Pottekkat’s short stories partake ‘broadly speaking of both the romantic idealism and the grand and radical social vision embodied by his novels’, says PP Raveendran in his foreword to The Story of the Timepiece. This collection of 16 of the author’s short stories bears testimony to that comment, as each story is a delightful blend of romanticism and realism. A world where love is a dominant theme–where the complex relationships between man and woman, parent and child and so on form the core of the narrative. Each story is spun out in a rich, beautiful and evocative setting so that nature and her elements form an integral part of the reader’s near visual experience. It is into this world that Venugopal Menon’s brilliant translation of The Story of the Timepiece from Malayalam permits entry to the reader constrained by the barrier of language. Stories that are sweetly poignant, rich in use of imagery and occasionally a thoughtful comment on the vagaries of human nature. ‘Camel’(Ottakam), the first in the collection, is a tale of the village simpleton with legs ‘like iron pillars, arms like crowbars’ and a head like ‘a wilted coconut’ all of which earned him the sobriquet Ottakam. Nobody knew where he came from and nobody cared. His daily task was to haul water from a lake and supply it to the hotel nearby. Living on the fringes of society, his only companions were a bunch of urchins. The poignant tale takes an unexpected twist and ends with a message that every human being desires to experience love—to give and receive.
A story that haunts with its powerful imagery is ‘A Mother’s Heart’ (Mathruhridayam). A blind girl born to a poverty-stricken goatherd—so beautiful that the local people remarked that ‘God had created her using the pristine natural riches of Kashmir.’ A Kashmir where ‘towering hills wearing pine trees like a pleated skirt’ stand mutely by while the mist moves ‘steadily forward smoking as it were, the light of day’. Mesmerizing and evocative as the images are, the reader is sharply reminded that even in such pristine beauty evil lurks, snatching the innocence of a young girl and leaving in its wake an old ugly woman constantly in search of her lost children. This seems to be a reflection of Pottekkat’s worldview—Beauty and Ugliness coexist, sometimes irrevocably intertwined.