A strip of negatives and an untold story of the first Cochin Carnival

Now a days carnival is one of the biggest attraction in Cochin. However, in reality it was a collective effort by Cochin youths. I was part of festival since its original idea took shape in early 1985. The year 1985 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Youth Year, or IYY. The proclamation was signed on January 1, 1985. In the year 1984, three youngsters from Cochin, namely, George Augustine Thundiparambil (Roy), Ananda Felix Scaria (Ananda Surya) and Antony Anup Scaria (Anoop) decided to organize a month long grand public event to celebrate the signing of the proclamation. Although, visionaries of the event didn’t intend this to be a celebration of the Portuguese carnival, in later years the original International youth year celebrations got revived as a continuity of the Portuguese New Year revelry held during the colonial days. The history of the grand event ‘The Beach festival 1984’ is an example of how an original idea of people or individuals has been sabotaged by dominant clichés and individuals.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

Cochin hosted the first European settlement in the year 1500. After independence of India, Cochin was the first princely state to join the Indian Union willingly. Since then until the 1980s, ‘Fort Cochin’ remained as a sleepy post colonial hamlet. Whist the neighbouring hamlets like Mattancherry were packed with people and activities, lonely streets and almost empty bylines named after the English (Rosy street, Burger street etc.,) decorated this laid down town. Most of the houses were also empty. Loud western music and smell of cakes from the occupied houses hang in the air, spreading the legacy of the colonial past. Fort cochin was not a tourist destination during those times, for both the nationals and foreign backpackers, as there were not many hotels, restaurants, lounge bars, art galleries like now. The Portuguese tradition of yearly celebrations also stopped in the 70s and only the unorganized fancy dress competition and New Year eve celebrations were organized at the beach.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

According to the Beach festival organizers, it was not intended to be a remembrance of the colonial past, but a celebration of the commencing youth year. The event was named as Beach festival. In the month of August 1984, the team had announced the Beach festival with a grand programme at the Mahatma Gandhi beach. After the event, more than 150 youth groups representing different groups, clubs, organisations., from different parts of the island gathered together and pooled in their resources, ideas and events of their interest. Although carnival was not in the original programme, it was added at a later stage owing to the participatory planning process. This spectacular event started during the second week of December 1984 with a cycle race followed by other local ethnic games like tug of war, kuttiyum kolum, kabadi, chakku (jute bag) race and fight, swimming in the ocean etc., Events like music concerts, dance performances, dramas etc., were conducted at the open air beach. The event ended on 1st January (International youth year beginning) with the precession of various cultural representations from all over India called ‘Carnivale Cochin’.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

I still vividly remember the spectacular event. While this carnival procession happened, hundreds of people from different religious background had gathered. Even my mother came with her entire family to participate in this event. She often says that such an event never happened before. The are was earlier proclaimed unsafe for women and it is during this festival several people participated with their families.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

To recollect the words of George Augustine Thundiparambil, one of the visionary of the event for an interview with EtP, “It started as a beach festival. Myself, Felix Anand Scaria (Anand Surya) and Anoop Antony Scaria started this event. Nirmal John Augustine and Radha Gomaty were part of the team since the beginning. Gregary introduced Abul Kalam Azad (photographer), who later became a very active member of the team. Several others started getting involved and at a later stage KJ Sohan, (Corporation Counselor) also joined. Fort Cochin RDO Valsala Kumari extended active support from the government side. During the first beach festival, the word religion or caste or creed or cultural division was not even discussed like it is being discussed now. This was an event organized by the youth for celebrating the International youth year and the amalgamation of the 70s and 80s youth was much evident right through planning stage. Almost 150 youngsters from various backgrounds had came forward to organised the event. WE raised all the money from the public and our own resources. Cultural groups from the Cochin island were invited. Those time youth used this platform to raise issues regarding environment and other social concerns”.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

This spectacular event stood as an evidence of the unity and strength of the youth of those times. Thousands of people from all walks of life and religious beliefs gathered to enjoy and support this festival led by youth. Unfortunately, after the grand finale in 1985 the three young individuals were no longer included in the story of the Cochin Carnival.  I had lost many of the photographs of event and only a few remain with me. I am happy to have these photographs that stand as an evidence of a story that is not told anymore.

Photography © Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

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