Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pyre - Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan is a highly accomplished Tamil writer and one can experience that even through the English translation (by Aniruddhan Vasudevan) - the storytelling and content is superb. It's unfortunate, nay tragic, for our society in this age and time that Perumal Murugan stopped writing after being harassed by Hindutva forces recently citing that the fictional account of an old Hindu practice in his most notable book 'Madhorubhagan' (One part Woman in English translation) was offensive. It's tragic to see such brilliant writing silenced so easily by people who are unbelievably super sensitive (one needs to put them to some tests to measure this level of sensitivity because it's not normal) and unbelievably thick skinned and numb skulled at the same time.
Penguin, Rs. 399, 200 p

'Pyre' starts as a spark and by the time it ends, its a raging fire. I read this in one sitting, a day after watching 'Sairat' another movie with the same theme. A familiar theme in our tolerant, equal and just country. Murugan's own story is a bit like that of the story of 'Pyre'  - his love affair with writing was murdered by all those who were involved. Perhaps they believed that he is not worthy of the writing of that standard.

Pyre then. A young couple Kumaresan and Saroja marry in the city. Kumaresan brings his new bride back to his widowed mother living in the village thinking that she and his other relatives and community will get over the fact that his young wife does not belong to their caste. But the villagers, though living in impoverished and tough conditions themselves, hang on to the idea of caste and  harass and even excommunicate the couple. The girl is constantly harassed over her fair skin and her nature of bewitching the poor boy, and she does not know a moment of peace. Kumaresan hopes to set up a small business and for time to heal these wounds.

His young wife is pregnant soon enough and there is no respite yet. They do not reveal it to the mother yet. One night the boy has to go to the town and come back late. That's when Saroja, out on a nature's call hears the plans of the villagers, to rid the village of her influence before the festival. They are out to kill her and as she pushes herself in desperation into the bush, hoping to hear the sound of Kumaresan's bicycle, one of the killers realises that the bush is dry and they need not find her. If they set it on fire, it will take care of her. As the wood burns intensely around her, like a pyre, Saroja hears the sound of the bicycle unmistakbly. It's an unbelievable end to the story and hits you hard in the gut for the cruelty of it all. It's so cruel that it has to be true.

'Pyre's ending is as heart wrenching an ending as the 'Sairat' ending is. The poor, confused youngsters made the mistake of falling in love, marrying against their caste, perhaps believing that the law is on their side and that the people who grew them will not turn into such monsters. But you have parents and relatives who are worse than your enemies and you wonder how much two kids in love have to undergo. The hardships, their uncertainty, the humiliation, the rejection and finally the feeling that they will never be accepted ever and that the family would rather see them dead than sully their honour. Honour? What honour one may ask but its big for these people, these murderers, who wear it like a badge.

Murugan shifts from the love story in the past to the tragedy in the present and its such seamless storytelling that starts as a small spark and rages into a huge fire. Brilliant stuff.

These are not random stories - this is reality. Just like we think we will not die and bad things don't happen to us, we also wish away this stuff and say, this does not happen in our society. But it does, and all around. Everyday. Both stories are equally horrifying - the book and Murugan's own.

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