Now, I am nobody to review a masterpiece as this; especially one of the most best-selling novels in South Asia. So let me put that as a disclaimer as I begin to rant over how beautiful a piece of literature The Legends of Khasak is in its full glory.
I had my apprehensions about reading the English version of it first. So I did venture out to read Malayalam first, but somehow it never happened. And, the one day I stumbled across the English version and decided that this was to be. Just a few pages in I realized that Chethali and Koomankavu seem just beautifully native to the English language. Allah Picha Mullaka, Kunjamina, Kunjinooru, Nizam Ali, Appukkili are just as familiar to me in English as they would have been in Malayalam, maybe- I don’t know!
A writer and English professor himself, O V Vijayan wrote ‘Khasakinte ithihasam’ in Malayalam, in 1969, and then wrote the English translation of it himself in 1994. He had lived in a village called Thasarak near Palakkad, Kerala during a sabbatical he took from work. His sister, O V Shanta had been appointed as a teaching faculty at a government-aided school at the time and his family had shifted to accompany her. He had found the topography and demography of Thasarak to suit his aching social conscience. So, it had taken him 12 long years to pen down his story, basing many of his characters after the locals and some from his imagination.
For more than one reasons this book and its narrative are very special to me. One, this is by far my mother’s favorite novels in Malayalam. She would often quote chunks and portions of the book which she has memorized over the years. So when I read it in English I felt like I was re-reading the novel. But it did not miss me that the beauty of the prose had not faded inspite of it not being in its native language.
If you ask me what this book is about I don’t think a one-liner is in order. This novel is about sin, penance, salvation, and restoration. It is broadly about the circle of life and about the infinite clash of myth and reality. It is also for everyone who thirsts for a countryside life. And it is as real and raw as they come.
Without a doubt, The Legends of Khasak is one of the most overlooked pieces of English literature from India. The rhythmic prose with its crests and troughs, ebb and flow and gravity would have won home numerous laurels if it were published at a better time. The abstract plot of the story stands out days, months and years after it’s read haunting the psyche of any reader.