O. V. Vijayan

Guest at the ilb 2003

O. V. Vijayan was born in Palakkad in the southern Indian state of Kerala in 1930. His father was a senior police officer in the Malabar special forces and he grew up in several barracks. Because of his weak health, he did not start school until the age of 12. In 1954 Vijayan graduated with a degree in English and began teaching at various colleges in Kerala until 1958 he moved to Delhi. There he began to earn a living as a journalist and as a political cartoonist, publishing his cartoons on a freelance basis in numerous papers including »The Hindu« and »The Statesman«.

In 1969 O. V. Vijayan published his literary debut, »Khasakkinte Ithihasam« (»The Legends of Kasak«, 1994), which was written in Malayalam, the national language of Kerala. The touching portrayal of the village schoolteacher Ravi in the imaginary setting of Khasak was a significant departure from the realistic narrative style that characterizes his country’s writing. Critics were moved to pronounce the beginnings of a new era. Henceforth, the history of modern literature in Kerala was to be divided into the pre- and the post-Khasak eras. Vijayan has continued to write novels, novellas, short stories and political essays, among them the novel »Dharmapuranam« (1985; »The Saga of Dharmapuri«, 1988), which he translated into English himself, and »Gurusagaram« (1987; »The Infinity of Grace«, 1996), which has received many awards and which he helped to translate.

With »The Saga of Dharmapuri«, Vijayan succesfully came to the attention of the English-language public and press. The novel, which focuses on the suffering of the people of Dharmapuri under their tyrannical president, recounts how Siddharta – not the historic Buddha, but a messianic figure – ends their suffering. Using crude language and black humour, Vijayan described the symbolic fight between the two antagonists. While some Indian critics reproached the novel for its »obscenity« and an »imperialist tendency«, others saw his style as a well-chosen vehicle for protest against the country’s political situation.

The cartonist Vijayan can also be heard in some of his novels. In his memoirs »A Cartoonist Remembers« (2002), he wrote: »An indescribable sadness permeates the reality that I am supposed to describe, but nonetheless the prevealing superstition about my profession requires that I make people laugh.« O. V. Vijayan died after long illness in 2005.

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