If you keep your ear to the ground in Mattancherry, the popular touristy neighbourhood of western Kochi in Kerala, chances are high that you will hear a smattering of Indian languages around. People here could be speaking Kashmiri, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, Konkani and Malayalam of course — as a result of being the melting pot of different communities who migrated to Kochi for economic and social reasons over the years.
Walking around Mattancherry, the same linguistic diversity can be found reflected in places of worship too. So there’s the 16th-century Paradesi synagogue at the end of a narrow lane in Jew Town which remained for centuries the focal point of a flourishing Jewish population in Kochi that has now dwindled to just two members. The oldest in the community, Sarah Jacob Cohen, passed away last year at the age of 96.
Then there’s the small Pazhayannur Bhagavathy temple located in the inner courtyard of the Mattancherry Palace, the deity of which is regarded as the protective goddess of the erstwhile Cochin royal family. The palace itself was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and gifted to the king of Cochin. The Dutch colonisers in later decades carried out renovations too.
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Within a one-kilometre radius of Mattancherry, there’s the Dharmanath Jain temple, a major pilgrimage spot for the Jain community, the St George Orthodox Syrian Church, the Shri Navnit Krishna temple of the Gujarati community, the Thekkemadhom Dharma Sastha temple and the Puthiya Palli mosque — rounding off one of the most religiously and culturally diverse neighbourhoods of Kerala.
As the chatter about the upcoming local body elections in Kerala heats up, there is great interest in what voters of perhaps the most cosmopolitan municipal ward in the state want this time. Mattancherry is ward number five in the 74-seat Kochi Corporation council, where the polls are scheduled to take place on December 12 in the second phase of the election. The contest is a straight one, between the CPM-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF with the BJP aiming to cut votes from either sections.
“Yes, there are people from many communities and states of India who have been living in Mattancherry for many years now. And so they are all fluent in Malayalam. It makes our conversations and campaigning easier. I requested them to vote for me and they have responded positively so far,” said KK Anciya, the candidate of the CPM-led LDF.
“Scarcity of piped water and housing are two of the major issues here. Most people here are landless and have been waiting for land deeds from the government. If I win, I want to make improvements in those areas,” she said.
If not for the pandemic, Mattancherry would have been bustling with foreign tourists with home-stays and hotels fully occupied. But the continued surge in infections, particularly in west Kochi, has meant that traders and owners of hotels and homestays are sitting idle with a major tourist season likely to be washed out.
Even though the ward is a microcosm of India with diverse linguistic and religious shades, a majority of the voters are from the Muslim community which explains why the LDF and UDF have fielded Muslim candidates. In 2015, the ward went to Ashraf TK of IUML, an ally of the Congress.