Archive for November 2009

A straightforward one: Sight seeing in Cochin

On the Young World trail, we spent two days in the city of Cochin. And we made use of this time to soak up the unique history of this city. My research on the net shows that Cochin had many foreign visitors over the centuries. If you wiki it, you'll see that Cochin has been influenced by the Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and the English. And of course, it is also home to a small Jewish community.

How the Jews actually came to the shores of Kerala is not clear. The ten rupee brochure I picked up in Jew Town, tells me that the Jews made their home in Kodungallur (or Cranganore)in Thrissur district of Kerala. This port town was destroyed in a flood in 1340 AD and that's how the Jews reached Cochin. There is also mention of their persecution by the Portuguese. The city gained prominence as a major spice destination. In fact, the Pepper Exchange is located in Jew Town in the old quarter of present day Cochin. (The building right behind the signpost in the picture is the Pepper Exchange)

Jew Town is a narrow street, lined with shops selling handicrafts on either side. The houses have a European feel to them. I suppose it is the Portuguese and Dutch influence. At the end of the street is located the Paradesi Synagogue. Wikipedia says that the Paradesi Synagogue of Cochin is the oldest synagogue in the commonwealth of nations and was built in 1568 AD. It got the name Paradesi, (meaning 'foreigner') since it was built under Dutch patronage and used by 'White Jews' (a mixed Jewish community consisting of the Jews from Cranganore, Middle East and Europe). The dominating feature of the synagogue is a clock tower which was built in the 18th century.

We entered from the side, after reading a board that cautioned visitors about the dress code. The floor of the synagogue was laid with Chinese tiles. At first glance they looked identical. We were later told that each one was different from the other. There should have been at least a hundred tiles on the floor!

Inside the synagogue, a volunteer then proceeded to give us a brief history. We were surprised to learn that it is being maintained by members of ten Jewish families who still lived in the area. The gentleman was extremely patient with the questions asked by the tourists. (The ignorance was palpable. Eg. Are Jews different from Christians?-not me I promise!). On the way back, we learned that mail from the local post office was post marked with the Magen David. I wasted no time in sending off a post card to my 11 year old niece. (I have a fond wish to contribute towards the broadening of her mind!)

From there we visited the St. Francis Church, famous for housing the mortal remains of Vasco Da Gama before it was moved to Lisbon 14 years later. Built by the Portuguese,it was orginally a Catholic Church. After Dutch occupation, it was converted into a Protestant Church. A sign proclaimed that this was the oldest European church in India. My husband immediately contested this, claiming that the Luz Church in Chennai was the oldest church in India. I do not know which is the real claim.

We then walked towards the water to watch Chinese fishing nets being lowered and lifted from the water. Have you ever seen these nets? They look incredible. Like giant spiders hanging over the water. Made of simple materials. Just long pieces of wood, joined together and nets strung across them, I could watch these cantilever nets forever! Local lore has it that it was introduced in Kerala by Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan. One website claims that these are the only Chinese fishing nets seen outside China. True or not, these nets provide wonderful Kodak moments!Any tourist to Kerala would have at least one picture of a Chinese fishing net against the backdrop of the setting sun.

Done with imbibing the sites and culture of Cochin, my husband and I returned to our hotel, grubby and tired but happy. Till we boarded the steel trap that is also known as the Garib Rath Express to Calicut. But thats another post!

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View From The Ringside

I've just returned from the Young World trail. I was trailing with the better half - better known to the world as (ahem!) the charismatic quizmaster of the The Young World Quiz. For those of you who don't know - The Hindu Young World Quiz is a national level live quiz for middle school children. 2009 was the tenth edition of this popular quiz.

This year, I accompanied my husband, as his assistant, to thirteen cities where it was held. Three weeks of travel from city to city-Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam, Vijayawada, Chennai, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Trivandrum, Cochin, Calicut, Mangalore, Madurai, Trichy and Coimbatore. Phew!

In each of these cities, a regional round was held. This consisted of a round of written preliminaries. On an average 250-300 teams participated in the prelims. In the metros like Chennai and Bangalore, close to 600 teams participated. Out of these, the top six teams made it to the regional finals. The winner of the regional finals represented their city at the national finals.

Here are some impressions and opinions I gathered during the past month.

Given how I'm a 'raving feminist', my very first observation is that quizzing seems to be a male dominated sport. In most cities, very few girls made it to stage for the regional finals. I can recall only one team in Pondicherry, one in Vijayawada and two in Coimbatore (Note how smaller cities had female representation and not the metros). I wonder why this is so? Are girls less informed than boys? Or is it that boys are better at retaining trivia than girls? Or are girls simply not interested in quizzing and more interested in performing arts?

Second, schools from smaller towns mostly (and I say MOSTLY for a reason) did not perform well. For example, in Trichy, teams from the nearby districts participated. Unfortunately, only the city based schools made it to the top 6 teams. This of course, could be due to better teaching standards (one hopes) in cities, children having better access to information like the internet and also more opportunities to showcase their talent.

There were two teams with whom I was very impressed. Both these teams were from small cities / towns. One was a school called Marygiri Senior Secondary School representating Calicut city and another is St. Paul's High School representing Hyderabad. These boys were amazing. Shy and bashful, they were powerhouses of information, getting question after questing right and annihilating their opposing teams. Why is this remarkable? Both these teams are from village schools. One from a panchayat in Kannur district and another from a taluka in Nalgonda district. The former went on to become the 2009 champion and the latter came as second runner up. And all done with quiet confidence and dignity. I was so impressed! And oh! The feminist in me was also satisfied. The first runner up was the girl-boy team from Coimbatore!

Apparently, youngsters of today do not read the classics. Or perhaps I should stop at 'do not read'. To this question - 'In which celebrated novel would you find the characters Bill Sykes and Nancy' - the overwhelming majority of children wrote....hold your breath...Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew!!

Then there were the cheeky ones. Here's one: 'Which common part of a building or a house would one relate to a product from a company associated with persons called Allen and Gates'. (the answer is Windows). And one bright team wrote 'Kitchen'! And my favourite: 'In Indian mythology, who is the Goddess of knowledge, music and arts' - to which one answer boldly proclaimed ' V.V. Ramanan' (that's the better half).

So that concludes my sojourn in the world of children's quizzing. Overall, a good and different experience. I'll sign off with a couple of suggestions for the organisers - next year, perhaps you will consider inviting some women as chief guests. Also, chief guests need not be from the entertainment industry alone. I know they're popular and will attract crowds. But hey! children get to see them all the time. Lets give them some other role models to emulate.

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Coming Soon! a blog near you....!

Hi All! I'm behind my 'one blog per week' target. Sorry about that. I've been traveling like someone crazed and with no internet access. But the good thing is - I've come upon many ideas that would be great to write about. So I'm planning three posts (tentatively: like to keep an escape route):

1. A book review: Incessant train travel has one bright side-you can catch up on your reading. Which I did.

2. A place I visited during my travels in Kerala. I'm looking forward to doing some research on it

3. An opinion on quizzing: You will understand when you read it.

Signing off,
In anticipation