Archives

One Part Woman- Perumal Murugan : 4/52 (Translation)

tl;dr : Vyasa- Ambika-Ambalika.

What better way to make a book popular than to demand a ban on it. This isn’t a book that I would have picked up if it hadn’t been for the whole controversy around it. I’m not sure whether I got the sanitised version or the original ‘scandalous’ version of the book. I would have loved to read it in Tamil, but it would have taken me much longer to finish the book and my curiosity got the better of me. But the translation is quite good. And since those of us from Tamilnadu can relate to the overall setup, it worked for me. (Note to self: Stop picturing every book you read as a movie these days)

Kali and Ponnayi are a childless couple living in a society where the taunts, insults and innuendos are free flowing. Help and advice come in many forms to them, some well intentioned, some plain sadistic. Ponna is made to drink bitter infusions made with neem leaves that are handed to her by an ‘auspicious’ widow. (Isn’t neem a contraceptive?) She has men making not-so-subtle suggestions offering their services. She does a Fear Factor level walk on a dangerous rock near a temple to bribe the gods. She is deemed unfit for motherhood because she found the stink of a baby’s feces repulsive. Surprisingly, she isn’t the only one to be ‘blamed’ here. Though Kali is constantly under the pressure to take a second wife, he is also equally taunted for his ‘impotence’. He has everyone from cousins to random neighbours hoping to dip their fingers into his heirless property after his death. More than his love for Ponna, it is the fear of confirming this impotence that doesn’t allow him to marry again. Afterall, it was his ancestors who raped a tribal girl and incurred her curse. Yes. It is a difficult life being childless in such a society in that era. Any society in any era actually.

So what does one do when the gods want more than rooster blood and arrack? What does one do when the gods want more than a dangerous walk around their temple? What does one do when the gods want more than your prayers? You have to look beyond god. You have to look at man. Another man. Do it with him thinking of him as god. Kunti did that, Madri did that. Oh wait. That was vice versa. But anyway. Apparently, the results are guaranteed here. And this is what Ponna’s mother and mother-in-law finally suggest.

Does she do it? On the fourteenth day of the temple festival, that day when all married women above thirty get the sanction of the gods to lay with random strangers and bring forth ‘god’s children’ into the world. Does she do it? Does she manage to look beyond the face of her husband, look beyond her fears, look beyond society’s taunts and find a god to do it with?

Since I was waiting for the ‘controversial’ part, I did not take the time to savour the book as much I should have. The narration went back and forth a lot, sometimes confusing. Characters like the bachelor uncle Nallupayyan who gave the whole drama the much needed sane voice and Muthu, Ponna’s brother, who took Kali to the same temple festival years ago to ‘offer their services’ give you an insight into the hypocrisy of it all. Small but sharp references to the caste equations in that society add a dash of sting. During the build up to the climax, when Ponna sits in the cart looking at the Chakkli man’s baby with so much longing, I hoped that the story would take a more ‘scandalous’ twist. But I was disappointed.

A good book. Not a great book, and in my opinion it was not a shocking book.  But a good book, so read it. If not for anything else, atleast  for the sake of supporting freedom of expression. Because is a thing these days.

‘Whenever I pass a temple, I touch my throat and then touch my lips with my index and middle finger. That is how my two babies were born’ I just remembered someone tweeting that long ago.

And whenever a topic about childlessness comes up, I can’t help but remember We Need to Talk About Kevin. Unrelated to this book, but the thought just crossed my mind.

There are two sequels to this book. Would love to read them soon. Someone please translate.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Reading Challenge Two: The Language Challenge

During the recent controversy about the alleged imposition of Hindi and Sanskrit by the central government, I was mostly on the fence. While I strongly oppose forcefully stuffing anything down our throats, be it rotis or a language, I see absolutely nothing wrong in giving people a choice of languages to learn.The more the better. When I joined school, Hindi as a second language was allowed only for children who had parents with transferable jobs. So I was stuck with Tamil. I started learning Hindi again at the ripe old age of twenty, but by then my brain had shut the gates. Ek gaon mein ek kissan raguthaathaa. It now takes me superhuman effort to read or even compose a single Hindi sentence in my head before I speak and that was one of the main reasons I hated my Noida days.

But in school, I detested Tamil. It was the subject of my nightmares and it was the only subject I actually failed in once. Always having been in the top group of my class, that less-than-40-marks shame is a shame I still haven’t recovered from. I breezed through my tenth standard exams with my cousin reading the chapters out loud to me. The Anglo Indian syllabus was a cakewalk. But I struggled with the State Board for the next two years and I still don’t fully understand how I even got through with respectable marks. Also, that was the phase when Tamil was considered uncool. So in the end, I’ve totally lost out on a language and the rich literature that it offers.

No, it is not that I cannot read Tamil. I read the newspapers and magazines. I read three page long horoscopes every Sani and Guru peyarchi. But I’ve somehow always had a mental block when it came to reading a whole novel or a whole short story or even a blogpost.

2013-12-08 17.02.23

When I was nineteen, I dug into my uncle’s collection and pulled out this book. Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal by Jayakanthan.He shook his head and said that I wasn’t old enough to read it.  Hah. At nineteen? Old fashioned uncle. Now if that taboo wasn’t something to motivate a nineteen year old , what else will. So I took the book home. I even found out what the story is about. Unfortunately, it still languishes on my bookshelf , unread. Later, a crush tried to introduce me to Sujatha and sent me the entire collection in pdf format. But turned out I wasn’t crushed enough and I couldn’t bring myself to read any of those even to impress  him. Even the pulp fiction that I was curious about, I only read the English translations very recently.

 

 

But now, I’ve taken up the challenge.This Aadi perukku, someone referred to Vandiya Devan on Twitter. My mother too, a Ponniyin Selvan junkie usually refers to the book every Aadi perukku. I was surprised to see that so many people, the younger generation, the kidsthesedays, reading this book and making references to it. I feel quite left out. I tried the audio book, it didn’t work for me. The excerpts from the English translation made me scream in frustration.

So I have decided. I’m almost done with my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 52 books in 2014. Probably the only New Year Resolution that I have successfully kept up in my life ever. It is time for a new challenge. Let me take baby steps and start off with the first book of Ponniyin Selvan. Target: Finish it by Dec 2014. And if I finish it earlier, I’m going to treat myself with something sinfully good.

And when I’m done, maybe I will pick up Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal and finish it. And then send a message to my uncle who is up there. I’m old enough now, maama. I was old enough even back then. This isn’t as scandalous. This is 2014, you know. Not the eighteen hundreds.