SK Pottekkad: As a Travelogue Writer
Dr. Shamshad Hussain KT
By this paper, I am trying to point out to the extent and relevance of travelogues written by S K Pottekkatt. They spread across three continents; Asia, Africa and Europe. About his Asian journey, he wrote ‘Kashmir’, ‘In the Himalayan Empire’, ‘A journey Through Nepal’, ‘Malaya Nadukalil’ Indonesian Diary and Bali Islands. About Africa, he wrote Kaapirikalude natil, Simha bhoomi, Nail diary, Cairo kathukal, and Cleopatrayude natil. he wrote Yooropiloode, London note book, Pathira sooryante natil, Soviet diary, and Bohimiyan chitrangal about his travel across Europe.
Keywords: Travelogue, Cultural Exchange, Genre, Experience, Rebellious
Travelogue writing is not a much-developed branch in Malayalm literature. It is not only literatures , but politician, economists, businessmen and a host of person from different walk of society have written travelogues in Malayalam; for example C.H.Muhammed Koya, K.N.Raj and T.M.Jacob. There are no writers exclusively for ‘travelogue writing’ in Kerala. There is no congenial circumstances also. S.K.pottekkad himself wrote that he considered the travelogue writing as a service. He compared himself with John Gunther, the auther of Inside Books. Inside Books made John Gunther a millionaire. But there is no such situation here. So also writers travelling with the object of writing books. In this angle, S.K.Pottekkad is the first in the species of travelogue writing. He used travelling not only as an inspiration for travelogue writing, but also for fiction writing. I am pointing out this particular aspect for the reason that many of the studies highlighted the literary value of S.K.Pottekkatt’s travelogue as its distinctive features. He described the travelling experience in literary language. Many of the critics highlight the readability as the landmark of the S K Pottekkad’s travelogues.
I am not sure whether readability -as a fiction or poetry -can be considered as a quality of the travelogue writing; just like comparing one genre with another. The experience of travelling is the art of eyes. In this, eyes are more importance than any other sense organ. S.K.Pottekkad fully recognized this importance. He used literary language as an effective medium to convey what he had seen and experienced to his readers. For example, his description of Kutub Minar runs as follows:
You might have seen soil heaps made by earthworms in the yard of deserted huts. Imagine their colors are not brown, but green. Such is the sights from the top of Minar. People are like small insects. Narrow lines scribbled here and there are in fact Highways. The shining silver belt seen far away is river Yamuna. The domes of Viceroy’s house and Assembly house are seen as soil cakes made by children. (Volume II, Page No.50)
Apart from describing what he had seen in true spirit, the metaphors used by him gave the readers a real experience of travelling. This does not mean that he has used the literary language throughout his works. He wrote about the geographical features, population, history etc of the places visited by him. He his writings provides basic information about a particular place or people. Since it is the common features of all travelogues, I am not giving any particular example.
Another distinguishing feature of his travelogue writings is the comparison of the places visited by him with the population and environment of Kerala. While traveling through the African continent he says:
The scenery on the either sides of the road passing across the hillocks and green forests brought to my mind the pictures of the journeys through my place. When you travel through Kambala- jingo road, your eyes are confronted with the same sights that you are seeing in your road journey from Aluva to Shornur. As going ahead these, Kerala scenery becomes more and more vivid. Of course, there are no coconut trees. Lawns with full of greeneries, hillocks with bamboo clusters and rocks, fields, small bridges across rivulets, all of them are coming to sights one after another. (Vol 1, p.228)
V.RameshChandran has highlighted this aspect in his study.
It is not the scenery alone that he compares with Kerala. He traces the portraits of Malayalees in persons met in foreign countries. He compares Bali women pacing with head loads with women of north Malabar engaged in head load works, the carpenter of Bali with new brother in law of Ashari Velu, women who pounds grain with Chirutha or Nani engaged in pounding grains in some remote north Malabar Village, Chekorder Angoung, the head man of Uboodh with Ittissii Menon, whom he met from Valluvanand, his aid Kunde with Kunder Menon of Thrissur, the girl who gifted a pen to him from Leningrad with karthyayani and Kamalakshi and the Moscow woman with Malayalee face cut with Ammini or Saramma ( Soviet Diary). 1989, 269.
Therefore, there is criticism that S.K. Pottekkad has seen Kerala alone wherever he went. However, this comparison with Kerala encouraged persons like Unni R, the famous writer, in their fiction writing even during 2010. In his short story ‘Thodinappuram’ ‘Parambinappuram’, the knowledge perceived by senses from our locality is transformed as African experiences. Therefore, when he wrote about unknown countries through the examples familiar to the readers, S.K. Pottekkad would have his readers in his mind.
One of the main features of the travelogue writing is the cultural exchange done through it. S.K.Pottekkad subjected to careful study the culture of the country or places visited by him. He wrote not only about different lands he visited in the three continents, but also he carefully studied even the minute details of various cultures in the countries visited by him. He understood these cultures though his interactions with people. Even when he is writing about his visit to Russia as delegate in world Peace Conference, he did not spare the old footwear merchant he met at Ukraine and the sorrow suffered by him due to death of his son. He wrote about the behind story of the book Indian Invasion is Africa’s Big Problem, after personally meeting and interviewing the Post Master described in it.
The fact that he even assimilated languages of the regions through which he travelled is very good example for his interaction with the public. He writes about wild animals and the tricks used by the people to escape from their attacks. Refusing to watch the dances arranged by the hotels and he walks miles to see it in original situations. He simply walks though the market places, observes characters and behaviors of the people, their interactions and man –woman relationship. He points out the presence of women in Markets and liquor shops of Mali[vol1 page699]. He understands the characters and interest of African coming from Maheemba Forest by observing them from the shop of his Guajarati friend. He describes how they are obtaining more clothes saying Pita Panchara and their preference to black clothes than silk [vol1.page41]. He learnt all these things by directly interacting with the people and not by reading any book.
Though he interacts with the people, when he writes more about Africans, he deals more with people of Indian Origin. When he describes the atrocities committed by the British against Africans, he points out the British tackle the rebellious and dirty people. In other sense, he considers the Africans as other of Ruling Europeans and their Indian Lieutenants. It is not a new observation. P.Pavithran and TT Sreekumar has made such observations on many occasions.
Even while describing the Music and Dance of the Africans with amazement, he does not conceal his prejudice about them.
I often exclaimed how the music sense is inculcated in these uncultured Negros. One could see youngsters with some music instruments in the villages of Africa. Whenever possible they play them and get loss in enjoying music. Volume I Page 285
S.K.Pottekad sees them as dirty, uncultured and chaotic people, destined to be governed, and their music and arts as undeserving windfall.
Keeping all these criticism, let us examine the relevancy of travelogues written by S K Pottekkad. In this internet age, the distances between continents lost its relevancy, everything is accessible through the fingertips. Now most of the journeys are tourist packages. The diversity and the experience of the single journeys are lost and it has become a ‘package experience’. Packages are many such as Slum Tourism, War Tourism, Poverty Tourism, LGBT Tourism and Disaster Tourism, Lama Tourism. He the operators decide what we must see. Culture is presented as a monolithic, attractive, and presented with new names for promoting tourism. Through these packages, even our own regions were presented before us as an attractive tourist destination. Locations are renovated and refurbish beautified for tourist promotion.
In this age of tourist packages, the travelogues written by S.K.Pottekatt describing what he had seen as a visual experience and cultures he met as experience of the common men interacted with him, has seminal importance.
Pottakkatt, S. (1976). Sanchara Sahityam (Vol. 1). Irinchalakuda: Vivekodayam Books.
Pottekkatt, S. (1948). Yathrasmaranakal. Mangalodayam: Mangalodayam.
Pottekkatt, S. (2000). Simhabhoomi. Kozhikode: Mathrubhoomi.
Sreekumar, T. (2000). Utharadhunikathakkappuram. Kottayam: D C Books.
Sreekumar, T. (2004). Kadalarivukal. Kottayam: D C Books.
V, R. (1989). Sanchara Sahityam Malayalathil. Thiruvanathapuram: State Institute of Languages..