The street as the protagonist

Visitors near a sculpture showing the characters from Oru Theruvinte Katha on S.M. Street.   | Photo Credit: HAND OUT

Sankaran Kutty Pottekkatt, the globe trotter, once sent a letter back home while he was still roaming alien streets abroad. “I just can’t wait to return to Calicut and walk through Mitthayi Theru.” So deep was the attachment the celebrated novelist and travel writer had to the street, whose life he immortalised in the novel, Oru Theruvinte Katha (The tale of a street), around six decades ago.

Cultural activist Chelavoor Venu once recalled during a lecture that S.K., as he was popularly known, used to pedal all the way from ‘Chandrakantham’, his residence at Puthiyara to S.M. Street. He would stop by each shop lining the street to have a brief chat with the shopkeepers. Friends and acquaintances, who may vary from labourers, white-collar workers, and the mere laymen would greet him and have small talk.

It was from these conversations that S.K. shaped the characters such as ‘Vishamasthithi’ Kurup, the omniscient newspaper hawker; his school-going daughter Radha; Lasar a.k.a. leaf-eating ‘Omanchi’; a clerk in the Customs godown near the beach; and Sudhakaran, the anarchist businessman with a rags-to-riches past, among others.

But the novel as a whole was not just about a few individuals, but the street itself and the unknown multitude — Koonan Kanaran, Irachikkandam Moideen, Perikkalan Anthru, Kelu Master, to name a few — which teemed its dark alleys and pathways. Even while unveiling the quirky characters and unique plot, the street could be seen either playing the role of an active participant or a passive observer. Another extraordinary feature was the ordinariness of the characters, people you may have come across very often, but not paid attention to. Pottekkatt showed that their lives mattered; and, that their tales needed to be told.

It was M.T. Vasudevan Nair who once hailed writers like Keshava Dev, Ponkunnam Varkey and Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai for diverting Malayalam fiction from the corridors of elitism to the mud roads of the common man. S.K., the romanticist, apparently had been influenced by this progressive streak if you go by the characters in Oru Theruvinte Katha, the plot of which was set in the World War II period.

Again, the characters as different as ever and their lives pass through dissimilar dilemmas. But their smells, struggles, sorrows, tastes, and joys resonate in the air of the street and gradually subsume in its life. If S.K. was to take another cycle ride to his favourite ‘Mitthayi Theru’, he might recognise only a few of his old hangouts, but he will surely feel that the spirit is intact. The writer’s bust overlooking the street and the sculptures depicting his characters — Kanaran, Moideen, and Anthru dropping pieces of paper into a wayside fire in front of ‘Modern Medical Shop’— stand testimony to it.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:20:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/the-street-as-the-protagonist/article22198907.ece

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