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mercredi 17 février 2016


Stop looking for them! admonished my Meskwakia teacher,
“dr” Brown. You don’t need to search, they will cross your path.
One such encounter happened today at the Children’s park in Fort Cochin, a city steeped in memories of the past colonial empires and flimsy futuristic ambitions of the fluttering imitators of the west.
That memory is now being kept alive by just a few individuals, most of whom I have met, and was waiting to meet the star of the show, a sous chef who had gone to Taj Hotel Dubai from his native soil of Fort Cochin
Mr. Thoufeek Zakariya
I had arrived at the same morning after an exhaustive trip at the Cochin International Airport to the tumult of the dizzying colours of expectant family members for their dear ones to arrive from their Gulf Destinations. There was an eerie silence which I later realized was due to the general strike, forcing all transports off the roads and all enterprises shut. I was fortunate enough to get one of the few taxis at the airport and was happy to plonk myself on bed at the Hotel an hour or two later.

As the evening set in, and the atmosphere of this once prominent trading town now buoyant with the chirping voices of the family reunions on the beach, I walked along the familiar streets, retracing some steps, greeting some old acquaintances along the tourist street, full of things tourist streets have all over the world.

I was in front of the children’s park, facing Koder House on the other side, when someone came up to me and said, Dr Yehuda? Yes and he said: I am Thoufeek
Casualidad no es tan casual we say in Cuba and the Indians would say things happen for a reason.  Grateful for this coincidence, he is here in town for a weeks respite from his work in Dubai to attend to family matters and was on his way to inspect some building of which he had seen an old photograph from 1889, It so happened we were standing right in front of the site where the ancient church once stood and the landmarks from the photograph from which the main building is missing can still be elucidated.

You couldn’t imagine how delighted I was at this encounter and the next few hours were filled with various topics, mostly dealing with history, to clear some of the doubts we had been entertaining, such as the Yemeni rather than European origin of the fair skinned Jews of Cochin, most of whom are dead and gone; the origin of racism among the Jews of Cochin against their darker skinned coreligionists, among others. Our mutual friend Taha who is single handedly responsible for the welfare of the last elderly Jew of Jew Town, Sarah Cohen, joined us and we were like excited school children discovering a tasty dessert as we sat at Kashi Café looking and comparing various pictures of the erstwhile church which was moved and later to become Santa Cruz Basilica.

 We talked not only about the Jewish history but also the illustrious history of Islam along these shores, the wonderful book of Patricia Fels on Cochin Mosques and went off to look for the interesting tome of the history of the Dutch in Cochin. Perusing through ancient maps in the book, we were able to solve the mystery, much to the excitement of all of us that the building erroneously assigned to be the lighthouse was actually the remnants of the church. As usual in such discussions, the situation in the Gulf Countries, their imported labour and their glorious historical past as traders and merchants all came for a review. Not to mention a favourable mention of my favourite country in the Gulf, Oman. How can we talk if we didn’t talk about Zheng He/Cheng Ho?
Thoufeek Zakariya is an erudite historian, almost entirely self-taught and has no equals in Fort Cochin. Lately to accommodate the rising tourist trade, there has been self-appointed guardians of local history who are way off mark (with notable exceptions of course) and also a plethora of extremely self-interested foreign journalists who see who see in Fort Cochin a ripe fruit to pick up without doing much background studies or work, thus on their first or third day of visit, they begin sprouting articles and blogs to misinform the world and undo the good work of the few illustrious historians such as Thoufeek.
He is a humble man, a pious Moslem but not a pedantic one, as he would say, anti-Semitism among Moslems arise out of ignorance about Jews. You realize when you talk to him that here is a man who has done his research in a methodical, analytical fashion, not easily given to conjectures and propositions

An impressive person, a Ft Cochin personality in the making, good friend and a reliable academically oriented historian, we can expect a lot from him, to unearth various treasures of this forgotten corner of a historic port.