O.V. Vijayan, the quintessential modernist

O. V. Vijayan at an exhibition of his cartoons at Kochi. — Photo: H. Vibhu

O. V. Vijayan at an exhibition of his cartoons at Kochi. — Photo: H. Vibhu  

HYDERABAD, MARCH 30. O.V. Vijayan, who died here this morning, is one of the few writers in Malayalam to lift himself to the rarefied realm of literary icons. That he did so with his iconoclasm might well be an irony. But then, irony has been part of his writing. Indeed, it was a brilliant strategem he used in many of his works with telling effect. And, maybe also in his life. His book Khasakinte Ithihaasam made a legend out of him, a legend that would live in millions of minds both within and outside Malayalam. He was a literary genius with prophetic vision.

Oottupulackal Velukkutty Vijayan burst into the Malayalam literary scene of the late 1960s, writing in a language of his own. It was an intoxicatingly new idiom that held generations of writers who followed him in thrall. It was so intoxicating that he himself could not break free from it in his later writings.

The language of Khasakkinte... transcended the familiar boundaries of literary articulation and even the sensory boundaries of sights, smells and pain. Critics returned to him again and again with whips of all ideological make but, by then, with a single work Vijayan had created for himself a space in the Indian literary world that few could encroach upon.

The mystic charm of Khasakkinte... has been such that Thasrak, the village in interior Palakkad where he located the destiny of Ravi, its protagonist, has become a centre of literary pilgrimage. Reams and reams have been written about Vijayan's `Khasak' and its people. They were a bunch of rustic people who hardly noticed the man who had reached Thasrak to be with his elder sister for a brief while or knew that their village was being made the locale of a literary classic.

Through a window

Vijayan looked at the world from a window, one that was framed by his intensely personal perspective of men, women and matters. Just as he used to look out of the windows of the several police camps where he and his two sisters moved with their father, an officer in the Malabar Special Police (MSP), and his mother. Born premature in the seventh month at his ancestral home in Vilayanchathannur in Palakkad district on July 2, 1930, Vijayan was sickly from childhood and spent most of his time confined to his room. Often, what connected him with the world outside was the window.

As a writer he continued to be intense, but as a commentator he maintained an essential detachment, like someone gazing at the world through the window. The two states of mind found their intense unity at one point, when Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary, snuffing out the `Prague Spring'.

One of Vijayan's major concerns in his later writing has been about individuals who become victims of the systems they create.


His first taste of formal schooling was at the age of 12. He joined the Raja's High School, Kottakkal, in Class 6. He graduated from the Government Victoria College, Palakkad and took his Master's from Presidency College, Madras. His career began with a short stint as tutor at the Malabar Christian College, Calicut, and later at the Government Victoria College there. He gave up the teaching job to join Shanker's Weekly, Delhi, in 1958 as a cartoonist and writer of political satire. He moved to Patriot after five years as staff cartoonist. Later, he was staff cartoonist with The Hindu and The Statesman. His cartoons also appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review and The New York Times.


Philosophy and politics merged in his cartoons, just as revolution and spirituality coalesced in his writings. His concern about the future of humankind, the bold mix of sexuality and politics in his stories and novels, his use of faeces as an imagery to question the banality of politics, and his deep anxiety about the cosmic order, were unique characteristics of a writer who was much more than the sum of his parts. Sex, satire and a deep sorrow marked much of his writing, each being a commentary on the Indian situation. In his inimitable style, Vijayan commented on the Indian situation and the geopolitical skulduggery. Each piece of his was an eye-opener for those who avidly followed his writing and cartooning career. His searing comment on Indira Gandhi's Emergency rule and about her return to power in 1980 would remain high points in the history of Indian cartooning.

Vijayan left Delhi and moved to Hyderabad some years ago after living for a brief while in Kottayam. Suffering from Parkinson's disease, he has not been writing much for the last few years. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Theresa, and son, Madhu.

Vijayan's major works include the novels Khasakinte Ithihasam (The Legend of Khasak, 1969), Dharmapuranam (The Saga of Dharmapuri, 1985), Gurusagaram (Eternity of Grace, 1987), Madhuram Gayathi (1990), Pravachakante Vazhi (The Way of the Prophet, 1992) and Thalamurakal (Generations, 1997). His collections of stories include Vijayante Kathakal (1978), Oru Neenda Rathriyude Ormakkayi (1979), Asanthi (1985), Balabodhini (1985), Kadaltheerathu (1988), Kattu Paranja Katha (1989). His collections of articles include Ghoshayathrayil Thaniye (1987), Sandehiyude Samvadam (1988), Kurippukal (1988), Vargasamaram (1988), Swathwam (1988), Ithihasathinte Ithihasam (1989), Haindavanum Athihaindavanum (1998). A collection of his satirical works is Ente Charithranweshvana Pareekshakal (1987); A collection of his cartoons is Ithiri Nerambokku Ithiri Darshanam (1999).

The following works are translations into English: After The Hanging and Other Stories, The Saga Of Dharmapuri, The Legends of Khasak, Infinity of Grace and O.V. Vijayan: Selected Stories.

Vijayan was conferred the Padmabhushan, the Ezhuthachchan Puraskaram, the Odakkuzhal Award , the Kerala Sahitya Akademi and Central Akademi Awards, the Vayalar Award and the Muttathu Varkey Award.

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