Sunday, April 16, 2017

Treading softly at Khasakk : Translating Khasakk into Visual Art - IV

OV Vijayan
The day I read 'Khasakkinthe Ithihaasam' (The Legend of Khasakk), years back when I was a student in high school, I reserved a permanent place for OV Vijayan in my mind. What impressed me was not the author's autobiographical presence or the philosophical skepticism that he had displayed throughout in the novel. Perhaps I was not mature enough to know those nuance at that point of time. But I was impressed by the expanses of landscapes of Palakkad that Vijayan had painted through his crystal clear words that refracted romanticism and sexual desire alike. Vijayan's literary genius worked like an alchemical process in the reader's through the summer soaked land into a golden oasis of dreams, souls and a variety of human dramas.

Book Cover - Khasakkinthe Itihaasam
I never had any interest in travelling when I was in school. I even detested the idea of going from one place to another without being accompanied by friends or family members. I was a happy person of one place, even a limited space. A small room, a table lamp and a diary - these were enough for me to create a world of my own. Besides as a good reader of literature, I could navigate the world from that small room I had for myself in my father's house. The window that opened to the eastern side of the land brought in pleasant visuals, smells, sounds and light. It was not necessary to venture out to learn anything. Everything was there just outside the window. For the first time in my life I felt getting out of that room and going to that place called Khasakk which led inconspicuously at the valley of Chetali Mala (Chetali hills),

Noted literary critic of our times, late Prof. M Krishnan Nair once said that the readers should never meet their beloved writers. He said that because he knew that most of the literary geniuses had the feet of clay and meeting them in contexts where they lamented on the mundanity of daily lives would have put any ardent admirer into utter despair and depression. Whenever I thought of visiting Khasakk and its archetype Thassarack,  in Palakkad,  I remembered Krishnan Nair's words. I was afraid of going there for the simple and plain fear that I would be disappointed to see the actual place which had transformed into a mythical place through alchemy of the writer. Whenever I passed by Palakkad, by train my heart skipped a beat. Whenever I saw the rows of palm trees standing as silhouetted cutouts against expanses of a thin bluish sky, where a full moon shone enticingly, almost giving me visions of the flying ogresses, I thought of Khasakk and the magician who had created it. During my return journey when train touched the station, Kanchikod the first station in north of Palakkad,  (which always happened around seven o'clock in the morning), I thought only of Vijayan and Khasakk. But I never dared to go there, even if I had been to Palakkad after that on couple of occasions. Finally it happened when the Lalitha Kala Akademi invited me for a series of programs in Palakkad and elsewhere. When the artists, the OV Vijayan Memorial and the LKA together announced the dedication of these worlds to the village and Kerala in general, on 30th March, I had missed it. I never knew the occasion to visit the place and the works would come too soon to believe.

Thassarack is in Kinasseri Panchayat. I travel by the LKA Secretary's car. Mani, a young man who knows each and every artist in Kerala and their style of working is the driver. Upon seeing the state's registration plate on the car people look into it curiously only to see me sitting there. Anybody who travels by a state car achieves importance and loses it the moment one gets out of it. It is all about the state, its power and the reverence that the people have for it.

Compound wall of the property
There is the arch gate right in front of me. It was on this gate that Mohan Kumar IAS wanted the artists to make granite reliefs. Now the surface of it is covered by an ugly flex with certain illustrations on it. Definitely this is not what one expects from the gate of Thassarack. Mani, the LKA driver, who has become a friend by now tells me that it was a quick fix arrangement mad for 30th March. We cross the ugly gate and travel by a canal and we take a left. The famous Palakkadan wind comes into the car and with it the spirits of Vijayan's world. I anticipate the village with an anxious heart.
With OV Vijayan at Njattupura

At the entrance of the compound where the Njattupura and the memorial building stand, there is an arch with the relief sculptures of palm trees with snakes, flanking the iron gate that opens towards the inside. Seeing a white ambassador car the neighbours come out. An elderly man ambles in to the compound and opening the door of the memorial hall. My attention primarily falls on the Njattupura. It is here once Vijayan lived and conceived the novel that lived Malayalam literature before-After Khasakk. but I postpone stepping inside for the fear of losing the romance of it.  So I decide to see the sculptures first. The landscape is carefully done with pruned lawns, granite pavements and granite pillars serving the purpose of a running fence. At the front side, along the fence certain agricultural implements are displayed in order to underline the Njattupura relevance in the agricultural economy of the yesteryears. The sculptures are in relief forms. The artists have chosen the imageries from the  novel that had struck them directly. With or without the title a person comes from the Malayali cultural ethos would understand the condensed narratives in the sculptures. The spatial design is done considering the limited space available, yet the feel is of a huge sculpture garden. One gets the feeling that more and more people are going to visit this place now not only because of Khasakk, but also because of the sculpture; together they have created a new magic in the village.

Inside Njattupura with OV Vijayan
The Vijayan Memorial Hall is hastily done it seems. Though there is an auditorium space inside with huge windows on the three  walls, like any other government architecture much of futuristic thinking has not gone into the making of it. Fourteen paintings created by contemporary artists in Kerala are displayed there. Though the LKA has initiated the camp, the works are going to be the property of the Memorial and are to be permanently displayed there. Njattupura has been beckoning me all this while. Finally I walk into that. I remove my footwear at the step and get into the narrow verandah. On the either end of it there are Vijayan's huge portraits clicked by KR Vinayan. The small centre hall of the Njattupura is now converted into an audio visual room with a ten seat capacity and air conditioning. Vijayan related visual materials are to be shown here. On the left side of the hut there is an L-shaped narrow room where many portraits of Vijayan by the same photographer are displayed.  I think the name of the photographer etched on each photograph is unnecessary if not obscene. On the right side in a similar L-shaped narrow room, a few digital prints of Vijayan's cartoons are displayed. The hastiness of arranging all these is palpable. I go and sit down on the floor at the feet of OV Vijayan. Majeed Bhai who acts as a local guide tells me that it was exactly the way Vijayan used to sit there. Even if if is Majeed bhai's imagination speaking, I find it a blessing via him. I am very satisfied.
Thassarack and OV Vijayan Memorial need a bit more attention and a full scale state patronage. Kerala state shell bent on promoting Tourism in state. The state has invested a fortune in the private initiative, Kochi Muziris Biennale only because it brings tourism revenue to the state. But it is high time to rethink the strategy. While Kerala has a potential to attract tourists to any part of it, thanks to its scenic as well as cultural beauty, why the focal point should be only Fort Kochi, where the KMB has set up its show? If the government wants to decentralise its economy, then why should it focus only on Fort Kochi? My suggestion here is this that the government of Kerala should invest its money, energy and vision in Kerala, a culture rich state by decentralising the art activities in each district. This happens not just by making District Tourism Promotion Councils or Galleries in each district. This would be possible only when the state takes its attention off of the art spectacle like biennale that side steps Kerala artists and invests its energies in creating a wonderful environment in which artists would flourish in each district and in turn attract tourists who genuinely want to see something like Kerala art. Tourists do not travel to eat pizzas and McDonalds or KFC in Kerala as they are available in their countries too. Real tourists travel to experience what is exotic to them. Seriously speaking the foreign tourists do not come to see Biennale art as they see similar things in their own country. They should be travelling all over Kerala to experience the rich visual culture of the state. Whats going on today in the name of Biennale is fooling the locals as well as the tourists. For sustainable tourism development government of Kerala should think about decentralising its patronage for art and Thassarack is a good beginning. Let Biennale happen with its own funding and  let Kerala art flourish with the state funding without aesthetical or moral interventions.

(Images courtesy : Internet and Johnyml /Aksharananda)

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