It was 50 years ago that noted writer OV Vijayan conducted the first public reading of his Malayalam masterpiece, The Legends of Khasak, in Delhi’s Kerala Club. A book that revolutionised Malayalam fiction by putting forward the story of an under graduate dropout Ravi — Vijayan’s lead protagonist — who after having an affair with his stepmother is ridden with guilt and tries to find life’s meaning in Khasak, a small hamlet near Palakkad in Kerala. What made the novel brilliant was the juxtaposition of myth and reality, something that was unprecedented in Malayalam literature back then.
Photographer Manoj D read Vijayan’s book 20 years ago and couldn’t forget, the stories it told and the spaces it was set in. “Ten years after I read The Legends of Khasak, I went looking for the place that charged Vijayan sir’s imagination. I found Thasarak instead, about 10 km away from Palakkad, Kerala. On my first trip to Thasarak, I could trace the scenes from the novel; pretty much as the author intended. But as I frequented the place, over the years, I noticed that we were losing the background that inspired the novel. The balance was being upset,” says Manoj, who decided to document The Legends of Khasak through his travels to Thasarak and interpret everything through pictorial representation.
The photos weave their way through the landmarks and landscapes that have come together in the exhibition titled “Karma Paramparayile Kannikal”, which can be roughly translated as “What Remains of the Deeds of Generations”. What’s also apt is that Manoj has chosen Kerala Club, located in Connaught Place, for the exhibition.
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The photographs show us pillars and locks, those of the njattupura (a room that is used to store grain), which Ravi, the protagonist, converts to use as a school. In the novel, the room is used in its entirety, personifying its walls and pillars and in front of it is a tree. On one of his trips he found that the tree was gone, “That was the first time I saw that we were starting to lose portions. It was a combination of the loss and my adulation for Vijayan sir that inspired me to document the book,” says Manoj.
Vijayan used nature, liberally, in his novel. Ravi’s mood and emotions are frequently mirrored in the imposing karimpana, a type of palm found in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. “I believe that the writer found that karimpana changes in form and appearance depending on the time of day and season,” says Manoj.
The exhibition is the photographers’ first and has travelled widely in Kerala before coming to Delhi. He intends to follow up his one-of-a-kind experiment by traversing the length of Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s work. “I’m from Vaikom, so it should have been first, but The Legends of Khasak is a more personal experience for me,” says Manoj.