'When the bus came to its final halt in Koomankavu, the place did not seem unfamiliar to Ravi. He had never been there before, but he had seen himself coming to this forlorn outpost beneath the immense canopy of trees, with its dozen shops and shacks raised on piles; he had seen it all in recurrent premonitions – the benign age of the trees, the river bark and roots arched above the earth.'
This is how the legendary writer O. V. Vijayan introduces his protagonist Ravi's arrival at the mythical Khasak in his magnum opus 'Khasakinte Ithihasam' (The Legends of Khasak). But not many know that he drew his inspiration for this sleepy village from his own journey to Thasarak, in Palakkad. A land that even now holds a mystic charm for those who have read the book considered a classic in Malayalam.
I have been to Khasak so many times. But my best experience among them is the one I made on the 43rd anniversary of the birth of the book. The day I entered Thasarak, the sun was gently rising above the palms that stood watch over the fringes of the paddy fields. The bicycles which sped past the cows that lazily grazed along the path carried on them familiar faces. The drivers, who were immersed in the news of the day brought to them by the newspapers, looked up questioningly from inside the autorickshaws parked under the shade of the humongous banyan tree.
I walked on, along the mud path that had once borne Ravi’s footprints. My eyes were searching for the pretty Mymoona. Where must have Appukkili gone? As I carried on along the path vividly described in the Vijayan opus, all that seemed missing were the green vegetation and the rocks that once stood witness to Ravi’s walks.
Where could O V Vijayan’s house be? Pat came the answer from a little girl clad in a nightie. The second house over there. Everyone seems to know that whoever comes to Thasarak comes in search of Ravi. Everyone out there seems to have known and met Vijayan too. The quest seemed incomplete without knowing who all living here had actually been students at the one-teacher school where Vijayan had taught.
I walked on to reach the house where the writer used to stay. Kalappura, is the name of the house that had once been witness to Vijayan creating magic with his characters and language. Kalappura has not seem to have changed much, even after 60 years. The tiled roof that settled on pillars carved in wood brought to the fore the traditional Palakkadan architecture. The wooden pillars, and the doors and windows stood majestic reminding me that this was the shelter that housed Vijayan as he wrote the novel. It is here he had dreamt of Mymoona as she hastened past after a swim in the lotus pond yonder.
The sand spread across the 271/2 half cents of land and the small house that stands on it may have many a tale to narrate to visitors. My quest to learn more helped me find out Kitta, the son of Nagu, who used to be an assistant to Mannattil Raghavan Nair. Nagu, incidentally, was the man who looked after Vijayan’s house. Kitta still remembers the days when he used to accompany his dad when he went on errands at the writer’s house. For Kitta, Vijayan was a man who reclined on a chair and stared at the sky. He never understood what the writer said those days.
Kitta is one of those students who stopped going to school around the time Vijayan’s Kunjaamina swore never to go to the ‘god-forbidden school’. Kitta has never read Khasakinte Ithihasam. In fact, he doesn’t read Malayalam - his visage beamed innocence when he says this.
O V Vijayan had arrived in Thasarak as a schoolmaster to the village where poor farmers worked from dawn to dusk to eke out a living. There aren’t many in Thasarak who have completed school. No one in fact has traveled beyond Thasarak to try their hand at higher education too. Vijayan had been pushed to solitude in a sleepy town where education, or going to school for that matter, never mattered. It was this solitude that made him imagine a village-- Khasak!
Walking on, I met Kunjannan, who was striving to make the fish in the paddy fields bite the bait. Does he know how to sing, I wondered aloud. The response was a song.
“Mungikkozhimungaakkozhi, Mungichakanu pupoocha…”
The 12-year-old fascinated me, as these lines were those scribbled down by Vijayan in his Ithihasam. Even the songs that are sung down to later generations by the aged haven’t changed in this village! Vijayan’s Mymoona lives on in Thasarak as Laila in real life. I walked to Laila’s house and found that she is the daughter of Abdurahman, who once taught religion to the village folk. Laila remembers the days when Vijayan used to whisper into Abdurahman’s ears. Though Vijayan’s Mymoona had enjoyed showing off her bangles, Laila clarifies she never was lucky enough to wear a bangle when she was a kid.
The place where Allappicha Mollakka’s tomb stood is now an open space. This used to be the spot where Nizam Ali used to light incense sticks in honor of Mollakka. The open land has been receiving lifeless bodies to be buried within itself. The practice hasn’t changed. It is here that Vijayan bid goodbye to Mollakka on his final journey.
Appukkili also crossed my path. The little kid who was willing to sit in the front row of the classroom for a bribe of a piece of snack, was roaming around Thanneerpanthal. He is Mohammed Moideen in real life. Thasarak continues to rest in its innocent self that the village waits for all those who come looking for Vijayan’s Appukkili so that they could click a picture.
A visit to Thasarak means traveling back in time. That needs to be seen as adding a few good memories too. What’s more fulfilling than reliving the past without even the aid of a rewind button? As Vijayan has noted:
“The infinite touch of the raindrop. The grass around let out a new sprout. The tender blades continued to sprout from within the hair follicles. Up above, the monsoon shrank to the size of a thumb.”
It has been years since O V Vijayan swept away all history and traveled in search of newer terrain. It was after my eighth jaunt to Thasarak that I sat down to scribble down this piece. Five more years have passed since. More changes might have happened in Thasarak in the past five-year period. However, time hasn’t changed Thasarak much. For those who have or haven’t read Khasakkinte Ithihasam, Thasarak is still a destination that offers the ultimate peace that village life offers.
(This article was first published in Vanitha)