Monday, December 19, 2016

One Part Woman - Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan is one of contemporary India's leading regional language writers. He was in the news in 2015 for all the wrong reasons (but thankfully for me, I discovered him because of that so all publicity is good publicity) when some super sensitive cultural elements created a controversy over his book Maadhorubagan worried that it was blasphemous.  The weak spined district administration took the easy way out by picking on Murugan and asking him to apologise (or something to that effect) to appease the cultural bullies. One Part Woman is a translation of that book.

The lecturer at Government Arts College, Namakkal has six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry to his credit. Three of his novels have been translated to English and I had the privilege of reading one of them - Pyre - translated by  Aniruddhan Vasudevan just as this one is. Murugan knows his landscape well and brings it to life. Now, he has started writing poetry. In a recent interview he said that he feels there is a censor inside him. Perumal Murugan is one of the people I wish to meet sometime.

Kali and Ponna are a couple living in a small village. They are happily married and all is well except for one thing - they do not have children. Kali and Ponna face the quiet pain of childless people, the digs from known and unknown people, the frustration, the prayers. Nothing happens despite the severest of practices. That is when the mother and mother in law conspire and come up with an idea - on the prescribed day of the chariot festival of the deity of Maadhorubhagan, there is a custom where random men and women were allowed to consensually participate. Childless women were known to have been approached by gods who gave them children. Kali is completely against the idea. Ponna hates the idea of being childless even more (which may lead to Kali taking another woman as his wife) - but she will not go against Kali's wishes. Will the conspiracy of the family come good? Will Ponna go to the festival of Maadhorubaagan and be blessed by a god?

If the story itself is interestingly written and sensitively shows the predicament of a childless couple and the many sufferings they have to go through, we also have to deal with the story outside. We have a hypocritical bunch and a weak livered administration sitting judgment over something they have absolutely no right to comment on. In fact I feel that if a person wants to counter a writing, he must also do it in writing. One cannot go to a sword fight with a cannon - he must go with a sword. But we specialise in encouraging goons to frequently threaten and beat up sensitive people who fight with different weapons - the pen, the brush. Now if you have the muscle power one should go and use it where they have people similarly armed. Fight the mafia for instance, or the terrorists. It's like taking candy from a child - but if you want to fight come to the debate, state your argument and defend it. Defend the debauchery in the classics, of the gods. Ironically the Mahabharatha would not pass the current day censor with its string of culturally sensitive relationships.

The book somehow did not hold the energy of 'The Pyre' and I don't know if the translation lost some of the original's meaning or essence. But even then, as a story it holds. Murugan knows his land, his people, his history and its customs. It comes unadulterated, fresh as rain soaked mud or cow dung. Rarely do we see such rootedness and that's one reason why he is so celebrated. 

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