“Athu pinney, njangal randu-moonu perkkayittu boat odikkunnathu athra labhakaramavillalo (It wouldn’t be economical to operate boat services for just two or three of us)” retorted Mary, a native of Vypeen island when asked about her thoughts on the frequency of boats from the mainland to the island. What struck me, as I went about interviewing sample number nineteen from the rather ambitious target group of one hundred and fifty was her resignation to the fate imposed on her by the authorities. Five o’ clock to seven o’ clock in the evening is a rather busy time at the Ernakulam boat jetty, a major terminal for the ferry services in Kochi city. It is the time when hundreds of people make their way out of several offices situated on Shanmugham road and the arterial MG road and head towards their homes situated in West Kochi, separated by the port channel from the mainland. I felt drawn to the similarities Kochi shares with its more illustrious sister city on the west coast, Mumbai. The early morning and late evening scenes from the iconic suburban rail system in Mumbai are only an extension of what the ferry system could be capable of achieving in Kochi. If only.

Mary is not exactly accurate, and the figures echoed by her are a gross understatement. Two-three in place of the hundreds that actually take the ferry from Vypeen to Ernakulam and back in the morning and evening isn’t a fair comparison at all. This, despite the reduction in those numbers after the commissioning of the celebrated Goshree bridges in the middle of the last decade. Their faces, some of them students heading to schools and colleges, are replete with hope and aspirations for a better future. Aspirations are the steam than a nation’s engines run on. The steam engine analogy is deliberate, given that our current Gross Domestic Product growth estimates have plummeted to a measly six per cent and thereof in place of the more bullet-trainish eight to nine percent we had come to expect as part of the India coming-of-age story. Aspirations often decide where we end up. However, the survey that this author has embarked upon, has till now thrown up interesting results.

The survey questionnaire was designed with the core purpose of gauging the public perception about the ferry services in Kochi. The initial part of the questionnaire aims at mapping the origins and destinations of the target group. It also has questions aimed at drawing out data that would help describe their socio-economic profile. It ends with a statement of their problems and troubles with the present ferry system. However, going by the present results of the survey, it seems the user-group of the ferry system is more than satisfied with the ferry system. This despite the obvious lack of cleanliness, lack of enough counters (in the main jetty), lack of basic facilities (some jetties do not even have an all-weather roof or toilets, so as to speak of), utilitarian quality of the ferries and a lack of integration with other modes of transport. The second part of the questionnaire introduced the participants to some of the modern facilities being offered in contemporary ferry services across the globe like inter-modal integration, provision of light entertainment, refreshments, easy embarking and disembarking and digital display of real-time information about ferry services and connections using other modes of transport. Here, the response of the interviewees was often cold and unenthusiastic, with the noble exception of young school-goers.

What this reveals is a small but important insight into the minds of the present-day Malayalee. That, we have become more and more less demanding from our rulers. No example can be a better reflection of this trend than the fact that the recent by-elections, which have been won or lost on basis of all issues barring development. This can be a very dangerous trend in a democracy. For, it gives the authorities the license to take it easy. To be happy and satisfied with what one has may provide us with eternal yogic happiness, but this approach hardly works in the context of a democracy. Citizens must take it upon themselves to be more and more demanding, especially with respect to service-delivery. They must remain in loop with the developments in different parts of the world, since that would help them in demanding even better facilities from the government. This trait is not something that could be categorised as completely foreign to this land. For, it has historically been in the lead in education, social awareness and other development parameters. Lest we stem this trend and turn the tide, we may be taken for granted by the ruling classes forever and the huge headstart that we had over the other states in development may go waste.

<''><”><”>Yogi Joseph
<''><”><”>M Plan (Urban and Regional Planning)
CEPT University

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