O.V. Vijayan :: Two Fables

From the Malayalam--

O.V. Vijayan (1930 - 2005), an Indian cartoonist, novelist, and short story writer, was a leading figure in Malayalam literature. His novel Legends of Khasak (published in serialized form during the 1960s) is considered one of the greatest novels in Malayalam over the past century.

Why exactly O.V. Vijayan wrote these fabulist micro-pieces is not clear. Perhaps it was inevitable for one who saw the world through two distinct mediums of expression: as a cartoonist, relying on economy and surprise to comment on what he saw, and as a novelist, experimenting with prose and content. Either way, he has left behind a collection of stories that indexes not just India’s transformations since the 1950s but his own journeys that led him away from Communism of the 1950s towards a contemplative life under the guidance of his guru by the 1980s. These short stories were written over a period of three decades that were punctuated by other major literary works, including his singular novel, The Legends of Khasak, which first appeared in a serialized form in the Matrubhumi magazine. In many of these shorts, the narrative strategy appears similar to what one would expect from a master cartoonist: paring down the prose to its essentials, and that which remains is then sharpened further, pregnant with meaning and portent. No excess. The result of this hard-won style is a world as self-contained as it needs to be. The storytelling tone is that of an austere but laconic spirit. There is no laughter for laughter’s sake, but a quiet despondency, perhaps even despair, at the world being what it is. He didn’t write these shorts to fit into a form or tone or style of narration; rather he seems to have enjoyed the freedoms that came from their fragmentary nature. What he has left behind could be classified as social realism, fantasy, obscenity, myths, absurds, or adaptions; pieces that, irrespective of their taxonomy, burst from the menagerie of his mind into the wild world of letters. Some of them work better than others, but in all his primary interest—to see beyond what is visible in the world— shines through.


                                                                                        The Cattle

 “How are cattle born?” The teacher asked.

“When the cattle sprout legs, the cattle are born,” the child replied.

“Wrong,” the teacher said. The teacher recited the following from the textbook, “No one is born as cattle. Instead, first, one gets fifteen years of education, a job, a wife, a car and a television set. Then, in due course, as a child is born, a household is set up.

            “Together, progress is dutifully achieved.

            “Thereafter, horns begin grow on the head.

“Or else,

“They work in a factory or a field.  Or even at a university or an office.

“They labor and struggle against difficulties. 

“Together, they dream up revolutions.

“For all this too, as a reward, horns sprout on the head.      

 Hearing this, the child was overcome with sorrow.

“Is there any way to avoid becoming cattle oneself?” he asked the teacher.

“I don’t know,” replied the teacher as he scratched the tip of his horns.



 The fox walked up to a fruit stall and asked the price of grapes.

“Fifteen rupees for a kilogram,” the shopkeeper replied.

“Will you sell the whole rack for five rupees?”

“No.” the shopkeeper said.

“Six rupees?”


“Six and a half?”


“Six and three quarters?”

“No,” the shopkeeper said.

“Yuck! These grapes are sour!” the fox declared.

Other customers heard that last bit of their conversation. Citing them as expert witnesses, the fruit seller declared to all and sundry that he intended to press charges of defamation and financial losses against the fox. 

Discovering that he had no meaningful recourse or defense, the fox decided to seek refuge inside a collection of Panchatantra fables.


--Translated from the Malayalam by Keerthik Sasidharan

Keerthik Sasidharan, born in Palakkad, southern India, was educated in Canada, and now lives in New York City. His first book is to be published by Aleph Book Company in summer 2017.