The infinte grace of Vijayan
I am feeling weighed down by my own expectations to write about O.V.Vijayan, the writer who died this week. I would not add anymore adjective to his name. I would not.
I found Vijayan from Mathrubhumi, the equivalent of Times Litt Journal for a Malayali and I thank my father for subscribing the weekly. Vijayan was writing an epilogue series for his magnum opus Khazakinte Ithihaasam (Legends of Khazak). I had not read him before nor I had heard of him and I must confess that I was not really excited by malayalam writing till then. But a casual glance on one of the pieces transformed me as a reader and I felt an unseen presence of a benevolent Guru who provoked and inspired to think originally and honestly.
Vijayan started writing in English. He infact finished his first fiction and then began the phase of questioning the book and himself. He finally figured he was not going to wallow in the cosmopolitan dynamics of Indian English Writing. Knowing him as I do now, I sense the grace of a great mind and am grateful. I am grateful to this writer who shattered my pride in knowing the angst of life from Kafka, the surreality of life from Gabriel Marquez, the absurdity of life from Samuel Beckett, the lyrical sadness of life from Milan Kundera and the architectural constructs of life from Italo Calvino. He replaced everything with an infinite grace of life and the words he jotted down would sit beside me in silence, pointing to the far end of this life and beyond ever so gently.
Vijayan took twelve long years to complete his first novel in malayalam. He was patient and he knew he had to bide his time. When it came, it took the literary world by storm. The book was titled "The Legends of Khazak" - the story of Ravi, a teacher in an informal education centre in Khazak and his existential crises. His forlorn meanderings and visions took him from the Christian College in Thambaram to the ashram of Bhodhananda and finally to the dilapidated rickety pre-school in Khazak. The novel ends when Ravi provokes a snake to bite on his feet and gradually begins his journey to the unending realms of karmic existence.
The linear exterior of this quaint story was nothing but deceptive. The language, the visions and the few characters would get inside your senses before you realize. Invariably it would set you off to a journey that will liberate your imagination as a reader. You could set existential angst of Ravi, the lyrical eroticism of Maimuna and the human prototype of Appukili (the retard) with the backdrop of wind blown palm trees and dense nights of Khazak anywhere in the world. He differed from other writers the way he integrated everything to look at the commonplace life with the grace of a visionary. Vijayan himself acknowledged his affinity for Lawrence Durrel's Alexandria Quartet that looked at life with an integrated vision.
Please get a peek on this great work here:
The next book from Vijayan was Dharmapuranam (The saga of Dharmapuri). If you want to relate to the satire and black comedy genius of Vijayan, this is the one for you. The book lampooned political monkeys who are sitting at the helm of Indian democracy and shreds every bit of its sense to pieces. The cartoonist that you have seen in NY Times and other publications at his riotous best. If you have read P.J.O'Rourke's satire, you would know what I am talking about.
His third book is the personal best and the object of hatred for so many at the same time. The book is titled "Gurusaagaram" (The infinity of Grace). Here is a writer who is speaking to you the reader one-on-one as a Guru to the seeker. He showed us the hidden truth in lost battles of ego and the fatigue of wisdom. The novel talks about Kunjunny, a journalist from Kerala after his long and winding physical and spiritual journey finds his way to the Infinite Grace of life. Finally we find the seeker partaking the Guru in attaining awareness of self. His language is deep and the style is tantalizingly elusive for the conventional readers of fiction, but plenty of food for thought for his followers.
Each book from then onwards underlined his growth as a thinker than a popular writer. "Madhuram Gayathi"(I am not going to translate the title:) ) dealt with the awareness of man, environment and the universe with an integral vision. This has some profound and almost prophetic utterings on the ecosystem, man's greed and cycle of life and death.
The power of his language is such that no one dared to translate them. Finally Vijayan had to be persuaded to do it. There are folks who cannot even think of translation, such was the raw power and alchemy of his words when it happened. Viajayan had to transcreate the book in English.
I have not read his last two books but I am sure I will not be disappointed, neither will you.
Besides novels and cartoons Vijayan wrote a lot of short stories that will stand the test of time. Notably "Kadaltheerathu" that distantly evokes similarities to malayalam movie "Piravi" and Alan Patten's book, "Cry my beloved country".
True to his philosophical self, he was never found compromising his values or pandering to the obnoxious award committees. He was just beyond all that, way above.
He also wrote several articles and books on politics and humanities that stand so mcuh apart from the regular pastiche from the columnists in Delhi. He was a colossal presence for the enlightened readers. I for one with all the triviality of my existence would devour everything that he ever wrote. Please go here to get a peek of his political acumen. I am sure you would feel the presence of a Guru who is relentless in his pursuit of truth and meaning of life.