I realize that travels become memorable not just thanks to the places you visit and the people you meet but also because of the books you have been reading on the way. The book that accompanied me on my most recent trip was “Legends of Khasak” by O. V. Vijayan. It managed to totally transport me to a surreal plane. No wonder it is an acclaimed literary masterpiece with a cult-like following of readers. So it is only normal to feel the urge to share a review, warring with serious doubts about one’s ability to be able to do justice to a book like this while attempting to review. Ultimately the desire to review won over, considering the very book in question acknowledges human vulnerabilities, shortcomings. Further contemplation on these lines gently led the doubts away, letting the reflections on the book flow. So here goes. An attempt to share my *thoughts on the book. *Thoughts rather than review seems more apt here.
A wanderer escaping from a past that is ridden with grief, remorse and loss of innocence, arrives at a place called Khasak to begin a single teacher govt school. The wandering protagonist is a melancholic character haunted by stained memories and facing existential crisis.
As he meanders through his days interacting with the dwellers, his very presence unlocks the mystical door to the various lives and legends that inhabit this quaint village, including lice, ants, trees, other beings and their vital connection to the humans.
A village that is a melting pot of diverse cultures, ethics and aesthetics. It is a place drenched in superstitions, folklore, myths, tradition, gossip and both disparity and harmony. Various changes sweep through the village, ranging from new beginnings, ‘new challenging the old’ to disease, slow decay, death and desertion raising a plethora of emotions spanning sorrow, joy, remorse, yearning, innocence and a sense of bonhomie.
The recurrence of the snake, serpent motif in the book was intriguing. Inspired in me an interest to explore the significance of snakes, serpents in world literature, myths, cultures, considering the special place it seems to occupy.
The narrative is delicately interwoven and infused with various point-of-views, metaphors, similes, analogies, mild humour and peppered with some astrophysics too making it a multi-dimensional and nuanced reading experience. The lyrical language with a dream-like quality, engages the senses, adding to the mystical magic and ethereal flavour.
Using a pen dipped in a rich and piquant literary ink the author reveals the differences in ideologies, social structure brimming barely beneath the surface, with the same ease and expertise as he unveils the poignant sameness that permeates the place and binds the quirky denizens together in harmony. It is a book that that will invite multiple re-reads.
To me, the ending and some of the underlying themes carried faint and wispy echoes of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.