June 28th, 2008
It is almost 10 years since I first read O.V. Vijayan’s masterpiece novel Khasakinte Ithihasam (Legends of Khasak). Last week I re-read it and I was amazed how subtle and rich in content this novel is! If there is one Malayalam novel you must read, this is the one!
It is said that Malayalam literature can be divided into two periods. Malayalam literature before Khasakkinte Ithihasam and Malayalam literature after Khasakkinte Ithihasam. Trust me, it is not an exaggeration. Khasakkinte Ithihasam was a revolution in Malayalam literature and even today it remains as one of the best novels ever produced in Malayalam.
Malayalam literature is very young compared to for example English literature. It has also a bleak future since majority of Malayalees think that medium of education should be English. There are very few good novels/stories/poems in Malayalam and I think it will only get worse since Malayalees themselves are ashamed of the language!
I personally believe that in Kerala, Malayalam language education must be made mandatory and it should be the mandatory medium for education for at least up to seventh standard.
Khasakkinte Ithihasam is comparatively a small novel(180 pages). It is said that O.V. Vijayan took over 10 years to polish the story in the current form. The book was first published in 1969 and since then it is one of the best sellers in Kerala. This book is also available in an English edition (written in 1994) titled "Legends of Khasak" which is also written by Vijayan. Interestingly the English version is NOT a literal translation of the Malayalam version. I have read both and from my experience the Malayalam one is much better and natural than the English one.
Review of Khasakkinte Ithihasam
The protagonist in Khasakkinte Ithihasam is Ravi, who comes to Khasak(a village in Palakkad) as a teacher. The story begins by the arrival of Ravi in the village and ends when he returns back from there(there is a surprise in the end). In the story we also learn that Ravi is a genius in astrophysics with a post graduate degree in physics.
The story progresses with Ravi’s interaction with the people in Khasak and through this Vijayan weaves an intricate and complex web of human relationships. He brilliantly mixes deep philosophical questions with almost brutal depiction of people at Khasak.
There are many powerful characters in the novel and some of them that stick in your mind are the mentally retarded appukkilli, Allappicha Mollakka (mullah), Maimoona and Kunhamina. The story is not about Ravi, it is actually a collection of stories of above people in Khasak.
The story is intense and at times very sad. Vijayan mixes myth, reality and his personal experiences very effectively. The story is also notable for its sexual undertones and black humor.
If you have been to Palakkad before and if you visit the place after reading this story you will get a completely different experience. Vijayan’s Khasak is inspired by Thasarak village in Palakkad. The description of the palakkadan village in the novel is so powerful that I found that itself an unforgettable experience! Here is an extract from the first chapter,
അവിടെ ഒരു ബെഞ്ചിലിരുന്നുകൊണ്ടു രവി കൂമൻ-കാവിന്റെ ചിത്രമുൾക്കൊള്ളുവാൻ ശ്രമിച്ചു. നിലത്തറഞ്ഞ തേക്കിൻ-കുറ്റികളിൽ കെട്ടി നിർത്തിയിട്ടുള്ള നാലഞ്ച് ഏറുമാടങ്ങൾ ആയിരുന്നു കൂമൻ-കാവങ്ങാടി. പാതയവസാനിക്കുന്നിടം ചെറിയൊരു മൈതാനമായിരുന്നു. അതിനു ചുറ്റുമാണ് ഏറുമാടങ്ങൾ കിടന്നത്. അവയുടെ പുറകിൽ തൂവരക്കാടുകളിലും വാഴക്കൂട്ടങ്ങളിലും നഷ്ടപ്പെട്ട കുടിലുകൾ. അവയ്ക്കെല്ലാം മുകളിൽ ബലിഷ്ടകായന്മാരായ മുത്തച്ചന്മാരെപോലെ പടർന്നു നിന്ന മാവുകൾ. നീല ഞരബോടിയ പരന്ന തണലുകൾ.
The book is small (180 pages) and it is possible to finish it in one sitting. But what I would suggest is to take it slowly. Like a good scotch whisky (chivas regal?), if you take this book one chapter at a time you will enjoy it most. Now this is one novel which can be read multiple times and yet you get a different perspective every time you read it! My guess is that at first Vijayan would have written it as a big novel and trimmed/compressed it to increase its effectiveness.
Details of the book Khasakkinte Ithihasam