I always loved such Indo-Portugese names ending with D’Costa, D’Cunha, Sikkera and many more that sounded very surreal in Kerala landscape. Certain corners of Kochi fills you with such colonial surrealism – the deeper you dig one could hear stories from another time. Litanies of Lanthan batheri must be the most recent event in literature that shook my senses for Kochi again. Scratching through some history conversations with my lovely aunties in Kochi, there jumped a word ‘Kavaya’ that never seemed to cross my life so far. Every description of the word unmatched to the images from Kerala I knew before.
But seeing just one could be deceptive and leaving without stories even worse! Kavaya (Kebaya) is a dress nothing extraordinaire, a wraparound that looks very similar to the traditional mundu or a wraparound skirt or Dakmanda in Meghalaya – worn usually with knee length floral jackets by women of Portugese descent now part of Anglo Indians in Kerala. There exist only two colours for the wraparound, the deep red checks for daily wear and the black checks worn for a year if someone in the immediate family dies. Black wraparound are unavailable these days and all that remains is the deep red checks sold in one remote corner of Elankunnathupuzha, at the erstwhile Gregory’s store now renamed as Swapna!
Now that an entire generation moved from the age old Kavaya to wearing frocks and later to traditional Indian dresses, just a handful of Choochis (elderly Anglo Indian women) aged above 75 remain wearing them back home in pockets of Kerala. Sad enough, every inquiry for a Kavaya wearing Choochi ends with an exclamation, “Oh,she is bedridden – not sure how long!” So is the case with Kavaya – not sure how long!