In the year of S.K. Pottekat’s centenary, the works of this little-known Malayalam writer need to be brought into the limelight.

March 2013 marks the birth centenary of S.K. Pottekkatt, one of the icons of Malayalam literature. Pottekkat was one of the five Malayalam writers who won the prestigious Jnanpith Award. His genius, however, was not much recognised outside Kerala because of the constraint of language.

Pottekkatt was the product of the renaissance period of Malayalam literature that gathered momentum in the mid-20th century. His works straddled the two spheres of fiction and travelogues, where he created a unique identity of his own. While his distinguished colleagues like Takazhi, Keshav Dev and Basheer based their stories on Kerala’s society, its caste and class divisions and the resultant injustices, Pottekkat’s themes were more universal. Pottekkat explored the complexities of human relationships, romantic interludes and the agonies and ecstasies they caused. His early novels and short stories like Naadanpremam, Premashiksha, Chandrakaantam, and Padmaragam were romantic tales. Nadanpremam (Country Love) a story of love and sacrifice is widely regarded as a classic in modern Malayalam fiction.

Unusually for a Malayalam writer of his times, Pottekkatt travelled across the world on a shoestring budget, by ‘deck’ on ships, by third class on trains and sometimes by trucks and lorries. Avoiding air travel completely, he was aware of the ground realities in the countries he visited and saw people as much as places. As he once observed, “It is the pain and not the pleasure of travel that produces great travel literature.” Fifty years later, his travelogues still make refreshing reading.

In his later works, Pottekkatt immortalised his home town Kozhikode through two novels. Oru Desathinte Katha (the story of a locale) and Oru Theruvinte Katha (story of a street). The former won him the Janapith Award in 1980.

Pottekkatt’s craft was disciplined and his prose elegant and neatly chiselled. His writings were also marked by a delicious sense of humour. Dr. K. Parameswaran translated some of his stories into English in a vintage collection titled Twelve Stories. His centenary may be an occasion to bring out a more comprehensive volume of Pottekkatt’s writings.

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