The 90th Birth Anniversary of legendary Malayalam writer and cartoonis, Ottupurlackal Velukkuty Vijayan A.K.A., OV Vijayan is on July 2, 2020 who died on March 30, 2005. Among his six novels, Vijayan became renowned with his masterpiece work, Khasakkinte Ithihasm (Epic of Khasak).
Vijayan was born in Palakkad district of the south Indian state of Kerala. After his schooling he pursued his bachelor degree in English Literature from Victoria College Palakkad and later, his post graduation from the Presidency College from the then Madras (Chennai). Vijayan forayed into the literary arena by writing his maiden short story, ‘Tell Father Gonsalves in 1953.’
A decade and half later, his all time classic, Khasakinte Ithihasam was published in 1969. This novel became a rage in the Malayalam Literary horizon and a talking point as well. With the phenomenal acceptance of the book, the saga of Malayalam fiction later came to be known as pre-Khasakinte Ithihasam and post-Khasakinte Ithihasam. Despite taking him to a cult figure with this work, projecting the author as angry young man, OV Vijayan later metomorphosed into a matured transcendentalist with his other works such as Gurusagaram (The Infinity of Grace) Pravachakante Vazhi (The Path of the Prophet) and Thalamurakal (Generations).
In addition to his six novels, OV Vijayan also had authored several volumes of short stories. These short stories were eye openers with its rich diversity, tonality as well as style. The short stories ranged from comic to the philosophical. The use of imagery and metaphors, judicious use of magical realism, made his short stories must read. A brilliant linguist and a cartoonist, OV Vijayan had translated many of his Malayalam works in English. In Delhi, he worked as a cartoonist in many a renowned publications including the prestigious Shankar’s Weekly. In addition to that OV Vijayan also served as Editorial Cartoonist as well as political observer in leading dailies such as The Hindu and The Statesman.
Documentary on OV Vijayan, Directed by Viju Varma.
Born in the small village of Vilayanchaathanoor, the premature born Vijayan’ childhood was replete with a slew of health issues. Most part of his childhood was spent inside the confines of the four walls of his house. As his father was a Police officer serving in the Malabar Special Police, he grew up in the police quarters. OV Shantha and OV Usha, both teachers were Vijayan’s sisters. Though the former died, the latter, who is also an excellent Malayalam poet, is now living in Thiruvananthapuram. Due to his immunity issues, OV Vijayan was home tutored for most part of his schooling. It was only at the age of 12, did Vijayan start of his formal schooling, joining in the sixth grade directly at Raja’s High School, Kottakal in the then Malabar area of the Madras Province in the British India (Now in Malappuram District). Although, the home tutoring did make Vijayan keep pace with his peers, when he joined the school, he did excel in his studies. The following year, his father got a transfer his home town of Palakkad, the young Vijayan was enrolled at a school in Koduvayur.
After his education, OV Vijayan served as a lecturer at the famous Malabar Christian College in Kozhikode and his Alma Matter, Government Victoria College in Palakkad, nevertheless, he quit the faculty job only to take up the cudgels of journalism.
Although, his classic novel Kashakhinte Ithihaasam was published in 1969, the nove had to undergo several churns and it was also published in the Mathrubhumi weekly for 28 weeks in a serialised manner from January 28, 1968. While before the release of this seminal work, the literary scene of Kerala was mostly formal and romantic, while post Khashakinte Ithihasan, the scanario transformed into modernist, post-modernist and post-post modernist as well. During this time, the literary luminaries of the day indulged in humongous experimentation both in terms of style and in terms of content. In fact, this novel was drawn parallel with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ classic work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The novel deals with the protagonist, Ravi as a teacher, who serves in an informal education set up in the nondescript village of Khasak and further delves deep into his perennial existential crisis. Billed as a visionary, Ravi completes his post graduation in Physics from a institution in Tambaram, the then Madras. The denoument of the novel was when Ravi begins his sojourn to an altogther different realm of existence. The novel explores the existential quandry of a man for his very existence. With the publication of Khasakhinte Ithihasam, in fact, it was the genesis of an unique poetic style of prose, with the judicious blending of Tamil language, the local dielect of Palakkad and a heady dose of Sanskritised Malayalam. However, the most interesting aspect of OV Vijayan’s writing is the narrative style, which moves from reality to myth back and forth. Inspired by this style, a playwright by name Deepan Sivaraman, who adapted the work as a play.
In 1985, OV Vijayan brought out Dharmapuranam (The Saga of Dharmapuri), a political satire, which was received well. His novel was replete with unrestrained ridicule of the policial class of his day. Sidhartha is the protagonist of his political satire, which the author ironically names after Gautama Buddha, who led the people to follow righteousness and eventually to attain enlightenment. Throughout the novel, the tone is down right satirical, nevertheless, it also had ths shades of spiritualism. Althouth, an announcement from the vernacular weekly of Malayalanadu came stating that the novel would be serialised from July 1975, eventually, the plan had to be stalled following the National Emergency declared by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi on June 25, 1975. What is more, the novel was in fact, eventually serealised in 1977 and the lifting of the curfew. This work, in the novel form, was published in 1985 and a couple of years later, the English translation by OV Vijayan too was published by Penguin Books. Like the Malayalam novel, Dharmapuranam, The Saga of Dharmapuri too took the Indian literary world by storm. Apparently, the publication of this book got delayed because of its sexual as well as scatological language, with the bold imagery. As the Emergency excesses were still there in the minds of the public, the publishers found it cumbersome to publish OV Vijayan’s work. Subsequently, when the book was released, the work elicited humongous itnerest from the readers across the world and witnessed one the finest reviews for this work. Among a slew of reviews, David Selbourn’s was memorable. Selbourne wrote in The Times Literary Supplement (London): “Dangerous stuff and cut close to the bone.”
Back in India, our own Literary icon Sardar, Khuswant Singh termed the novel as ‘not the kind of novel you forget in a hurry.’ Later, when OV Vijayan was quizzed by the media, said his attempt through The Saga of Dharmapuri was a cleansing act for once and he added that he didn’t had the desire to repeat.
In 1987, OV Vijayan wrote another novel Gurusagaram and English translation, The Infinity of Grace. In this novel, the author did change the totally different from his previous works. The language, vision and characterisation of Gurusagaram was way different from his previous works. The novel deals on the immanence of Guru in the life of the seeker. The underlying philosophy is that the Guru being omnipotent, he is manifested in everyone. Apparently, the seekar partakes of the grace of the Master as he happens for him unawares and unconditional. The protagonist of this novel is a journalist from Kerala who is serving in a publication in the national capital of Delhi. When the central character embarks on a reporting assignment during the 1971 Indo-Pak, what kind of excruciating experience he undergoes both spiritually and physically, where he also comprehends how he could do away with all forms of ego. This work not only the prestigious Vayalar Award, but also other accolades including the Kerala Sahithya Academy Award in 1991 and the Central Sahitya Akademi Award as well.
In 1990, OV Vijayan’s novel, Madhuram Gayathi hit the market, which is a superb allegory blending mythology, spirituality and ecology. The novel is in fact, a fable replete with allegory of the post-Holocaust world with its lack of love and disharmony.
Two years later, OV Vijayan published another work, Pravachakante Vazhi (The Path of the Prophet), laying stress on the vision that intuition is perennial and it is always one and the same. The novel also highlights the bottom line that this oneness of the revelation makes the ways of all prophets the same.
In 1997, the author’s novel, Thalamurakal (Generations) was released containing three fourths of the content having autobiographical elements. Furthermore, the book also can be termed as historical as well. Aprt from autobiography and history, Thalamurakal is also a sojourn down the collective experiences of a family looking for an awareness about the individual self as well as his clan. Interestingly, this search of the author is of paramount importance, when the collective experiences of the sub-culture were found to be bitter, while individual sense of the clan identity was superior. In short, the novel deals with the four generations in Ponmudi family in Palakkad.
In addition to his maiden short story, Tell Father Gonsalves way back in 1953, OV Vijayan went on a writing spree penning many volumes of short stories. The first volume of short stories, titled: Three Wars was published in 1957. In this collection of short stories, the author deals with a gamut of aspects including satire and philosophy. In English, the best known collection works is titled: after the Hanging and Other Stories, which is replete with touching and poignant experiences. The title story deals with a poor an semi-literate peasant, who visits the prison to receive the corpse of his son, who was hanged to death. If the works of OV Vijayan in The Wart and The Foetus was about the pain of the fascist Emergency, his other works such as The Airport, The Little Ones and others were transcental. In addition to that, OV Vijayan also had penned a slew of essays, besides publishing a book of cartoons titled; Ithiri Nerambokku, Ithiri Darshanam (A Little Pastime, A Little Vision) in 1990. He also authored a historical treatise by name Ithihasathinte Ithihasam, which is also treated as his masterpiece work by a vast majority of the readers.
In addition to his impeccable writing skills in Malayalam, OV Vijayan was equally adept in English. He translated most of his works from Malayalam to English. OV Vijayan’s Selected Works have been by published by Penguin India.
When OV Vijayan left Kerala as early as 1958, he chose Delhi to pursue his career as a cartoonist by taking up the job in Shankar’s Weekly. In addition to drawing cartoons, OV Vijayan also wrote political satires. Later, he joined Patriot as a Staff Cartoonist in 1963. He was also Editorial Cartoonist and Political Observer in a slew of publications including The Statesman and The Hindu, only to be working as a Freelancer later in his life. OV Vijayan’s cartoons were published in international journals including Far Eastern Economic Review and The New York Times. What made his cartoons more appealing was the judicious mix of philosophy and politics, just like what he had managed to infuse revolution and spirituality into his writings. Among many historic subjects he had dealt with thorough his cartoons, the most memorable out of them all was his sarcastic snide on Indira Gandhi’s excesses and her subsequent returning to power in 1980, which would always remain high points in the annals of Indian cartooning history.
OV Vijayan had won several awards and accolades for his long career. For his Khasakkinte Ithihasa, he received Odakkuzhal award back in 1970, while his third novel, Gurusagaram fetched him three awards: Sahitya Akademi Award, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1990 and the Vayalar Award in the following year. He is also the first recepient of Muttahu Varkey Award in 1992. Besides that OV Vijayan also received the highest literary honour of Kerala, Ezhuthan Puraskaran in 2001. Furthermore, in the same year, the author was made honorary fellow by the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. He won the Government of India award of Padma Bhushan, the third civilian honour in 2003. OV Vijayan received his last award in 2004, which was Mathrubhumi Literary Award, just a year before his death.
Khashak Memorial, video courtesy: Mathrubhumi.
Thasrak in Palakkad, the setting of his novel, Khasakhinte Ithihasam, has been set up as the Memorial of OV Vijayan, initiated by KV Mohan Kumar (IAS), which is now being run under the able guidance of TR Ajayan and other literary luminaries of Palakkad.
Also, an award has been initiated in the memory of the legendary writer, OV Vijayan Sahitya Puraskaran (OV Vijayan Literary Award by the Naveena Samskarika Kala Kendram, Hyderabad as early as 2011, in the memory of OV Vijayan, who spent his sunset years in Maradpally, Secunderabad. The Award carries a cash prize of Rs.50,001, a memento by the famous sculptor of kerala, Kanayi Kunhiraman and a citation. The award is conferred on the best book of a writer during the years. Eminent writers of Kerala such as Sarah Joseph, Zacharia, Vijayalakshmi , B Rajeevan and Usha Kumari were some of the recepients of OV Vijayan Literary award.
O. V. Vijayan (1969). Khasakkinte Itihasam (The Legends of Khasak). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-7130-126-3.
O. V. Vijayan (1985). Dharmapuranam (The Saga of Dharmapuri). DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1987). Gurusagaram (The Infinity of Grace). DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1990). Madhuram Gayathi. DC Books. ASIN B007E5FFA4.
O. V. Vijayan (1993). Pravachakante Vazhi. DC Books. ISBN 9788171302581.
O. V. Vijayan (1997). Thalamurakal (Generations). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-7130-742-5.
O. V. Vijayan (1979). Oru Neenda Rathriyude Ormakkayi (kathakaḷ – Remembering a Long Night – stories). Sāhityapr̲avarttaka Sahakaraṇasaṅghaṃ : National Book Stall.
O. V. Vijayan (2000). O. V. Vijayant̲e Kathakaḷ (Short Stories of Vijayan). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-264-0220-5.
O. V. Vijayan (1985). Asanthi : Rathiyude Kathakal (Unrest: Stories of Lust). DC Books. ISBN 9789386560544.
O. V. Vijayan (1985). Balabodhini: kathakaḷ. Sāhityapr̲avarttaka Sahakaraṇasaṅghaṃ : National Book Stall.
O. V. Vijayan (1988). Kadaltheerathu. DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1989). Kattu Paranja Katha (The Stories Told by the Wind). DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1993). Poothaprabandhavum Mattu Kathakalum (Poothaprabandham and Other Stories). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-7130-279-6.
O. V. Vijayan (1995). Kure Kathabeejangal (kathakaḷ – Stories). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-7130-546-9.
O. V. Vijayan (2000). O. V. Vijayante Kathakal. DC Books. ISBN 978-81-264-0220-5.
O.V. Vijayan (2007). Arakshithavastha (Insecurity). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-264-1471-0.
O. V. Vijayan. Samudrathilekku Vazhithetti Vanna Paralmeen. DC Books.
Collection of Essays
O. V. Vijayan (1987). Oru Sindoora Pottinte Orma. DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1988). Khoshayathrayil Thaniye (Alone in the Procession). DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1988). Vargasamaram Swathwam. DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1988). O. V. Vijayante Kurippukal (Notes). Current Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1989). Ente Charithranewshana Pareekshakal (My Experiments with History). DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1991). Sandehiyude Samvadam. Current Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1998). Haindhavanum Athuhaindhavanum. Current Books.
O. V. Vijayan (2001). Andhanum Akalangal Kaanunnavanum: (lekhanangaḷ – The Blind and The Seer – satirical essays). DC Books. ISBN 978-81-264-0299-1.
O. V. Vijayan (2005). Vargasamaram, Swathwam. DC Books.
O. V. Vijayan (1989). Ithihasathinte Ithihasam. DC Books. ISBN 9788126428779.
O. V. Vijayan (2002). Vijayan: A Cartoonist Remembers. Rupa & Company. ISBN 978-81-7167-883-9.
O. V. Vijayan (2011). Vijayante Kathukal (Vijayan’s Letters). DC Books. ISBN 9788126433254.
O. V. Vijayan (1990). Ithiri Neramboke, Ithiri Darsanam (cartoons). DC Books.
1930-2005., Vijayan, O. V. (2006). Tragic idiom : O.V. Vijayan’s cartoons & notes on India. Kottayam, Kerala: DC Books. ISBN 978-8126412358. OCLC 123377620.
Translations into English
1930-2005., Vijayan, O. V. (1989). After the hanging and other stories. New Delhi, India: Penguin. ISBN 978-0140126174. OCLC 22731313.
O. V. Vijayan (1988). The Saga of Dharmapuri. Penguin Group USA. ISBN 978-0-14-010787-6.
1930-2005., Vijayan, O. V. (1994). The legends of Khasak. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN 9789351180098. OCLC 624323262.
1930-2005., Vijayan, O. V. (1996). The infinity of grace. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140260076. OCLC 36470487.
O. V. Vijayan (1999). Selected Fiction. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-028965-7.
Translations into French
O. V. Vijayan; Dominique Vitalyos (translator) (2004). Les Légendes de Khasak. Fayard. ISBN 978-2-213-61994-1.
O.V. Vijayan: L’Aéroport, transl. from Malayalam by Dominique Vitalyos, Revue Europe, nov-dec. 2002, pp. 236–241
O.V. Vijayan: Les Rochers, translated from English by Valérie Blavignac, Revue Europe avril 2001, pp. 132–138.
Translations into Hindi
O. V. Vijayan (1997). Samudra Thad Par. Translation of “Kadaltheerathu”. Katha. ISBN 978-81-85586-55-7.