Tales of the Palm Grove  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
e-mail: padmajayaraj@sancharnet.in 

May 14, 2006 

Tales of the Palm Grove, according to the director, Abhilash Pillai, drew inspiration from the novel, Khasakkinte Ithihasam, The Legend of Khasak, by O V Vijayan. Vijayan is a cult figure in Kerala and adapting his magnum opus onto the stage is a challenge indeed. The play, a multimedia presentation, is an attempt to find a performance language for the multiple creativity of the novel. The three and half hour play is the collaborative effort of a group of theater students from St Martins, UK and the School of Drama, Thrissur.  

The village of Khasak
"The team went to Thassarath, the prototype of the village of Khasak in Palghat district in Kerala, where the author lived for some time. The landscape, with its geographical features, is transplanted on to the stage," said C S Deepan, project director and design coordinator. 

In an arena theater that forms a round with the audience seated in a semicircle, Khasak, the fictional village immortalized by Vijayan, comes alive. The screen paints animated nature in torrential rains: the tall palms on which the rains drum up music are the eternal guards here. The creatures rejoice in their vitality. It is life in the raw. The play captures the spirit of the novel: lust for life between two mysteries, birth and death. As in the novel, the story unravels through the central character Ravi.  

Ravi, disillusioned with modernity, comes to Khasak to be a lone school teacher in the informal sector. Untouched by modernity, steeped in rural ethos with its joys, fears and angst, the play depicts the saga of the poor. If Ravi is smothered with his existential anguish all the men, women and children of Khasak are in love with life even in penury. They follow a primitive philosophy untouched by the constraints of the ethical.  

Men gnarled by harsh existence, women in love, children playing with the village idiot, and supernatural beings color the land. Ravi starts living here, an outsider observing fantastic characters like Naizam Ali, Maimuna, interacting with Madhavan Nair, and teaching children that include the idiotic Appukili. Severely introspective, Ravi dives into his past. His mind carries layers of sin and guilt. His bed-ridden father, his relationship with his stepmother, and his girl friend, dreaming to build a future with him, haunt his thoughts.  

Meanwhile the village succumbs to a pestilence, smallpox. Ravi gets cured while many die. He becomes an insider by now. In the course of five years, the land with its sensuality sucks him like a quagmire. Finally, he is liberated when bitten by a snake.  

The drama is a reminder of how we have lost our roots and our feel for our environment aglow with legends. The Indian philosophy of life as the consequences of our action and reaction is built into human life in its simplicity and subtlety. A life of contradictions where two rival religious groups, the Hindus and Muslims co-exist has an ironic tinge. 

The stage setting and animation help in introducing some postmodern features. The costume endows an old-world charm. The manipulation of gibberish is a classic stroke.  

Its experimental format gives scope for stylization. The multimedia presentation robs of the human content. The length of the play too is trying for the modern audience. The play lacks the structure of a theatrical text. "Yet it is a good venture in collaborative theater as part of an academic exercise," commented Dr. Vayala Vasudevan Pillai, the former Principal of the School of Drama. 
 

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com