What do I write about the book ‘The Legends of Khasak’ by O.V.Vijayan which has not already been written before. The book is a cult classic in Malayalam known as ‘Khasakinte Itihasam’ which means the same as the English title of the book. I had heard lot of praise for the book from my mother, my uncles. But, since it was in Malayalam, which I am not very fluent in reading, I could not share the same passion. I knew the English translation existed but I had been put off by Indian translated works, a case in point being ‘Bhima : The Lone Warrior’ which is the translation of another cult Malayalam classic ‘Randamoozham’. But this book being relatively thin, I gave it a try.
The book has been translated into English by the author himself. And there lies its success. The translation is absolutely a delight. It is able to bring out the same ethos of the Malayalam book. But of course, I assume, no one can beat the original.
The book follows the path of Ravi, a school teacher, who has been sent to a remote village to run the Government scheme of ‘One teacher’ school. The village, Khasak, has been living in its own time warp with legends, history, djinns and poothams. The village has its own guardian angel Sayed Mian Sheikh known locally as the Sheikh. Cut off from the rest of the country, it carries on with life in much the same way it used to for centuries. Ravi, the teacher, is a catalyst of change here. He brings in an outside view and soon gets to know the villagers. Every villager in the book has a story and thus we can understand their behaviours, their quirks.
Meanwhile Ravi is trying to run away from civilisation, from all things familiar, from his past. During the passage of the book, Ravi realises he has become the student here. He is learning a lot from the innocent lives of Khasak.
The beauty of the book is in its stories, its passages. Soon the villagers we read about become real in the sense that, when someone tries to hurt Appu-Kili, the village cretin, we are ready to protect him. Our heart urges Ravi to come out of his solitude and loneliness and to embrace the world.
The writing seems similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ ‘100 years of Solitude’ which is about magical realism. In Khasak also, there is magical realism. But the magic is limited to the imaginations of the villagers. Everything else about the book is real.
The author, in the Afterword, has mentioned that the village Khasak, is loosely modelled on the village ‘Thasarak’. Its a remote village in Palghat district of Kerala. The village has become famous due to the book. But, Khasak could really be any village in Kerala. The people are as real as you and me.
Do I want to read the book again? Well, not needed. The book with its vivid imagery of green paddy fields, blue mountains, spiders, butterflies, dragon flies, tamarind and palm trees and people, is etched in the mind. The words have a beautiful flow. It is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes contemplative. It is also a dense and difficult read.
I would give the book 4.75/5. A must read for lovers of the written word.