Red and Green in Kochi


Hammer-and-sickle in Kochi, the largest city of Kerala, a state that has elected several Marxist-Leninist governments

The view from the train window on the trip between Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of India’s Kerala State, and Kochi, its biggest city, is one of nearly continuous development. As I looked out the open windows I kept waiting for the countryside to begin. I shouldn’t have been surprised: what I didn’t properly appreciate was that Kerala, on the southwest coast of India, has a complex, centuries-old pattern of mixing rural and urban that may look like suburban sprawl but, until recently at least, hasn’t been.

Kochi, formerly called Cochin, is the largest city in Kerala state, with a population of about 2.5 million. The region had one of the most strictly-enforced versions of the caste system until end of the 19th century, but now it has made amazing strides toward equality and equity which is the reason I decided it to include Kochi among the cities explored in my book Green City: People, Nature and Urban Places (Véhicule Press, 2006).

Kerala has the highest literacy rates in India — 94 per cent for men and 86 per cent for women, according to the 2001 Indian census — and the lowest infant mortality rates, 14 per 100,000 births in 2000. Other indicators suggest life is pretty good—without state coercion women have decided to have fewer babies than needed to maintain the population numbers, while life expectancy is right up there with that of developed countries.

Four times — most recently in 2006 — Keralites have elected a coalition government led by Marxist-Leninists, but the ambient political style is far from that seen in Communist bloc countries — or even in the authoritarian democracy of Singapore. In Kerala the emphasis is on community-based action: the great surge in literacy came in the 1980s when local groups worked on the grass roots level to teach people to read. Newspaper readership — a good measure of literacy in action — is now the highest in India. In fact, even though Kerala’s main language, Malayalam, is spoken by only about five percent of India’s population, a Malayalam newspaper has the largest circulation of any daily in any language in the country.

It also is an incredibly green place. More than 40 rivers wander across the Kerala plain, toward the Arabian Sea from the Western Ghat mountains. A network of lakes, lagoons and water courses form Kerala’s a vast network of waterways — called backwaters — so that nowhere are you very far from water. This abundance has profoundly affected the way people live and have lived for hundreds of years. In the 14th century, Marco Polo’s Muslim counterpart Ibn Battuta, took two months to travel down the long coast . “The road the whole distance runs beneath the shade of trees,” he wrote, and “there is not a foot of ground but is cultivated. Every man has his own orchard, with his house in the middle and a wooden palisade all round it.”


The many watercourses of Kerala’s backwaters historically made boats the major way to get around. Roads and bridges linking islands now encurage increasing use of cars, trucks and motorbikes, but some goods still move by boat

Six hundred years later, Louise Ouwerkerk, a British academic who spent more than 25 years in Kerala, wrote in the middle of the twentieth century:

You can describe Kerala either as having no villages or as consisting of one vast scattered village. The villages, such as they are, are slightly denser groupings of houses at crossroads where markets have sprung up…Geography is responsible for this phenomenon. There is so much water that there is no need to combine for the purposes of irrigation…The result is that homesteads are separate, each surrounded by its own (rice) paddy fields in the long green valleys, coconut groves, tapioca fields on the hill sides, each house standing in a compound surrounded by mud walls, within which grow the mangoes, jack fruit trees, vegetables and spices used by the family.

Much has changed since then — India has transformed itself from a British colony and a collection of princely states to a nation with a population of one billion — but Kerala still bears the imprint of this unique pattern of development as witnessed by the view from the train window. There are rice fields — some of them being converted into coconut groves — and backwaters, but for the lion’s share of the distance what I saw was one homestead after another. Some were modest — mud brick buildings with thatched roofs, an outhouse some distance from the main building, washing hung out to dry, children playing in the shade of the coconuts. Others were more impressive–pink or cream concrete with tile roofs and air conditioners in windows, probably financed by money earned abroad. All bear witness to the desire for people to have their own small holding, and to the circumstances — political as well as geographic — which have allowed them to do so here.


Greenpeace is one of the environmental groups trying to stop pollution of waterways in Kochi and throughout Kerala State

The remnants of the homestead pattern is still visible in the center of Kochi. The signature low stone wall indicating old homestead lines surround many city blocks. Inside the blocks walkways and alleys frequently form a dense urban fabric, with houses squeezed together on tiny lots. Ruins of country houses sit next to new houses with satellite dishes and corrugated double roofs for catching rain water. Trees like bananas, coconuts and mangos grow everywhere.

This lovely place is threatened by pollution, though. The vast network of backwaters is being filled in and the water itself is polluted in many places because of inadequate sewage treatment. Kochi’s streets are full of cars, motorbikes and three-wheeled auto-rickshaws, spewing fumes into the air, while travel from place to place by boat through the network of canals is declining.

By the time my train arrived in Kochi I realized that what I saw from my window was far different from the sprawl that I knew from my childhood in Southern California, or which I’ve seen develop around Montreal and Toronto. My talks and travels around Kochi confirmed that realization. The climate and the abundance of water had produced a kind of settlement seen rarely elsewhere. But the longer I stayed the clearer it became that population pressures — Kochi is attracting people from other parts of India because of its relative prosperity — and rising expectations of what decent housing is — “villas” or single family houses are much prized by the growing middle class — threaten to bring sprawl in the North American sense in a short time.

Will the people of Kochi be able to head off pollution problems as successfully as Kerala State created a literate, relatively healthy society? I don’t know, but given the education level and the widespread commitment to making life better I encountered there, I’d like to think they have a chance.


Kochi’s annual horticultural show is always crowded as residents enjoy the wealth of flowers which grow here easily. There is relatively little dedicated park land for its 2.5 million population, but gardens and vacant lots are full of banana, mango and coconut trees

Next: Shanghai: what happens when a government sets out to make 35 per cent of a city green space by 2010.

This entry was written by Mary Soderstrom , posted on Friday August 17 2007at 12:08 am , filed under Environment, Politics, Society and Culture, South Asia and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

27 Responses to “Red and Green in Kochi”

  • Wellwisher says:


    For your kind knowledge , Kochi is not the biggest city in KErala. Trivandrum is the biggest city in Kerala. Kochi is the biggest the biggest UA with a population of 1.5 million and 2.5 as you said

    Thanks and Regards,

  • Dear Wellwisher

    Tried to post this before, but it seems to have gotten lost in cyberspace:

    When I was in Kerala in 2005, 2.5 million was the figure used by the people I talked to, and no one usggested that Trivandrum was larger. Part of the problem may be due to the difficulty of determining the boundaries of the Kochi agglomeration, given thedispersed pattern of development.

    I’ve poked arond this morning, and found the following figures for the districts of Kochi and Thiriuvanthanapuram on an official government site:

    It gives a figure of 3,015,798 for Kochi District and 3,234,386 for Thiruvanthanapuram dustrict. But another site, also using 2001 India Census data gives 1,355,972 for the Kochi agglomeration and 889,635 for the Thiruvanthanapuram agglomeration.

    Thank you for pointing out this discrepancy. As it happens I’m reading proofs for a reprinting of Green City this morning, and I will change the text to reflect this discussioin


  • vivek says:

    hey Kochi is indeed the largest city in Kerala. It is shown as the second largest city after trivandrum in Government sites. But after 1967 the city limits have grown beyond leaps and bounds and Kerala Govt did ZERO to expand the city limits of Kochi. In Trivandrum one can see many rural parts too included in city area. Arterial roads are not much in Trivandrum, and it is a small city.
    Now Government is preparing a master plan for Kochi where city limits will be expanded.

    And as a matter of fact There is only one big city in Kerala – KOCHI.
    Even if Trivandrum is shown as largest city in Kerala, one who visits Kerala will find that Kochi is far far bigger than trivandrum. It is the most developed city in Kerala. Kochi is the commercial, Industrial, tourism capital of kerala.
    Hmm I think I did a fair job..

  • sumesh v says:

    kochi is the most big developed beautiful city of keral if any one saying opposite to it means i will kill u

  • Hey, hey, no fisticuffs please, let alone blood on the floor. But I can understand Kochi’s partisans defending its beauty, heritage and zing. I really enjoyed my stay there and the people I met, some of whom still keep in touch.


  • kannan says:

    i donnow why the government is not changing the blunder which they post in govt sites saying trivandrum is the bigger city and kochi the second, they may be feeling shy of saying a state capital a much smaller city. But the people and the central govt knows the potential of cochin and they given the status of metro to cochin only, trivandrum to be a metro have to develop in kochi’s pace for the next 10-15 years…

  • MJ says:

    Everything surrounding Kochi is hyped as like ‘smart city’. Technocity is actually three times bigger than smart city. But smart city is known by people, its business.

  • jai says:

    kochi is
    bigest city in kla.

  • jai says:

    hai wellwisher,kochi,s near howmany muncipalitis . Kochi divided areas go muncipalitisl

  • ARJUN says:

    Even i read that trivandrum is bigger than kochi. Thats the biggest joke I have read on the internet!.I thought the internet provides on ly the exactly correct news but I am proven wrong.

    Truely KOCHI is the biggest city in Kerala without an inch of doubt. It is competing with the other cities in this country!. I have lived in both cities and I accept the fact that TVM is little bit more greener than Kochi but Kochi has overtaken Tvm in all other aspects 4 to 5 years back. Kochi had become the largest city in kerala back then itself. Now, it is in the race of becoming the best city in India. It is already one of the best, for sure. I think these govt sites forgot to update their sites.

    I have read in other sites that Kochi is easily no: 1 in Kerala and it is one of the fastest developing cities in South Asia!. I think my judgement is fair enough as I dont know whether I am a Kochiite or a Tvmite or whatever they say because I was born in TVM but I was brought up in the fast city of Kochi.

  • sajin says:

    ha ha Kochi is the biggest city? dont you guys read news or surf internet ??

    Trivandrum is the biggest city in kerala, and most popular city of kerala.

    Kochi is only 2nd in terms of biggest…

    Dont post comments without doing some research on web..

  • gokul says:

    Why guys you are quarelling each other for tvm and kochi ?

    everyone thinks that kochi is best, but the truth is that tvm is the best..

    i live in kochi, but the worst traffic and mosquitoes make me hate kochi!

    love trivandrum… its best for hangout.. i visit there often, now KFC, pizza, , malls, underground shopping malls are going to make tvm best in India!

  • kannzz says:

    Hei guyszz plzz dont compare the city of Kochi with this small town Trivandrum and waste your time.. Even the government officeials sitting in trivandrum saying that Kochi is the most important city in kerala and one among the dfastest growing 10 metros in india .Without getting the government support if a city can grow in this pace you have to agree a fact that something in it. If u take Chennai, Hyderabad or Bangalaore they all are state capitals which get the prime support from government and they deserve it too.Being trivandrum a capital and with all the government support it still looks like a so called ‘glorified village’ you guys have to blame yourself and also should agree that the city does’nt have the quality.If you guys say about the traffic in kochi and trivandrum doesnt have th same you are indirectly agreeing that it is a small town . You can go to Kannoor or Kasargod and support these areas which have comparitively less traffic if that is the negetiv easpect of kochi. Guys all big city’s will have the traffic chaos .Trivandrum is at least 10-15 years behind our grreat Koci in all aspects.Kochi is not showing big in the government sites bcoz its adjascent buzzling municipalities like maradu, kalamasserry, or trikkakkara is still not in the corporation limit. Can you imagine that??? Other towns in kerala all the small villages are adjoining with the parent corporation to make it bigger .Kochi people are acting smart that they are protesting agains joining corporation as they have to pay higher tax. So pls dont believe these sites come and visit kochi and then think about it .For gods sake pls stop comparing Kochi with that small town Trivandrum .Its a shame for us .please ..

  • rajeshr says:

    Bangalore and Hyderabad are Corporate R&D hubs of India (not just india, but in the world).
    Poona and Delhi (with Guragoan and NOIDA) are largest IT/ITES hubs of India. (Of course they are behind Bangalore and Hyderbad).
    Chennai has already emerged as auto manufacturing hub of the country, apart from being well known IT hub of India.
    (Bangalore and Hyderabad hosts countries defence manufacturies divisions).
    Ahemdabad is the textile and garment manufacturing hub of India.
    Mumbai is also India financial and hub of Indian Cinema.
    Coimbatore is called largest educational hub of south.
    Mangalore is the second largest educational hub of south….. list continues.

    For what, one can refer Cochin as the hub of India or for that matter south india.
    Ok Cochin is a port city. Agreed. But it is only an a infrastructure like many other.
    There are several other ports (Vizag, Chennai, Mangalore, Karwar) in south itself.

    Cochin is not even the IT hub of kerala. It has less no of companies than the small town of trivandrum
    It has no large manufacturing companies. Cochin does not world class educational institutions.
    Infact kerala’s largest institutions (IIM and REC) are located in Kozhikode.
    and one of the world largest Space R&D lab (ISRO) has an office in Trivandrum.
    But Cochin has world class malls and Multiplexes. It is often as the indicator for the much development in cochin.

    Money which flowing in Cochin, not generated there. Rather it is generated elsewhere.
    A huge share of which comes from Gulf, US. Money also comes from Rome for religious conversion
    Gulf money is flowing in Calicut also.Perhaps that is reason why calicut has multiplex and Malls.

    Shame on you guys for comparing cochin with the other cities of kerala, without any thing unique things.

  • kannzz says:

    I donnow what Mr rajesh intented or said . I think he even dont know.If he meant by saying kochi is not educational hub by pointing out it d’nt have an IIM i would rather say the political influence of kerala that such a buzzling commercial hub d’nt get a chance to hold an IIM. And my deare friend Rajesh cochin is not termed as an IT hub or educational hub but Commercial capital of kerala . I think your dumb ears d’nt ever heard that word yet…And in coprorate world Kochi is termed as fourth important hub in osuth india after chennai,bangalore and hyderabad.Please take all the regional offices most important companies and check out . And money circulation reason , money circulates more and more in commercial hubs and kerala’s 60% of financial flow is happening in Kochi .. Please refer my dear friend.. Jealousy is not the only remedy try and work hard and make your area develop also tell your people to do the same oce yu never know your place also follow the way of kochi to become prosperous .. no one knows.. ( I doonow ur place)

  • rajeshr says:

    Cochin is only a commercial hub. Nothing else.

    Commericial hub where nothing is produced. But everything is sold.
    Commercial hub where jobs are very less. Jobs are else where.

    Haha Haha. So pity

  • kannzz says:

    Mr Rajesh, is that else where means trivandrum?? Kochi is the place where all the multinational companies and financial institutions have their regional office.Trivandrum and rest of other towns in kerala have only their branches . why so? because of the potential of Kochi ..If you take private jobs of trivandrum , Calicut and Trissur you cannot match with kochi in numbers. you know the capital of Gujarat?? it is Gandhinagar, and if somebody ask about a city in Gujarat what comes in your mind ?? its Ahmedabad man .Same is with kerala .if you go outside kerala only Kochi is the city which comes to know by other people . Jealousy is not the right remedy my dear friend . You see what Chief minister said .If any city in Kerala can be termed as a metropolitan city and a metropolitan authority to be announced it will be only Kochi .No other city’s even in the picture!!! live in reality man not in dreams…

  • rajeshr says:

    By multinational companies you mean MNC selling outlets (such KFC, Van-heusen etc, Peter England, Samsung etc). Then I agree. HaHa.

    The only MNC design center in kerala is at technopark Trivandrum. That is oracle.
    In trivandrum we don’t sell, we only design and produce.
    That too high tech stuffs such Rockets and missiles. Rockets are designed at VSSC and missiles are produced at Brahmos Aerospace.
    Even condoms are designed and produced here (sold more at Cochin)

    So Trivandrum designs and produces.Cochin sells and sells.
    All intellectual jobs of kerala are in the capital city.
    All selling jobs are in cochin.

    Once again HaHa.

    Chandy, is die-hard cochin person. He and his team scuttling projects after projects of trivandrum. Latest being the Vizhinjam Port.
    Never mind.

  • kannzz says:

    NB my dear friend Rajesh dont cry by saying selling outlets (such KFC, Van-heusen etc, Peter England, Samsung etc).. athinteyokke direct outlets TVMil kananamenkil monu adutha janmathile pattuu.. athondu athu vittu kala ha haha

  • kannzz says:

    My dear friend even the oracle Marketing department is situated in Kochi only. Why they started their actual office here while they have a full fledged outsourcing tdepartment there? simple, they know the potential of kochi and they had taken this ofice really serious.And about technopark.. It is a government investment not a multinational or private investment .Governmetn can invest anywhere like KSRTC buses running in non profitable ares.Trivandrum get this technopark as investment only because it is the state capital .

    Do you know where 75% of Indian bandwidth is taken from including ur glorified village Trivandrum? it is from Kochi .You know the two international landing points of bandwidths called SEA-ME-WE-3 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe) and SAFE (South Africa-Far East) in Kochi? still kerala government started their first IT park in trivandrum by ignoring the fact of Kochi is the only place in India where we have both these international landing points .The reason is simple, as i said earlier it is a government investment and Tvm MLA’s know to cry better then any other regions MLA’s and also it is the capital .Kerala government now realised that they had done a blunder and now they started concentrating on Kochi . You see 5 years down the line how Kochi becomes the IT hub of India.It has the potential and it willbecome

    Being the 1st park TVm still struggling to make a mark in India’s IT map .It cant because there is a proverb inmalayalam Thumbiye kondu kalleduppicho pakshe velya para edupiinkkan nokkiyal athu chattu povum!!!

  • rajeshr says:


    Design is much more serious activity than marketing. Oracle marketing offices are ubiquitous located in every other city (not just in Cochin).
    But design centers are only few. See this website from oracle

    Some more points for you to brainstorm

    1. Today IT companies are looking for Govt sponsored IT space. because they are much cheaper and offer more concessions. Now days large MNC’s are looking for Industrial parks under Govt of India. Private IT parks are profit motive.During recession time, when demand for IT space goes down, these private parks, will not mind converting the IT space to chicken poultry farms. Beware of the dream project – Smartcity by DIC. They may construct IT parks, but there is no guarantee that it will be occupied by IT/technology companies.

    2. By the way, TVM technopark is not just about govt sponsored IT building. It also houses private IT parks from Leela Group, Amstor Group, IBS Group, NeST Group etc. More on the pipeline.

    3. Trivandrum or Cochin can never become IT hub/technology hub of India. Because, Bangalore is already well established Technology hub of India (and it will be continue so for the next 10 years) and Hyderabad will be India’s R&D hub (Soon it will be emerge as global R&D hub.)

    You are right in one sense by saying that kochin missed IT bus and trivandrum lags behind even after starting IT space.

    Kerala lacks quality higher education. Our Universities and technical institutions are way behind their counterparts in neighboring states in providing quality education. Unless we improve this condition, there is no hope.

    For the time being, good bye.

  • kannzz says:

    My dear Rajesh everything is right about IT .. but pls dont compare Kochi with Trivandrum .. if you again do that everyone will think that you are a frog inside the pond ..yep a dumb frog who had never gone outside of Trivandrum . Kochi is well ahead rest of kerala in every aspects and you have to agree the fact that it is one of the booming cities in India. Trivandrum can be a neat and clean town or something like that but cannot catch a city like Kochi man ..

    Pinne Condom vilkanamenkile cityil thanne vilkkanam allathe athupolulla katil aredukana ?? puliyum anayumonnum condom upayogicha charithram illa..

    please realise a fact that a city is the place where consumption is more and surrounded by small villages and number of towns which produces the small small goods to get consumed in that city . TVM is one of the place where this kind of indutries are mushroomed in to be sold in cities like Kochi, bangalore , Chennai and hyderabad. the top four cities in South .. so all the best machu

  • rajeshr says:

    I am not a dump frog. Had lived in Delhi, Bangalore for 7 years. Worked as research scientist in a premier R&D lab. Now I am happily working in the land of Sri ananthapadmanaba- Lord of riches.
    There is nothing in this world as sacred, as solitude and as divine as the
    sannidhi of Padmanabha. No words are enough, to comprehend its divinity.

    ( Had visited to cochin several times. But as I said, it will take several decades for cochin to catch hold of other Metro cities. If you say, Trivandrum is a glorified village. I would say cochin is glorified Metro. Glorified village has city kind of facilities. Glorified metro has nothing more than a typical business city.

    Once again Good bye.

  • kannzz says:

    I think you are not only dump dough too .. you said you had visited Delhi and Bangalore .. but cant see the quality of a person who had lived in cosmopolitan ares. You are very narrow minded and your words reflects that. If your place is not developing you should not impose the blame on somebody else. It is only because of the attitude of the people and the difference of the potentials between two areas.Kochi is also in Kerala, you see the difference and the pace of development between Kochi and rest of Kerala.All others accept it but some people like you from Trivandrum area is still d’nt able to digest the fact that Kochi is growing above even the state of Kerala.

    What all things you get because of not your merit. Its only because Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala.But Kochi is the place where all the investments coming from all over the world.It is because of its sheer potential.

    The only remedy is stop envying and work hard . Problem of some people like you is envy at its best.. The moment you guys start controlling this your place will start grow.. All the best

  • rajeshr says:


    Please improve your reading ability. You are arguing with some pre-conceived notion and you are not reading properly my comments.
    Sorry to say that.

    OK I agree with you. Trivandrum is a remotest village in India.
    Cochin is bigger than Newyork. It is world’s largest city.

  • kannzz says:

    Please dont overdo Mr Rajesh.. when you fail please dont try to create sarcastic jokes to defend.

    You have to agree the fact that Trivandrum have to travel a long way to catch up with Kochi .Kochi is undoubtadly the largest, most populous and only cosmopolitan city in kerala.The moment you agree this truth its ok for me .

    I dont want you to say one more lie by disagreeing this like ‘Kochi is begger than Newyork’.None of the Kochinite or person who loves Kochi had never said that .We are speaking about Kerala and India. We never know once Kochi might become so big that your words might come true …

    I love Trivandrum as it is the land of holy Sripadmanabha .but I will never say it is the largest city because of that

    Any ways I dont have any personal grudge with you or anyone .My only intention was to disclose the truth which you hide because of various reasons.

    Thank you, had a nice session with you… bye

  • jijo says:

    govt and beurocrats always avoiding doesnt have a gov. engg. college and gov. medical college.For the past 50 yrs gov. machinary giving all support to tvm. but the fact that it is not developing.kochi developed on its own account.People frm all regions can reach kochi easly.tvm is suitable capital for travancore but not for kerala.almost double express trains are passing through kochi than of is also same in the case of airport.
    there must be an election about the capital of kerala among kerala people.