Perumal Murugan at Kerala Literature Festival, Kozhikode, February 2018
|Notable works||Madhorubagan (novel) Saathiyum Naanum (novel)|
Perumal Murugan is an Indian author, scholar and literary chronicler who writes novels in Tamil. He has written six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry to his credit. Three of his novels have been translated into English: Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005, Current Show and One Part Woman. He was a professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College in Namakkal.
Life and education
Perumal Murugan was born in 1966 to a family of farmers who had small land holdings near Thiruchengodu, a town in northern Kongunadu. His father, a farmer, supplemented the family's income by running a soda shop in a cinema theatre in Thiruchengode. Murugan began writing from an early age, and some of his early lyrics for children's songs were featured on programmes broadcast by the All India Radio.
Murugan initially studied Tamil literature both as an undergraduate, in Erode and as a postgraduate in Coimbatore. He went on to obtain an M. Phil. from Madras University in Tamil studies, and followed by a Ph.D. His doctoral thesis focused on the works of Kongu author R. Shanmugasundaram.
As a professor of Tamil literature, Murugan has made several contributions to research and academic study of Tamil literature specific to the Kongunadu region, including building a lexicon of words, idioms and phrases special to Kongunadu. He has also extensively researched and documented Kongu folklore, especially the ballads on Annamar Sami, a pair of folk deities. In addition, Murugan has worked on publishing authoritative editions of classical Tamil texts. He has also republished works of literature relating to the Kongu region. One commentator notes that "In sum, his over 35 books provide a veritable cultural map of the Kongu region." Murugan taught as professor of Tamil at the Government Arts College in Namakkal. but was forced to leave Namakkal following assaults and protests by right-wing Hindu and caste groups, and now heads the department of Tamil literature at a government college in Attur, Tamil Nadu. In between, he briefly taught at the Presidency College in Chennai.
Literary Career and Works
Murugan is the author of ten novels, and five collections each of short stories and poems, as well as ten books of non-fiction relating to language and literature, in addition to editing several fiction and non-fiction anthologies. Several of his novels have been translated into English, including Seasons of the Palm and Current Show. He has also written a memoir, Nizhal Mutrattu Ninaivugal (2013).
Murugan began his writing career by publishing several short stories in the Tamil journal, Manavosai between 1988 and 1991. These stories were later collected and published in a book titled Thiruchengodu (1994). His first novel, Eru Veyyil ('Rising Heat') was published in 1991, and dealt with the problems that a family faced when their land was acquired for the construction of a housing colony, engaging with themes of family, greed, and corruption. His second novel, Nizhal Mutram (1993), translated into English by V Geetha as Current Show (Tara Books, 2004), drew from his personal experience of helping his father run a soda stall in a cinema theatre.
Murugan's third novel, described by the translator and critic N. Kalyan Raman as a 'tour de force' was titled Koolamadari (2000), and was translated by V Geetha as Seasons of the Palm (Tara Books, 2004). The book dealt with the life and travails of its protagonist, Koolaiyan, a young goatherd of the Chakkili caste, who was bonded to work in a Gounder caste family to repay his father's debts. The book dealt with themes of childhood, autonomy, and freedom.
His next novel, Kanganam (Resolve, 2008) dealt with the consequences of sex-selective abortions and female foeticide that caused a skewed sex ratio in the Kongunadu region. It focuses on the protagonist, Marimuthu, unmarried because of the scarcity of women within his caste and society. His novel, Madhurobhagan (2010) translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan as One Part Woman (Penguin, 2013) dealt with a young childless couple struggling within their marriage, drawing specifically from the community and culture of the Kongunadu region.
One Part Woman is a novel based on a possible ancient cultural practice among people living around Tiruchengode, written by Perumal Murugan. According to historian Romila Thapar, it is the story of a childless couple with a strong desire of having a child, "depicted with admirable sensitivity, anguish and gentleness". Published by Penguin Books, the novel was originally written in Tamil under the name Madhorubagan and then later translated in English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan as One Part Woman. Aniruddhan Vasudevan was awarded Sahitya Akademi Translation Award (2016) for this book. The book was also included in the longlist for the 2018 National Book Award in the "Translated Literature" category.
His latest novel, Aalandap Patchi (The Misanthropic Bird, 2013) again engages with the themes of land, family, and caste in the Kongunadu region, focusing on a young man cast out by his family who struggles with migration, exile, and livelihood. Recently, his novel Pookkuzhi (Pyre) has been translated to English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, as well.
In 2017, an anthology of Perumal Murugan’s poems, Mayanathil Nitkum Maram (A Tree that Stands in the Crematorium) was published, containing his four previous collections of poetry: Nigazh Uravu, Gomuki Nadhikarai Koozhaangal, Neer Midakkum Kanngal and Velli Shani Bhudhan Nyayaru Vzhyayan Chevvai.
Controversy surrounding Madhorubhagan ('One Part Woman')
Murugan's fifth novel Madhorubhagan (translated as 'One Part Woman') was set in his native town of Thiruchengode, and dealt with a couple, Kali and Ponna, who were the subject of social stigma and humiliation for their inability to have a child. The novel portrays their eventual participation in a chariot festival to honour the god Ardhanareeshwara, during which, for one night every year, the local community in the novel relaxed taboos and allowed free relations between men and women. The novel was published in 2010 and was well-received, but began to attract controversy in 2014 after local caste-based and religious Hindu groups objected to the fictional portrayal of traditions at the Ardhanareeswarar Temple in Tiruchengode, where the eponymous presiding deity is part-Shiva and part-Parvati in one idol. The Tamil title of the book, Madhorubagan, is a translation of the name of the deity (Ardha-naree-eswarar), just as the English title, One Part Woman, is an allusion to the deity's form. The protest by some outfits were continued by the local units even after they lost momentum at the state level.
Protests were eventually called off after the local police summoned the protesters and Murugan for a 'peace talk' and compelled him to sign an " “unconditional apology” and withdraw all copies of the novel. Murugan in January 2015 announced that he was giving up writing, and said on his Facebook page that "Perumal Murugan the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself. He also has no faith in rebirth. An ordinary teacher, he will live as P. Murugan. Leave him alone."
A series of litigation and suits concerning One Part Woman were instituted before the Madras High Court, and on 5 July 2016 the Madras High Court dismissed the case under citing Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, ruled that there was no binding force or obligation in the previous state intervention that forced him to apologise and withdraw the books. The court further directed the state to provide appropriate protection when artistic or literary people come under attack, and to form an expert body to help guide the police and local administration to develop sensitivity to the issues involved. Following this judgment, Murugan returned to his literary career with a collection of poetry.
Awards and Prizes
- In 2005, Perumal Murugan's novel Seasons of the Palm was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize.
- In 2017, the English translation of Murugan's novel Madhorubhagan, or One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, won the Sahitya Akademi's Translation Prize.
- Raman, N. Kalyan (1 December 2013). "Boats Against The Current: The Kongunadu novels of Perumal Murugan". Caravan Magazine. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
- "Perumal Murugan". Penguin Books of India.
- Rajendran, S. P. (10 July 2016). "Tamilnadu: Writers Condemn Burning of Tamil Novel by Hindutva Outfits". Peoples Democracy. 40 (28).
- "Boats Against the Current". The Caravan. 2013-12-29. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- Venkatachalapathy, A. R. "In defence of the chronicler of Kongu". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- "'Perumal Murugan was asked to exile himself by police'". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- "Tamil writer Perumal Murugan breaks his silence, will return with 200 poems". The Indian Express. 2016-08-22. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- "Hounded Tamil Author Perumal Murugan Set to Join New College Posting Away From Home". NDTV.com. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- Thapar, Romila (2015-03-13). "The real reasons for hurt sentiments". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-04-20.
- Kolappan, B (2017-04-19). "One Part Woman bags Sahitya Akademi award". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-04-20.
- "Akademi award for translation of Perumal book". The Indian Express. 2017-04-19. Retrieved 2017-04-20.
- "The 2018 National Book Awards Longlist: Translated Literature". The New Yorker. 12 September 2018. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
- Srilata, K. "Perumal Murugan: The Before and the After". thewire.in. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- Bhatia, Gautam. "The fault in our speech". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- "Perumal Murugan quits writing". The Hindu. 14 January 2015. Retrieved 2016-07-13.
- "HC relief for Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, court pulls up state govt". The Deccan Chronicle. 5 July 2016. Retrieved 2016-07-13.
- "Perumal MuruganSangam House | Sangam House". www.sangamhouse.org. Retrieved 2017-05-23.
- People are looking to settle scores with me: Perumal Murugan, The Hindu, 12 January 2015
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