Perumal Murugan is a name that will not be familiar to most – although those of my fellow Indians who follow the news a little bit more intensely would have seen the name recently, and for all the wrong reasons. I, too only heard the name last week. On January 11th, an FB friend posted this article with a congratulatory post to the translator (Aniruddhan Vasudevan) who she obviously knew. While the story seemed interesting, the news of the agitations against the book were a little disturbing. ANd all this in the shadow of the global focus on freedom of speech!! I looked up the book, and put it on my ‘to read’ list.
This morning, I learn from the newspaper that Mr Murugan has quit writing!! This increased my resolve to get the book immediately. And both my usual sources, Flipkart and Amazon, had only the e-book, the book itself was out of stock. Since I use the Kindle, I buy e-books from Amazon but could not order it since I lost the credit card which is registered with Amazon a couple of days ago and I have blocked it. The book is out of stock with most sellers, and I am not sure if I should order with some less familiar ones (Crossroads and Bookwagon.com) , who have it available. So it has been a frustrating morning.
The original book (‘Madhorubhagan’) in Tamil, which I unfortunately do not read, was published in 2011. The translation (One part woman) was brought out by Penguin in 2013, because of the critical acclaim that the original book received. The reviews at the time that the translation was out, gave an outline the story and were appreciative of its style and content. I have no way of knowing how many copies were sold, and if the current non-availability is because of the brisk sales. But there were no hiccups or rumbles of any kind. The story I gather, is set in the decade before Independence, and is about a poor, childless couple of a farming community, who go to extraordinary lengths to get a child. And in this context
“Every year, on the fourteenth day of the chariot festival to the androgynous deity on the hill, the rules of all marital contracts are relaxed. Any man is allowed to lie with any woman – a tradition acknowledged as being a socially and divinely sanctioned method of conceiving should a husband be sterile. Ponna’s mother and mother-in-law, in the hope that it is Kali who is the cause of their infertility, suggest the solution of sending her to participate. The resulting anxieties and attendant manipulations challenge the marriage, and alter its course.”
The protests started in mid-2014, and appears to be by those who are protecting the good name of Indian women – read Hindu women!!! Following these protests, Mr Murugan’s publishers stood by him and there were initial voices of support. I am not sure what the exact sequence of events led to the final decision by which a voice has been silenced. And how many more will we silence? Forget the millions that marched on Sunday in Paris to support freedom, which out TV channels covered live, how many have come out to support Mr Murugan?
So, the issues that are of concern
1. The timing of the protests
2. The agenda to (not debate) re-write or trash history
3. That this can happen in Tamilnadu which has had officially aethist party inm power for 5 decades!!
It is for each one of us to reflect and realize that development without freedom will be a heavy price we’ll pay!! Today I can only that I bow my head in shame.
PS: I will post my review of the book as soon as I get my copy