By Abhimanyu Prakash
Literally the four corners of the country converged into Kochi, with Vishal from Delhi, Balbinder from Pune, Amit a local and me coming in from Kolkata. This called for a special welcome and what a beautiful one it was, as the trains passed through lush plantations and gorgeous backwaters, while the flight seemed to land amidst a gazillion palm trees. A vernacular looking international airport with a meager 2 conveyer belts, was a sign of what was in store. It led to a misty picture in my mind, of a city trying to fight its dichotomy of wanting a ‘metropolitan’ status and yet grappling to maintain its local flavor. And the journey home (since I am going to be staying there for a couple of weeks) made the picture clearer, and it was thoroughly satisfying to see an urban environment combed with greenery, traditionally clad men and women and a certain village like neighborhood character, so unique to our country. The fight between a smooth western metropolitan and maybe a bumpy Indian urban setting gave me company till I finally reached George Eden Road and entered the house to see my co-fellows intensely glued to their computer screens.
A first floor apartment, above a landlord whom we can barely understand was just a glimpse of the Kochi we had to dodge around. And have we managed pretty well, thanks to our client Hibi Eden and most importantly Amit, our co-fellow and local guide, driver, translator and possibly every role he can play. New to the city, I moved around with the picturesque Kerala in mind and hoped for every nook and corner to shout out “this is Gods own country” and for every meal to be a feast on a banana leaf. However, I was quick to realize that those dreams were only a reality in all parts outside Kochi. Adding to this belief were our site visits related to the fields of Water, Sanitation and Waste Management. They showed us the visually and olfactory unpleasant sides of the city, but this was until one of our field trips brought us to Fort Kochi or Old Kochi as many might know it. Infinite expanses of water, dotted with ships and lined with the famous Chinese fishing nets, provided for a romanticized version of the city as seen against the setting sun.
Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi
A little more than a week to was good enough to settle in, adjust our palettes to the local cuisine and to get a hang of the dense city fabric with tongue twisters for names. Gearing ourselves up we embarked upon our herculean task of understanding the infrastructural aspects of drinking water, solid waste management and sanitation in Kochi. And for a holistic perspective we hope to have a smooth top to bottom journey through the governmental hierarchy, in the coming weeks. The process, a back and forth exercise of interviews and corroboration of facts, shall see us constantly trying to back them by ground realities and local viewpoints. However, in this short stint till now, some of the notable aspects are that of the complacence in the authority towards such vital issues which is why only 5% of the city has a sewerage system and treatment facility. There is a constant resistance from the public due to lack of faith, resulting in opposition against any infrastructural activity around their areas. And signals showing decentralization of power in areas such as master plans, which might actually be detrimental to execute city integrated water/sanitation projects. However, in this project towards a healthier Kochi, I hope to be supported by the clattering restaurants in the city, the quaint cafes at Fort Kochi, the Schumacher like auto drivers and the Kochi Yacht Club.
The fellows wading through waste towards a Greener Kochi