Thasrak, a village near Palakkad town, is the fabled land of Khasak, the setting of Malayalam novelist O V Vijayan's masterpiece 'Khasakkinte Ithihasam' (The Legends Of Khasak). A visit here offers a surrealistic experience to anyone who had read the 1969 work, whose publication became a watershed in Malayalam literature. Much change has not taken place to the village road that goes up to Thasrak, when compared to what has been described in Vijayan's novel. Koomankavu, where the main character of the book, Ravi, started his sojourn, is now known as Canal Road. A whiff of beedi smoke that emanates from passing bicyclers could be felt on the road. The tree houses erected on the branches of teak trees are all as narrated in Vijayan's novel. If you take a right turn from there, you reach Ravi's Khasak or Vijayan's Thasrak. From this point, every grain of sand is a character in Vijayan's writings. Time stands still here.
For the ardent fans of Vijayan's works, the road to Thasrak offers a foray into endless dreams, where they fly like broken kites, listening to the tales sung by the breeze and the dark palm trees. Clad in red ochre, the narrow path leads up the hills, down the valleys, on to the road, where they are greeted by the sights and people seen by Ravi - the charming Maimuna, Appukkili, Nisamali and the pond called Arabikkulam.
As you near Thasrak you feel that the place retains its freshness just the way it was scripted by the fingers of the great writer. The impulses of life that pulsate through the stories of Vijayan make the village a living memory.
Vijayan arrived at Thasrak, to be with his sister, and stayed at the farmhouse belonging to Raghavan Nair. The house had tiled roof, a long veranda and three rooms. He rented out one room. Reclining in the easy chair placed in the veranda, the novelist gazed at the pastoral beauty of Thasrak. He discovered a new world among the many people who passed by the portals. The mosque, the paddy fields skirting the pond, the distant grave at the other end of the fields, the green expanse that spread up to Olasseri - all these went into the making of a remarkable story. His realistic depiction of the common people transformed the villagers into living characters -- Allappicha, Appukkili, Nisamali, Kunjamira, Maimuna -- in his story.
The protruding lips, deadpan eyes, the slightly underdeveloped body of Appukkili as described in the novel defies our judgement as to whether he is a child or an adult. So, it is not surprising if one feels each face one comes across in the village makes one wonder whether one has seen it earlier.
The old fences around the house where Vijayan lived have given place to a stone wall. Engraved near the gate is the name plate 'Khassak' written on it. The green lawn in the front, houses the bust of the writer. The roof and the floor of the house have been renovated without harming their traditional charm. The walls of the rooms and veranda are decorated with photographs of the writer and cartoons drawn by him. The tiles, the beams, the slabs and the glass tiles have all been retained in the original form. Old lanterns and the cane sieve used to winnow the paddy are all hung in the front to lend a vintage charm to the house. The central room in which paddy used to be stored has now been converted to a display room where the videos on the author are played. The old barn house thus has turned out to be the O V Vijayan Memorial.
Half an acre of adjacent wild land has been bought to be a part of the memorial, which is likely to grow as a literary tour destination. Three pavilions have been constructed here as part of a beautification drive. They are named after Vijayan's novels, 'Madhuram Gayati', ‘Gurusagaram', and 'Dharmapuranam'. From there, one can see the fumes of incense sticks that burn on the tomb of Naisamali. The land beyond this is private property.
Vijayan had culled out a story out of the life of the locals. The pupils who came to the school here manned by one teacher, their parents, and their innocence and naivety became the background for the famous stories. Just as Vijayan quietly left the place, the school also vanished. Only, the farmhouse, Arabikkulam, the mosque and the characters of his novels remain.
A pilgrimage site
On the eastern side of the farmhouse, a road has been cut to reach the paddy fields. It ends at the Arabikulam mentioned in the novel. The pond in which Maimuna used to immerse herself amongst multicoloured bubbles that twinkled green, blue and yellow in the noon sun and how the maiden with an enigmatic smile flew across Khasak like a warhorse -- all such scenes become vivid as one goes along the path. A new road has been built from the farmhouse to the steps of Kulamkulam. Stone statues of Maimuna and other immortal characters in the novel flank the path.
The memorial trust is now involved in constructing cottages in the half-an-acre plot so that writers can stay. A hall that can accommodate 250 people has already been constructed, but public started to arrive here after the three pavilions were ready. The place now sees more than 100 visitors daily. Without Vijayan, Thasrak would also have remained in oblivion like the other villages in eastern Palakkad.
The O V Vijayan Memorial will endure, just as the memorials for writers in Western countries. It is incidental that Vijayan became the medium to start this tradition for Malayalam literary giants.