OV Vijayan (1930-2005) reigned supreme in the world of Malayalam letters while he was alive, and continues to be the guiding force of Malayalam fiction even after his death. Since the publications of his classic novel Khasakkinte Itihasam, he has been a cult figure -who represented the best of what is thought and written in the language. He has been truly versatile and prolific in his creative life that spans a period of about fifty years. As a fictionist he will be remembered for the deep philosophical vision that he brought to bear upon his novels and short stories. It is this quality of his fictions as well as the linguistic revolution that makes him a legendary storyteller of our times. He was awarded for his novel Gurusagaram in 1990 by the Sahitya Akademi (The National Academy of Letters, India).
P. P. Raveendran, is a practising literary critic in the languages of English and Malayalam. His published books in English are Poetry and the New Sensibility (1996), Postmodernism: Positions and Perspectives (2000), Joseph Mundasseri (2002) and Texts Histories Geographies: Reading Indian Literature (2008) as well as edited volumes The Best of Kamala Das (1991) and The Best of Jayanta' Mahapatra (1995). A former Visiting Fellow at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University (Germany), he is currently Dean, Faculty of Aesthetics and Art History, Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University of Arts and Culture as well as Professor of English at School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, where he also edits the literary- - journal Haritham.
OV Vijayan reigned supreme in the world of Malayalam letters while he was alive, and continues to be the guiding force of Malayalam fiction even after his death. For two or three generations of readers since the publication of h is classic novel Khasakkinte Itihasam, he has been a cult figure who represented the best of what is thought and written in the language. He also made his mark as a major short story writer as well as a sensitive political analyst. This is in addition to the reputation that he built up as a cartoonist of international standing.
This monograph on the literary and artistic contributions of Vijayan is the first comprehensive critical account of the life and work of this great visionary. I am thankful to Sahitya Akademi for including him in its monograph series on The Makers of Indian Literature'.
A word on quotations from Vijayan's works used in this book. Since most of the English translations of Vijayan's works are by the author himself, for quotations from his works, I have by and large used the author's own translations, wherever such translations are avail-able. I have used my own translation of a work only where published translation of the work is not available. It is also to be remembered that Vijayan takes a lot of liberties with his originals when translating them into English. As some of his published translations indicate, translation, for Vijayan, is often an occasion for reworking his fiction. This of course is a point that has been taken tip for discussion in parts of the monograph.
Sherine, as ever, has been the first reader of this book. I have drawn liberally on her critical insights in giving shape to the book. Aparna's help, not less important, has come more in the form of a willingness to vacate and make room for me at the computer, leaving quite often her `Orkut’ friends in the lurch in cyberspace.
In his life that spanned seventy-five years, Ottupulackal Velukutty Vijayan (1930-2005), OV Vijayan for short, donned many roles, including those of teacher, journalist, author, columnist, political analyst, social critic, cartoonist, communist, anarchist and spiritualist. Over the years his writing too underwent several transformations. But there was one important element that stayed with him through these changes: his distaste of state power. As a writer and political cartoonist, Vijayan was a fierce critic of the state. Throughout his adult career, from his early days of committed writing till he breathed his last as a spiritual enthusiast, he fought the state and the ruling establishment tooth and nail. He was a perpetual dissident. The dissidence ran deep into his language and his creative personality. Hence the significance of this amusing anecdote in which Vijayan, who had recently got his teeth extracted, preparatory apparently to the fixing of a set of dentures, was met by a young friend who remarked in jest that the loss of teeth was his reward for being critical of those in power. "But I have my nails intact," was the celebrity writer's characteristic retort.
If that playful retort reads somewhat like the caption for a cartoon, Vijayan's writing, it must be remembered, shared in the dark and sombre humour of some of the political cartoons that he published from the sixties to the eighties of the last century while he was active as a cartoonist in the national capital. Although his image in Delhi where he spent a considerable part of his creative life was as a cartoonist, his image in his native Kerala was that of an imaginative writer, the fictional genius whose 1969 masterpiece Khasakkinte Itihasam(The Legends of Khasak, trans. 1994) shot him into fame as a legendary storyteller, the harbinger of a version of modernism that heralded a radical change of sensibility in Malayalam. His word magic cast a mysterious spell on successive generations of readers and writers. As he himself was to recognize later in life, the Malayalam language had never been the same after the publication of this first novel of his. The language of Khasak is a bold mixture of the tones and textures of the dialects of rural Kerala blended with a share of highly allusive vocabulary of Dravidian and Sanskrit origin. A new language is also a new way of looking at reality and the world at large, and in the case of Vijayan this world was something that was both internal to the language and external to it, a world that existed simultaneously in the inside of the writer and outside of him. It is in this context that Vijayan's distrust of state power gains in value, as what it signals is not merely a writer's overt political antagonism to the ruling power, but also the struggle that he wages with himself, with language, with the literary tradition and its system of values. The language of Vijayan's fiction bears marks of this prolonged struggle irrespective of the nature of the work. This is what binds the hedonistic descriptions of village life in Khasakkinte Itihasam with the sordid depictions of the corruption of state power in Dharmapuranam (The Saga of Dharmapuri, 985; trans. 1988) and the heuristic elaborations of Upanishadic certitude in Gurusagaram (The Infinity of Grace, 1987; trans. 1996) and the lyrical intensity and tragic magnitude of such short stories as "Kadaltheerathu" ("After the Hanging," trans. 1989) and "Arimpara" ("The Wart," trans. 1989). The cartoonist's riotous sense of humour and visual imagination certainly inform much of this writing, but the exalted philosophy of the fictionist can also be seen to have transferred itself to a majority of his cartoons.
But then it is not merely as a cartoonist and fictionist that Vijayan made his mark in the domain of culture. True, he began writing fiction in the fifties as a politically sensitive writer who, as a card-carrying communist, wanted his work to be of service to the larger cause of the revolution. To this end he had, before the idea of Khasak ;truck him, published a few short stories that depicted imaginary peasant uprisings in his village in Palakkad. His left-wing readers were happy with these stories, but some of them wanted him to produce more heady stuff. "Something with mom inquilab in it," was how an enlightened comrade put it. Vijayan would have fallen for this, but for the intervention of the perpetual dissident within him. This was the age in which the communist movement was going through an international crisis with new revelations emerging from various sources regarding the atrocities of the Stalinist regime, and fellow-travelling intellectuals who had embraced communism in the thirties and forties coming out of the party fold in the wake of these revelations. Added to this were the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and the execution of dissident Prime Minister Imre Nagy (1896-1958) two years later, events that shattered Vijayan's optimism and his hope for a socialist future. Much of what Vijayan has written in the form of political analysis and social commentary, especially in polemical censure of the political positions of the Indian left, are linked to this general climate of intellectual and political dissent.
But this does not mean that his journalistic and non-fictional pieces could be treated as inconsequential for that reason. The same environment of healthy intellectual cynicism and social dissent provides energy for both Vijayan's fictional and non-fictional writings. In fact his non-fictional prose is important for the analytical acumen that it demonstrates. Freedom of thought and expression is the crucial phrase in Vijayan's conceptual vocabulary. It was a perceived fear of the curtailment of the writer's personal freedom that prompted him to take a very strident position against the infamous state of political emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. Vijayan refused to pen any cartoons during the two years of emergency. That was a gesture of protest, a sentiment that also found a fictional outlet in the form of the symbolically constructed novel Dharmapuranam . Billed as a weird combination of dark humour, scatology, eroticism and mystic insights, this novel is an allegory of power that reveals its author to be a critic of all forms of state tyranny. The liberal humanist criticism of state power articulated by the novel could easily switch places with the imperialist critique of communist regimes, as feared, according to Vijayan, by some of his left-leaning Vijayan's ire here could have been inspired by the somewhat lukewarm reception that the Malayalee readers, left-wing by default, gave to this second novel by the author of Khasak from whom they might have expected a repeat performance of the magic of the maiden classic. Be that as it may, what the novel brings to focus is the authoritarian mindset that the members of the political class share in post-Independence India. That Vijayan was not willing to exclude communists from the ambit of this criticism was what formed the core of his long-standing quarrel with his one-time allies.
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