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The Legend Of Modern Malayalam Fiction: O.V. Vijayan (1930-2005)

A.J. Thomas

On 30th March 2005 a grand saga in Malayalam fiction ended. The life of O.V. Vijayan ebbed away, back to the source he so assiduously sought throughout his life, through his writings that read like a quest for the real in a world of make-believe relationships. Like Ravi, the protagonist of his masterpiece first novel Khasakkinte Itihaasam (The Legend of Khasak) who courts—in expiation for his sins, and to unload his weary life—the bite of a blue-black young cobra that raised its hood from the mud-burrow in the newly sprouted blades of grass as the steady monsoon rain fell, death would have certainly proved to be a release for Vijayan at the end of a protracted illness that plagued him for the last few decades of his life.   This first novel, which sent my generation into a tizzy as it was serialized in the Mathrubhoomi Weekly from 28th February 1968, proved to be the inauguration of a new era in Malayalam fiction. Discussing Vijayan’s contribution through this novel, K.Satchidanandan ranks him with C.V.Raman Pillai and Basheer, the patriarchs of Malayalam fiction in different phases of its growth: “C.V.Raman Pillai, the author of historical romances like Marthanda Varma, Dharmaraja and Ramaraja Bahadur, had, in the early decades of the 20th century, created a world of myth and used the Malayalam language like a polyphonic instrument and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer had shaped a simple yet philosophical idiom out of everyday speech: Vijayan had learned from both and striven to go beyond them to transform the very texture of his people’s imagination.”   The energy that the writing of this novel demanded came from the very roots of his being, it would seem. This was truly his magnum opus, which he drafted and redrafted over a period of twelve years before it finally appeared in 1968, having begun writing it shortly after the liquidation, by the Soviet Union, of Imre Nagy, the dissident Hungarian Premier in 1956. Vijayan, whose sympathies were strongly with the Left till then, and who had even given up a teaching career unwilling to compromise his political beliefs, found the Nagy incident a great betrayal of trust by the ideology that championed the freedom of the oppressed, and yearned to be liberated from the clutches of the spectre that totalitarian regimes behind the iron curtain and the bamboo curtain had turned themselves into. Vijayan’...

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