Home >mint-lounge >features >Lounge Loves | ‘Santa and the Scribes: The Making of Fort Kochi’

Wispy lines

The illustrated book on Fort Kochi by E.P. Unny doesn’t go along expected lines. The “one square mile" of history and heritage, tourist trap, muse for artists and writers, and backdrop for movies and advertisements, is, in the veteran cartoonist’s words, packed with antiquity and “a million mosquitoes".

Fort Kochi is the kind of place, he writes, where “just about everything except the fishermen on little canoes fitted with rusty Yamaha outboard engines are a couple of centuries old, or so you are assured".

The operative part of that statement is “or so you are assured". Unny sketches, through 135 drawings and five chapters, an annotated history of the district in the city of Kochi that has witnessed hectic trade, conquest, migration and assimilation for hundreds of years. Unny also provides a sardonic commentary on the official histories of the place as recorded by scribes down millennia and as rendered by tour operators for the latest bus-load of gawkers sweeping into town.

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The drawings that are interspersed with the text differ vastly in mood. Unlike Unny’s newspaper cartooning style, which has thick lines and discernible caricatures, his squiggles for his own projects are marked by wispiness. The lines are thinner, more dense, sometimes spectral, and seem to suggest a throwaway quality at first glance; a second one reveals minor details.

The architectural detail and impressions of Fort Kochi’s regular cast of characters emphasize the fact that despite the crush of tourists and guides, Fort Kochi retains its local flavour. One ink pot records the farce that the past sometimes resembles. Another maintains a contemplative, yet affectionate, distance from human beings and built structures.

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