Lindy Gaskill - Untitled

Friday, September 29, 2017


The Difference

Strictly speaking, one can’t place S.K.Potekkatt (1913-1982) as first generation traveller. Wanderlust cannot be confined to any particular generation. Travelers like Huan Tsang and Fahien criss-crossed the length and breadth of countries millenniums back. Much later, merchants (Marco polo) and fortune seekers (Maghallan) arrived the scene. However, there is a common thread to all these travels. The travellers were not on their own. The state commissioned their travels. Flashing their credentials, the young travellers got access to any forbidden place. Security had already been taken care of.

People who travelled on their own in the modern world where public transport existed in a primitive form can be termed as a first generation traveller. S.K. Pottekatt was one such. Obviously, he had to suffer quite a lot. The communication facilities were almost non-existent. There were no hotels to stay if you were travelling through the undeveloped countries. No networks of roads or rail available. Even through roads existed, a proper public transport system was absent. The traveller was at the mercy of lorry owners! At any given time, one can get stuck during travel. You are hopelessly susceptible to robbing, cheating and neglect. Dreaded diseases like Malaria can get hold of you unawares. 

You have to bear the grunt all alone. No chance of contacting the family or government. If a traveller took such high-end risks and completed his mission, we must admit there is the rub, there must be some unique qualities in him which saved him from all difficult predicaments. Here, we are fathoming those requirements which are essential not only for the traveller but also for others to accomplish the journey called life.

Pottekkatt undertook the journey through Africa when he was thirty six in 1949. There was no other go other than embarking on a voyage. After setting foot at Dar-E-Salam, he travelled through the eastern side of Africa 11,000 mile through Zambia, Kenya and Uganda. In fact, Zambia was not formed then! Two provinces Tanganyika and Zanzibar which were under British colonial yoke got independence and together they became a new-born country named Zambia. While Pottekkatt travelled, there was this new-found urge for freedom sweeping the entire continent. He just couldn’t look the other way. He squarely placed his loyalties with the impoverished natives. Later on, he travelled through Rhodesia too and documented the severe exploitation as well as discrimination faced by the peoples of Africa.

Landscape by Adriana Raby

Humaneness is the sine-qua-non of a traveller. You are stuck as a doornail otherwise. You might travel to distant places but it will remain as a “dry” journey.  The warmth would be lost. Love is the factor that connects a traveller to the world!

Pottekkatt started his African tour by networking with the Keralites who reciprocated more than generously. People celebrated the arrival of a fellow-Keralite whom they have never met. His fame as a writer might not have reached them. In fact, they found it strange to meet a man reaching a far-away land only for the purpose of travelling! Usually Malayalees reach alien lands seeking an El Dorado! I believe, the PLU (People Like Us) factor might have worked! Anyway it was big fun! For example, he was invited to a sight-seeing tour by the Malayalee community and off they went to a place called Bagamoyo, 45 mile away.  Two buses and a few cars were chartered with food prepared and packed. It shows the kind of fraternity existed among Malayalees in times of yore!  Pottekkat writes that the whole group visited an old dilapidated building by the sea to have lunch. Everyone was taking a short nap but Pottekkatt couldn’t. The building housed slaves once upon a time and Pottekkatt felt their ghosts moving around the place. The whips twirling and cries filling the air. While everybody else slept, he was awake and restless.

The bachelors took the lead and Pottekkatt was invited to a beach party by the evening. It was 9 pm and a full moon night. As expected, F&B had been brought in. In a short while, they burst into dancing, all popular dance forms of Kerala were performed by the spirited youth! 

Pottekkatt though married, was in full sync with the young men! One needs an open, unbiased mind for such jamming.

The time was past midnight and the sound of distant drums enchanted them. At a faraway village, Goma (local dance) was going on with the whole village participating. The bachelors’ party got interrupted and they made a bee-line to the village singing an old marching song! They found the entire village folk dancing under the moon-lit sky. The marchers went ahead and joined the dancers without any hesitation. The act rejuvenated the natives and the whole group cutting across nationality, color, sex or age celebrated their lives on this planet!

For the traveler, the underlying unity of humankind is the only thing that matters. He doesn’t get alienated in a different continent dancing with total strangers.