Love of History Earns Book-Writer Cop Kerala Tourism Award 5th Time

Now that he is back in the familiar corridors of history, Sathyan Edakkad is again eloquent about the stories about the monument where he works as a tourism policeman.

A fresh wave of excitement overcomes the Assistant Sub-Inspector with Kerala’s innovatively-conceived Tourism Police, as Sathyan narrates the labyrinthine past of five-century-old Kannur Fort where he was initially posted in 2002 — practically as a guide to the visitors at the military construction by the sea in northern Kerala.

Back in the fort recently following a transfer, it is not mugged-up information that the middle-aged official serves to visitors. And that is what distinguishes Sathyan — a five-time winner of Kerala Tourism award — from his fellow employees.

If Kerala’s brush with a whole range of cultures owing to invasions and trade lends an ever-fascinating face to its tourism, Sathyan has drilled deep into some of their less-explored facets — some of which he says are “not completely true”. The self-initiated research made him not just a scholar of Portugese occupation in Kerala; it led him to pen a book titled Vasco da Gama and the Unknown Facts of History.

kannur-fort-1It took five years of intense research for Sathyan to come up with the 180-page work, originally written in Malayalam as Vasco da Gamayum Charithrathile Kaanaappurangalum. “It is now into its seventh edition, having been released in 2007” reveals the chirpy official who just bagged this year’s Kerala Tourism award for the Best Policeman. “I spent hours in libraries and on published material lent by friends and well-wishers. Sometimes, I bought certain books.”

A top Kerala Tourism official said it is rare if not unique that a constable in India ever wrote a book on history — with an avalanche of novel facts.

So what persuaded the civil police officer to delve this deep into the life of the legendary Portugese explorer and his country’s invasion of the Malabar Coast? “Sheer awkwardness,” Sathyan replies with an amused smirk. “I found myself struggling to give straight answers to tourists who had all sorts of doubts about Kannur Fort when I was earlier working here — from 2002.”

Sathyan chose not to narrate fantastic tales in the guise of history of St Angelo’s Fort the Portugese built in 1505 and the Dutch captured in 1663 before a certain Ali Raja of the locality bought it (1772) — only to be captured by the British 18 years thence. Instead, he embarked on a painstaking academic research, eventually coming out with a book which would carry quite a few revelations that are contrary to the general notions.

For instance, it is not in Kappad off Kozhikode that Gama first anchored his ship in 1498, notes Sathyan in his 14-chapter book. The date, too, lacks accuracy by a week — it was on May 28, 1498, and not May 21 that Gama anchored his ship off the Malabar Coast: in Panthalayani harbour, 12 km off Kappad, he adds, quoting official dossiers.

The claim has been acceptingly acknowledged by frontline historians like Prof MGS Narayanan and Prof K M Mathew (Goa University) besides Prof K K N Kurup, who has written a foreword for Sathyan’s book.

Explaining the matter with reference to historical documents, Sathyan says that one of Gama’s four ships that reached northern Kerala was initially anchored in the outer sea off Kappad — on May 21, 1498. “But it was only two of Gama’s fellow crew members who came out to meet the Samoothiri Raja after they were escorted to the coast. The remaining 13 were then asked to travel to Panthalayani near Koyilandi. There they got down to a reception by the king and 200 of his Nair warriors,” adds Sathyan about the book, which was subsequently (2010) brought out in English by linguist Syamala Nambiar.

For now, after a 10-month stint in nearby Muzhappilangad, where he was on duty at Kerala’s only drive-in beach, Sathyan is happy that he can again walk down history, leading his bunch of visitors.