – it is very beautiful. A quiet, verdant world that seems disconnected from the India I watched passing through the bus window just an hour before.

We stop and walk around the groves of spice trees. I tear some bark from a cinnamon tree and the fragrance is like nothing I have ever smelt before, so intense that it I feel it cloying in my nostrils – almost too much. All the spices smell like this – hyperreal versions of themselves. I feel like I am tasting them again for the first time.

We eat curry and rice served on banana leaves under a small pergola with a thatched roof, and then it is back on the boats again. The quiet, the heat and humidity has me nodding off to sleep. I close my eyes and hear the bird calls, the creaks of the boat, the sound of camera shutters opening and closing. In seeming respect of the silence, my fellow travellers speak in hushed tones.

Backwaters of Kerala. Copyright Simon Bonneau.

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