Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Legends of Khasak by O V Vijayan, reviewed by Dharmajsoni

First, The Legends of Khasak by O V Vijayan is a classic for sure. Which necessarily means that you don't read it in a jiffy, understanding everything at a go. You proceed slowly through the narrative, absorbing the scenario, and get into the mood.

And, each chapter is a story in its own right; even if you lose the book (unfortunately!) after having read it half way through, you won't feel so bad as you would if you read a general, plotty novel. You gain something with each page of reading. This novel is of that type.

It is set in a remote fictitious village, Khasak, in Kerala, some decades into the past. The author shows us various facades of the life Khasak's inhabitants. There are two communities, Hindus & Muslims. Some myths are prevalent around the founders of Khasak, which are very powerfully ruling the people's mind. Not many comforts of life are present, but the ever present alcohol is surely there, as toddy, a local drink from palm trees. The Muslims have their own legends around the settlement founder Sheikh and the Hindus have their own about their Godesses. But mixing of the two is not uncommon. Often, religious festivals are celebrated with great fervour by all, even though sometimes communal colours are seen in the village.

Ravi, the protagonist is himself not sure why he has landed in such a place as a school founder & teacher, even as he could have got better jobs at better places in the world. But he likes his job, does it well and tries his best to get the village children educated.

The novel has its share of weird characters, who are nevertheless real, and punctuate the general attitudes towards life. Reading through, you get a glimpse of the cosmic law of Karma, essentially the unending cycle of birth and death for most living entities, most & not all, because some do rise above it.

A very important point is that the novel, originally written in Malayalam, has been translated into English by the author himself, thus there are no doubts as to whether the original sense is being conveyed.

Also, the novel sheds light on the social conditions, especially of women, who get the stick for almost anything gone wrong. Maybe not much has changed from when the novel was written, and emancipation is largely a city issue, even after the various movements which were undertaken to this effect. Ravi is not the usual hero, he has his shortcomings, which make him look real and lend support to the story.

It was a new experience, especially for me who has never been to Kerala, and has made me aware of some other people's outlook on life. I think it was a good read.


  1. this was a rather mediocre review, consiring that it doesnt explain anything about the book that makes it unique and legendary. I hope readers dont get intimidated by this review and stop from giving it a try, reading this classic. I have not read the book myself, but being a malayalle i know the importance and relevance of this book in the minds of a malayalee.I have come across nothing but praises for this book from many great writers in malayalam and other, but wonder if this was reviewed properly.

  2. ZiLLiOnBiG, I am afraid, is unnecessarily harsh. There is a pleasant, perhaps naive [which is understandable] tone to the intro to one of the great contemporary classics of Malayalam literature. Do we need to perceive it as a review, at the first place, and secondly, Zi, being a Malayali, you can easily afford to read the original, and of course the translation, and invite others [if YOU find worth inviting] to read this milestone book, rather than vaguely citing great Malayalam and other language writers].

    Perhaps I understand what you mean, but despite certain observations, perhaps you would realize once you read the book that our friend here has a beautiful observation of the cosmic law of Karma reflected in Khasak [there is one specific tale of two sisters, one of whom forgot the other], and I would say, despite the failings in understanding the cultural nuances, I love this Karmic understanding above.

    On a personal note, Vijayan's favourite sub/meta tale is what our blogger has pointed out.

    In a larger framework, what is keyed in above, wouldn't make any sense to anyone, other than you and the blogger.

    Zi, as you said, I would request the blog visitors to give this book a try, and I would really love to hear from you, 're-viewing' this book.

    For those interested in intense political satire, interactions with different 'worlds' [first to third, then], there is another classic of the same author - The Saga of Dharmapuri.

    Vijayan was a story teller, a cartoonist and a
    political commentator. Definitely worth looking into.

    Happy reading

  3. I have not not praised the book. I only meant to say that it is not pulp fiction, when I wrote that it is not too easy to read for everyone, especially a non malayalee.