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One Part Woman
Perumal Murugan | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.53 AMFirst published in Tamil as ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010, this heart-stopping tale from Tamil Nadu follows a series of twists in a life of a couple as they seek to conceive a child. Kali is a farmer married to beautiful sensual Ponna. People envy their union. Is Kali impotent, they wonder or is  Ponna barren? The two, beseech gods, undertake pilgrimages and do every penance suggested. Then in the festival of ‘The Chariot’ the wheel of life tumbles forward. Myth and ritual propel Ponna towards a night with a stranger in a forest and a loss that can’t be undone.

(The above review appeared in the Mail Today dated 4 December 2013.)

NOTE: Critically acclaimed writer and thinker, Perumal Murugan made news last week when he declared in a post on Facebook that “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher will live.” He made this statement after facing a sustained and ugly backlash from his community in Thiruchengode, Tamil Nadu, India. At the heart of the controversy is the book mentioned above.

The story, set in Thiruchengode some 100 years ago, agonises over a love of a man for a woman, their desire for a child and their eventual participation in a socio-religious carnival that offers a possibility of impregnation. In 2005 Amol Palekar’s film – Paheli (‘A Riddle’) – raised a similar issue by imaging a Rajasthan folk lore that had a ghost character impregnate a lonely wife. It raised tempers but did not escalate to the level protests against Murugan have grown. 

Clearly, political muscle lent to anti-Madhorubagan protests accounts for the ugliness that the writer is facing now. Silencing and hounding a writer cannot stop memories embedded and encoded in folk tales, songs, poetry, architecture or mythology. Not in Tamil Nadu, not in Rajasthan. It can only highlight how irrational and small minded we can be. Don’t kill the author. Kill prejudice.

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