Posts Tagged ‘Palakkad’

It has been 46 years since a great novel shook up Malayalam literature – so much so that many critics consider that year as the start of a new era in the genre of Malayalam novel. Yes, I am talking about OV Vijayan’s Khasakkinte Ithihaasam. I was in my late teens when I first read the book and I dismissed it offhand as a book with a defeatist attitude. That was my first brush with the Ithihaasam. Then, over the years, something drew me back to it; there was something magical and surreal about it, which kept making me go back to it. Slowly, over my many re-readings, I somehow fell in love with the book and my appreciation of Vijayan grew each time I took up the book.

Vijayan’s imaginary Khasak was modelled after a real village named Thasrak. This village is just about 15 kms from my hometown Chittur, yet I had never visited the place. Vijayan visited and lived in Thasrak for a short time in 1957 and his novel is based on the lore and people of Thasrak. As I planned a trip to Chittur this time, I decided that I must visit Thasrak.

In preparation, I took up the Ithihaasam once again for yet another reading.  As always, it was provided a different reading experience this time too and new gems popped out of the book and delighted me.  The blue veins of Maimuna continued to excite me, the plight of Kuttaadan Poosaary continued to amuse, the fate of Allaapicha Mollaakka continued to haunt, Ravi’s feather like existence was still beyond me, Chandumuthu with her repeated question tugged at some corner of the heart but what stood out for me this time was the scene of Allaapicha Mollaakka making Kunhaamina promise not to join the new school, which he deemed as competition to him. He first makes her take an oath in the name of Sheikh Thangal, the most revered Islamic figure in Khasak’s lore and then, “to seal all holes”, the Mollaakka asks Kunhaamina to swear by Mariamma, a Hindu Goddess. It is expressed beautifully in the novel in Vijayan’s fantastic language.

For many a year, Thasrak and its role in Malayalam literature was forgotten by the authorities. A couple of years ago, they woke up and decided that something ought to be done. They laid siege to the Njattupura (a small building used to store paddy) that Vijayan had lived in when he was in Thasrak. In the novel, Ravi has his school in the Njattupura. The building itself is said to be more than a hundred years old and thankfully, the mud building is preserved as such. However, an eyesore of a gate has been erected and the courtyard paved with interlocking tiles. The net effect of such changes is to subtract from the overall experience and not to enhance it.

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We met an elderly gentleman named Majeed there who takes care of the Njattupura and shows visitors around the place. He told us that he was four years old when Vijayan visited Thasrak and he told us that almost every one of the characters have passed away, except Maimuna who he said, is in Coimbatore. Going by her age in the novel, she must be pretty old now. He was quite helpful and talked about how the times have changed. He said that Vijayan used to sit in the verandah and sketch. I asked him how he felt of a novel being written about his village and his friends and relatives, especially as I had read that some of the locals had been some reservations on how some people were characterised in the novel. His response was that in any story, some embellishments are to be expected and the Ithihaasam should also be viewed from that perspective.

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He took us to the Arabikkulam (a pond) where Sheikh Thangal, the legendary military commander of Khasak, had thrown the heads of his enemies after beheading them. It is completely covered with weeds now and needs to be restored.

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Right next to the pond is the new mosque. We were told that Allaapicha Mollaakka’s mosque had stood at this very site earlier.

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We walked back to the Njattupura and we could see some of the famed palm trees of Khasaak in the distance. Legend has it that the trees bent down so that the tappers didn’t have to climb up the trees to tap them.

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A visit to Thasrak is a fulfilling experience overall, if you have read the novel. The authorities, as always, could have done a much better job at preserving the ambience of a location that is so important to Malayalam. As I left Thasrak, the two images that stuck in my mind were the closed door of the Njattupura and a headless palm tree. They reminded me of the irreparable loss we have suffered as a society – never again would there be a novel like Khasaakkinte Ithihaasam and even more sadly, never again would we have that innocence in our society wherein a Muslim priest makes his student take an oath in the name of a Hindu Goddess or vice versa.

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Note: Khasakkinte Ithihaasam has been translated into English by OV Vijayan himself and is available under the title “The Legends of Khasak”.

21 May 2012

As it often happens, the places that are the closest are often the ones that are farthest! This has been so with me, in the case of Tippu’s Fort which is located at Palakkad. Palakkad is but 15 Kim’s from my hometown, Chittur, but I have never visited the fort after my schooldays; which, admittedly, was way back. So, I had decided that I would make it to the fort this time around when I went to Chittur.

The fort has been restored quite recently and some of the ramparts that had fallen down have been rebuilt. It dates back to medieval times and was renovated by Hyder Ali (Sultan of Mysore) in 1766, when he was invited there by the king of Palakad to help against an invasion threatened by the Zamorin, the king based in Calicut. Hyder took advantage of the opportunity, realizing the strategic significance of Palakkad. The fort changed hands a few times between the British, Hyder Ali and his son, Tippu Sultan till 1790. The British controlled the fort from 1790 onwards and used it as their base. Even today, the fort is known as “Tippu’s fort” even if Tippu held the fort only for a few years and was not the one that built it. When I thought about it, I was happy that there were at least some monuments left as remembrance for this brave and patriotic son of India.

I have felt that Tippu Sultan has often been sidelined and his role in history underplayed, by vested interests. He was one of the very few kings in South India that realised the threat the East India Company and the British posed. His wars with the British have been well chronicled and even though he succumbed in the end, he remained a thorn in the side of the mighty British for many a year and that too when all the rulers of the neighbouring kingdoms had meekly surrendered, out of cowardice and for personal gains. He had the vision of free India and fought for it, ultimately giving his life. As a true hero, he fell in battle, fighting till the very end.

Yet, he is painted as a religious fanatic, one who was only interested in converting Hindus to Islam. No matter that the first sight that greets you as you walk into his fort in Palakkad is a Hanuman temple – one of the most powerful Hindu gods. This temple is a big favourite with devotees even today. It also does not seem to matter that the very famous Srirangam Temple stands within Tippu’s fort and stronghold at Srirangapatnam and I cannot imagine that it would have been a huge effort for him to mow it down. It is obviously of no significance that it was Tippu that sent money to help the Kanchi Mutt after that Hindu monastery was ransacked by the Hindu Maratha rulers. The list goes on and I am just writing what I have seen and heard and by no means am I an expert. I am sure that his armies would have raped and plundered as is the wont of victorious armies but then, which victor has ever held his forces back after a battle? Even today, in our “cultured” ways, the spoils of war go to the victor.

The fort itself stands on a small hill and there is a large moat surrounding it. In my childhood, I had heard stories that only Tippu’s horse could leap over the moat and when I looked at the size of the moat, I realised that it was just that, a story, given the size of the moat.

There is very little water in the moat today and you enter the fort through a small bridge.

The fort itself is very functional and is built with large granite boulders and limestone. It is of rhomboidal shape shape and has seven bastions with very thick walls. There does not seem to have been much effort spent to make it beautiful in any way. At the main entrance, I saw some decorations on the wall above the door and that was pretty much the only decorative piece I saw in the entire fort.

As you enter, on the right, there is a small idol of Hanuman set into the wall. This has now become a very famous temple and there were many devotees even at mid-morning, when we went in. I was not allowed to photograph the temple itself, in keeping with the recent form of intolerance which denies entry to non-Hindus to temples. I also noticed that the temple itself had a “saffronised” look with the imagery and colours used and even with name of Ram, written in Hindi. Perhaps this is a good indication of who controls this temple and I felt one could easily transport this temple to North India and it would fit in there very well.

In the centre of the fort, there are a few buildings and this must have been where the people that stayed in the fort lived. The buildings do not look as old as the fort and must have been constructed during the times of the British. There is a very well maintained lawn with a couple of large trees.

There is also a stepped well on one side of the courtyard and I learnt from the Information Centre that this well was dug later.

The Information Centre is hosted in an interesting stone building with 28 pillars, which was also constructed later. Unfortunately, there is not much information provided about the fort or the battles that were fought there or the people that lived there. There are some photographs of the restoration and of other places of tourist interest in Kerala.

One of the buildings houses a jail and that was of personal interest to me as my father was imprisoned here for two weeks in 1961 when they were agitating for the implementation of the Land Reforms Act in Kerala. I guess the jail must have been in the same old shabby condition even 50 years back.

There is a walkway that takes you around the wall of the fort and there were some good views all around. One could see that the fort offered a very good defensive position. I was quite disappointed that there were no markings or indications of any of the places of interest within the fort or any details provided about its history. There is a small board at the entrance with a few lines on it but that hardly does justice to the place. It was equally disappointing that there was no mention of Tippu or Hyder or anyone else that lived there. But, the people of Palakkad still honour that valiant son who was the first to rise against the British in South India and call it Tippu’s Fort…..