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"Saar, Saar..." she said, then grew shy.
"A Story without dying, Saar!"
Ravi laughed, "Whatís your name, child?"
"Kunhamina"

Ravi listened to the ballad of Khasak in her, its heroic periods, its torrential winds and its banyan breezes. There was no death but only silver anklets and her eyes sparkling through the surma. Ravi looked deep into those eyes; the story would have no dying, only the slow and mysterious transit. He began in the style of the ancient fabulist.

"Once opon a time ...."


The Legends of Khassak - Review:

O.V. Vijayanís First Novel Khassakinde Itihaasam was first published in Malayalam by Current Books (Trichur) in 1969 and the work was translated into English by the author and published by Penguin India in 1994. It is a small book, some 208 pages long.

The book is the story of Ravi, a spiritual wanderer who is looking for higher truths, trying to escape from the entrapments of maya and the consequences of bad karma. We meet him for the first time, leaving an ashram, in the early hours of morning, bidding a hasty farewell to the Swamini [the wife of the Swami who was the master of the ashram] with whom he has been presumably sharing more than secrets, as he has wrapped her saffron mundu around himself in his haste to get away.

He is bound for Khasak, a village set in the area around Palghat in Kerala, where he has been appointed as the head of the new one- teacher school that the Sarkar [ The Government ] had set up there.

Most of the book revolves around various events that happen to him in this village where myth and reality seem blissfully inter- mingled and inseparable.

Vijayanís style is fascinating. He is obsessed with the whole idea of Story Telling. In one of the earliest chapters the Mullah of Khasak, entreats his God:
"I have sung the Bismi,
I begin my verse,
Allah give me grace,
To sing of the Prophetís Battles"


And in another place when Ravi offers to tell a story, a little girl in his class gets up and

"Saar, Saar..." she said, then grew shy.
"A Story without dying, Saar!"
Ravi laughed, "Whatís your name, child?"
"Kunhamina"

Ravi listened to the ballad of Khasak in her, its heroic periods, its torrential winds and its banyan breezes. There was no death but only silver anklets and her eyes sparkling through the surma. Ravi looked deep into those eyes; the story would have no dying, only the slow and mysterious transit. He began in the style of the ancient fabulist.
Once opon a time ....

At times it is quite clear to the reader of 'The Legends of Khasak' as the English version is called, there has been some amount of magic lost in the translation. There are ideas that are untranslatable and sounds that add to the sense of mystery in Malayalam that never make it to the English version.

And yet there are passages that are stunningly evocative even in translation. When Ravi offers to have clothes made for the two children of the Muslim woman who does the cleaning at the school:

"Sorry little one," Ravi said, " I left you out. Ill tell Madhavan Nair to make some frocks for you."

"Donít want." Chandu Mutthu lisped.
"Donít want the frocks ?"
"Give it to the boy."
"Donít you like frocks with printed flowers ?"
"Let the boy grow up fast."


Chand Umma stood watching, listening. She broke into a shrill laugh, then wiped away her tears. She said, "It is her nature".

The stark reality of poverty and the love that must transcend the wants of the self in favor of the wants of the loved, is so poignantly conveyed here. At the same time Vijayan has captured the childís persona in three sentences.

'The Legends of Khasak' is written in the style of Magic Realism. Vijayan describes magic realism succinctly : when marvelous and impossible events occur in what otherwise purports to be a realistic narrative.í

And there are plenty of myths that march through the narrative of Vijayanís book. There is a tree in Khasak that is the residence of a lady spirit that bears delicious fruit that everyone wants to eat, but only those whose wives are faithful to them can climb the tree unharmed by the giant ants and bees that guard it. In another part of Khasak there is a well that has crystal curtains that beckon the weary.

Vijayanís ironic sense of humor and deft touch for rendering physical situations is evident in Maimoona the seductress when she has decided to sleep with Ravi, takes off all her clothes and stand before Ravi, with only a talisman around her waist on a black charaddu:

"As long as this talisman is around my waist no harm can come to me."

Ravi smiled as he undid the knot to her talisman. She did not resist.

One of the central characters in this book is Appu-Killi a cretin who carries a dragonfly trapped in a lasso of thread around with him wherever he goes. In an ironic twist, Vijayan explains, in his afterward, when he returned to the village of Thrasak on which he had based the story, a certain Muslim youth embraced him and cried out that Appu-Killi had died.

If I had wished for something more in Legends of Khasak it would be more volume. Many characters and threads are dropped without being developed in any detail. Thakazhi on the other hand I found to be very thrifty about introducing new characters into the story.

Vijayan, in keeping with the existential maya eluding nature of the hero, has written a book with a passive protagonist who allows things to happen to him rather than making things happen.

There are some jarring notes here and there, but I thought Legends of Khasak a great book.




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Last Updated: February 16, 1998