Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cochin and Liberty Pt2.

Continued from Part 1..

I finally get to the place I have to be, it turns out to be a Catholic place, where they have space for conferences and stuff. In fact Cochin has a lot of Christianness , the place has been colonized by the Portuguese and the Dutch before the English, the same transition of colonial power that occurred in Sri Lanka. The more I see of Cochin, the more it reminded me of Negombo – the lagoon, the weather, churches, boats and tamed-development.

I was here for a Seminar on Liberty and Society by Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a libertarian-leaning think-tank I’ve come to associate. The seminar was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in public policy. There were a lot of interesting speakers/sessions at the seminar, I’m tempted to blog about most of them, but that seems too laborious. Maybe I’ll write about some later.

Most of the fellows attending the seminar are from Kerala itself, but there were quite a few from other cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. The people were naturally quite curious there was a chap “all the way from Sri Lanka”. I tried explaining to them that “really, it’s not that far” and that people who flew from Delhi actually came a greater distance. But all that didn’t stick, I had come from a different country and it’s a big deal. Someone asked me whether I took the boat, since Sri Lanka is so close by. I said no and made an Eelam joke.. didn't quite work out.

But coming back to the topic, there were few local Keralites who spoke about the fate of Liberalism in “God’s own country”. One of them was Babu Joseph, a former socialist turned-classical liberal after he joined Swatantra Party from Youth Congress feeling disillusioned by Nehru’s policies and Congress’ nepotism. Joseph was an articulate guy who knew how to use humor to good effect. He went on to talk among other things, about the lack of opportunity in Kerala which drives many enterprising people out of the state.

From the outset, Kerala is an odd place to talk about Liberty. For much of its existence it has been under Communist rule and by looking at the current political alliances competing for power, Keralites have a choice between two left-leaning coalitions. But thankfully there is some liberalization that is taking place, the Cochin Airport I mentioned in the earlier post, is actually run by a Private firm with the partnership of the state. Education (including higher ed.) is provided by private colleges with state university acting as an accreditation body. Some Marxism, this. These are the days I wonder whether Sri Lanka is the more commie country.

Cochin seems to have got everything that Colombo has, except I’d say it’s a lot less vibrant. I didn’t hear of any especially intriguing night life, although I did manage to check out a few nice restaurants. They have a few shopping malls, filled with the usual suspects, the Nike's, McDonald’s, Barista’s. We hung out at this place by the Marine Drive, which is a nice place. Later a few of us hired a boat go see around the Cochin.

Cochin has nice sight-seeing spots, there’s Fort Kochi with the fish market where they do ‘Chinese Fishing’. There’s a church where Vasco da Gama is supposedly buried, there’s a synagogue, an old Palace, Interesting stuff. Going to all this places in a boat makes it more fun, but boats aren’t just for tourists here it’s used as a means of public transport. It bugs me Sri Lanka being an Island and Colombo being a port city we don’t have a ferry service to anywhere. Where ever I’ve been to port cities, the folks there seem to make use of ferries. Just beats me why we can’t. It would personally cut down my daily traveling time by at least 45 minutes. I don’t think it would be that expensive.

The seminar timings didn’t allow me to go out a lot, so there’s probably a side of Cochin I missed. But booze here is too expensive. Apparently the state of Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of Alcohol in India, so the government plays the moral card to increase taxes. This is one of the many similarities Kerala has with Sri Lanka, which includes it’s highest suicide rate, literacy, how people look and even food (if you thought Kavum was something exclusively Sri Lankan, I’ve got news for you).

Cochin was good but my journey isn’t over, so I and a friend of mine took the train in the evening – next-stop Bangalore.

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