The ancestral house of the Potheri family is today occupied by two aging grandchildren of Potheri Kunhambu (1877-1919), who was popularly known as Kunhambu Vakkeel.
Almost rundown, Potheri House at Mele Chovva, hardly three km from here, stands testimony to the initiatives taken by Potheri Kunhambu, lawyer, social reformer, and author of a Malayalam social novel, for the uplift of downtrodden people in society.
Over 100 years old, the house evokes memories of a man who was ahead of his times. A local landmark in the past, the ancestral house of the Potheri family is today occupied by two aging grandchildren of Potheri Kunhambu (1877-1919), who was popularly known as Kunhambu Vakkeel. The courtyard where a ‘jatka’ (horse-drawn carriage) used to wait for the popular advocate wears a deserted look now.
Pankajam Sreenivasan and Vijayaraghavan, the grandchildren of Kunhambu, who live at the house reminisce about their grandfather, who had been legal adviser to the Chirakkal royal family. He had started an elementary school at Chovva, and a ‘pallikkoodam’ for the then lower castes. ‘Saraswativijayam,’ the novel that he wrote in 1892, may lack literary flourish, but what makes it relevant is the commitment to change in society.
The novel is about an arrogant Namboodiri landlord who causes the ‘death’ of his lower caste servant for the crime of singing a song in his presence. It traces the quest of both the Namboodiri and the servant for their separate salvation. While the Brahmin goes to Kashi looking for a religious route to salvation, the servant takes the route of education and becomes a judge. It ends with the judge presiding over the trial of his former tormentor. The epigraph of the novel states that ‘Education is the greatest wealth.’ The author himself belonged to the socially backward Tiyya community of Kannur.
Not a practitioner of religion, Kunhambu had been against erecting any memorial after his death. The legacy of his spirit of modernity is still held aloft by the family, Heera Krishnan, great granddaughter of Kunhambu, said.
She said the Potheri family had started one of the first printing presses and hospitals here. Kunhambu’s eldest son had started a commercial bank, and one of his daughters was a doctor. Some of his grandsons had served the armed forces, she said.
The 22-room house of the lawyer was once located on six acres of land at Mele Chovva. With the family branching out and moving to different parts of the country, the land has shrunk now to 18 cents.