Thursday, August 21, 2008

S K Pottekkad and his travels: A reminder from the past

IN CHARLES Dickens’ Hard Times, there is a poignant scene: Her father’s beloved dog returns to Liz one day many years later, reminding her of the poor father, who was no more…

S K Pottekkad launched forth on his travels all over the world from the little world of Athiranippadam in Kozhikode, which he immortalized in his book, Oru Desathinte Katha, the story of a desam. The street a few furlongs away, which had been his regular haunt from early childhood and whenever he was in his city, the S M Street, also became famous through his novel, Oru Theruvinte Katha, the story of a street.

Today, SK’s statue overlooks the street and both the writer and his beloved street are eerily looking out of place in a city that is fast outgrowing its past, metamorphosing itself into a modern metropolis. For those who are familiar with the old Kozhikode, a city that has been the place for great writers and artists, who lazily spent their time in the environs of Mananchira, the tank that the old Zamorin built for his subjects, all these are part of a cherished memory.

Luckily a part of this history came back to me a few days ago, when SK Pottekkad’s first passport which took him to all parts of the world, suddenly came to us as a reminder of this past. It was 16 years after the death of the great writer, and almost everything that belonged to him had been consigned to oblivion, that this little dog-eared document that accompanied him everywhere suddenly popped itself up into our midst.

It was a passport issued to Sankarankutty Kunhiraman Pottekkad, Chandrakantham, Puthiyara, Kozhikode, Malabar, on March 16, 1946 by the Government of Madras, then part of the British colonial administration. It was lying in the possession of famous theatre activist and revolutionary writer Madhu Master all these years and his son, Thejas photographer, Vidhuraj, fished it out.

Three years later, after India became independent, on May 2, 1949, that SK set out from Bombay on a passenger ship to Italy. He returned after a few weeks and then on May 29 took another ship to Rhodesia and from there moved to other parts of Africa. In June he went on to Mozambique and then to Portugal.

In 1950 he passed through the Suez Canal, at a time when the canal was at the center of a global confrontation, and reached Switzerland. Two years on, he was in Malaysia and next year, in 1953, he traveled to Indonesia and then to Egypt. The story comes to an end on March 16, 1954 when the term of the document comes to and.

But SK continued his travels and through his dozens of books that gave a graphic description of what he saw in all those places took Malayalis to all those exotic locales widening our universe and making us a people quite at ease with the wide world outside.

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