The year 2020 changed many lives, a majority for the worse. Shukkur Pedayangode, who runs a small tea shop named Verandah near Iritty, about 35 km from Kannur town, was one among them. Shukkur was in the headlines until 2020, because Verandah was not an ordinary tea shop.
The tea shop, just a modest shack built with wooden poles and a blue tarpaulin sheet, was a public platform where once hot discussions and debates happened over various literary works. There was a time when many waited eagerly for the events held at this shop.
Many renowned writers and poets from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have visited Verandah for literary gatherings. Perumal Murugan, Paul Zacharia, M Mukundan, Khadeeja Mumtaz, PF Mathews, Kalpatta Narayanan, Rafeeq Ahamed, N Prabhakaran, Tamil writer B Jeyamohan and Kannada writer Vivek Shanbhag are some of the literary figures who have graced Shukkurâ€™s small tea shop.
An obsession with books
Shukkur, who dropped out of school after Class 5, was obsessed with books from childhood. â€śI did all kinds of jobs to survive and to buy books to read. I worked as a daily wage labourer, sold fish, and finally landed in a tea shop,â€ť he recalls.
Shukkur himself has written five books â€“ one novel and four poetry collections. Onpathu Pennungal (Nine Women), Nilavilikalude Bhasha (Language of Screams), Mazhappollal (Rain burns) Azhangalile Jeevitham (Life in Profundity) are his poetry collections. His novel is titled Verandah; another is awaiting publication. Initially he displayed his books in a small space available in the tea shack. When he got Rs 10,000 as award money, he built a small library in his shop, naming it the Vaikom Muhammad Basheer Memorial Library. He opened up the library for people to come there and read.
Since 2015, every month he held an informal literary discussion at the shop, announcing each event through his Facebook page. One or more books would be discussed by literature enthusiasts and the famous writers he invited. Shukkur would also serve his tea and some delicious snacks to go with it. He sold books at his shop, and with the commission from the sales he conducted the events.
In 2019 his shop was hit by floods, but that did not deter Shukkur. In September the same year, after he repaired the damages to his shop, he held an event where Perumal Murugan took part and the group discussed his book Poonachi.
Notwithstanding the success of the literary gatherings, Shukkur feels that whatever he has achieved so far is miniscule and his dream is to complete what he started. â€śI just wanted to start healthy discussions on literature, which have started to diminish in our society. About 40 to 50 people participated in each event,â€ť he says.
Shop and library hit badly last year
â€śI donâ€™t remember the month, it was in the middle of 2020. Iâ€™d gone to buy milk for the business when a cyclone hit my shop. The wooden poles were struck down and all my books got wet in the rain,â€ť Shukkur says.
He was not in a position to repair the shop immediately, so he went for daily wage work. â€śFollowing this I developed some allergy which later resulted in pneumonia. I was sure that it was my end,â€ť he says.
For months Shukkur was under treatment. His tea shop and the dream space for literary discussions remained closed. But nothing could stop him.
A month ago, he reopened his shop. â€śI borrowed some money and opened the shop. But all the books in the library were damaged, so I sold some of them at cheaper rates. Some school children would also come and borrow them to read. Other than that, the library doesnâ€™t exist,â€ť he says.
But Shukkur is on a mission to start again from the ashes. â€śThough I reopened the shop, I posted on my social media page that people need not help me financially. I can manage somehow. But I would like to restart the library and sell books again. Apart from this, I have another dream,â€ť he says.
Like the literary discussions, he would like to conduct gatherings for artists and painters.
â€śIâ€™d like to hold a gathering of artists, and Iâ€™ll be honoured if they exhibit their works and people can buy it from here. There should be a system to make these works available to people at affordable rates. So artists can also sell their creations easily,â€ť Shukkur shares about his next step.
Despite the many setbacks, this tea-seller is hopeful that once again his shop can be turned into a public platform for healthy discussions and togetherness for people who love literature and the arts.