Then came the Beach Festival and it changed this scenario altogether. A genuine post-emergency consolidation of youths, it was a collective effort where the government was absent and silent. Neither a religious festival nor a celebration of the colonial past, it was conceived and designed as a people’s festival and in fact, one of the earliest attempts to celebrate the multi-lingual, multi-religious, cosmopolitan spirit of Kochi. I was also involved in the organizing of this festival, which was initiated by my friends Anand Felix Scaria (Soorya), Roy (George Augustine Thundiparambil), and Anoop Scaria. Several enthusiastic youngsters and more than 100 clubs in Kochi islands were active in making this mega event possible; their energies and enthusiasm paid well. Young ex-mayor KJ Sohan, and KB Valsala Kumari who was the RDO, were the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Beach Festival Committee.
Huge and historic it was! The main attraction was that its year-long weekly programs included indigenous and classical music, art and cultural performances and ethnic games like tug of war, Kalari, Kuttiyum Kolum, Kolam Vara, cycling, swimming and more. Several scheduled programs had to be dropped due to the lack of funds; but the closing event Carnivale Cochin was a mega-hit. It was organized on 1 January, 1985, the day during which the UN treaty was signed. All the communities of Kochi showcased their cultural heritage during the Carnivale parade with music, dance and theatrical performances. There was space for both mainstream and subaltern culture and the seamless event was flamboyant and peaceful.
Thousands of people from near and far thronged during the Carnivale, and seeing the spirited crowd, the then Chief Minister, K Karunakaran urged the local leaders to support the continuation of the event every year. The authorities saw this as a way to develop Kochi as a destination of national and international tourism. Repackaged and represented to suit different agendas, directly or indirectly, it was linked with the colonial and religious past of Kochi. Most of the other art and cultural programs were dropped and only the ‘Carnival parade’ continues year after year.
The initiators and organizers of the Beach Festival weren’t involved in the next editions. However, it cannot be denied that the year-long beach festival and the First Cochin Carnival was the spark that ignited lots of amazing wildfires to engulf Kochi’s cultural life in future years. It paved the ground for several grandeur projects later. Originally, the Beach Festival was an indisputably classic example of what a group of like-minded youths could achieve.
Photographs contribute to developmental history. I am happy and proud that I shot the event in detail and against all odds, these images were preserved, because of which the untold story of the first Cochin Carnival has once again become a part of the mainstream discourse.