While ‘Pyre’, which has been translated into English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan Tr., the author stresses that the country boasts of a wealth of literature in different languages and translation ascertains that it goes to different parts of the world…reports Sukant Deepak
Author, poet and literary chronicler Perumal Murugan, whose novel ‘Pyre’, (published in English by Penguin), which was recently longlisted for the prestigious International Booker Prize-2023 is delighted that a story he wrote taking place in a corner of Tamil Nadu has reached across the globe, and longlisted for a major award.
“This helps me develop faith about my view of life, and the process of writing,” the author, who writes in Tamil and has to his credit 10 novels, five collections of short stories, and four anthologies of poetry, tells.
While ‘Pyre’, which has been translated into English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan Tr., the author stresses that the country boasts of a wealth of literature in different languages and translation ascertains that it goes to different parts of the world.
“The translation movement which emerged after the year 2000 has made our languages and life relevant to others too. In translation, our works establish that we are equal in all respects. What has just come is not enough. We have a great treasure with us. Much of it needs to be translated,” he says.
With Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilak, who won The Booker Prize in 2022 (‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’), Geetanjali Shree winning the International Booker Prize in 2022 (‘Tombs of Sand’), and now with him being longlisted, is the world finally waking up to contemporary Asian writers? Murugan feels the literary attention on the life, culture, and politics of Asian countries has grown.
“It is only recently that the world seemed to have realised that Asian languages have the potential to make substantial contributions. People across countries are experiencing our literary outlook, writing styles, and life events. Globalisation is an important factor that has facilitated this. It had made translations possible,” he asserts.
The writer made international headlines after his book ‘One Part Woman’, published in 2010 and translated into English in 2013 faced a lawsuit filed against him by caste-based groups accusing him of hurting their religious sentiments, and he declared on his Facebook page: “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.”
However, in 2015, the Madras High Court dismissed the case against him. In an epilogue, the bench called on the author to start writing again: “Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.”
Murugan admits that the impact of the Madhoru Paagan controversy continues in some ways and he is still not comfortable going to his hometown. He knows there is a reluctance to invite him to literary events in the region.
“Such problems are bound to continue. I only wish to continue, without recalling those days. I remain silent when someone speaks to me about it. I avoid responding to any questions on it. I train my heart to treat the experience as a nightmare — a terrible dream.”
Adding what his writing has ‘changed’ after the controversy, he says, “There is a hesitation when it comes to writing about issues of caste. Even when I do, I use references. I reject this world and create an asuraloka (the world of demons) and use it as a background for my work. How many changes are there!”
Someone whose works have abundant references to different Indian rituals and cultures, he feels they carry a great history.
“If only one could find a way to navigate through them, there are innumerable sources of creativity there. But it is also important to remember that several rituals and customs of Indians are caste-based and superstitious.”
The author feels that caste-based discrimination becoming political is a positive development. Believing for caste to be annihilated, its various faces need to be exposed, he says, “The politics of 20th century in Tamil Nadu was based on caste. Periyar, the leader of the Dravidian movement, spoke on the basis of Brahmins and non-Brahmins, focusing on caste. It was also on this basis, that reservation came into being, in the social justice system. Members of a caste were able to access education and participate in power. Dalit politics in the 1990s was also based on caste. The impact has brought about some good effects. I think the first condition for the abolition of caste is that it had to be politicised.”
His writing process starts with constructing the work in his mind. How long will it take and under what circumstances will it be completed is not something that is very ‘clear’.
“If I have time and solitude after the competition of work in my mind, I take some months and write it. Mornings are best for me to write. After completing the first draft, I take a break and go back to make corrections just once. That’s it.”
While there are many fraternal languages in the Dravidian language family, he regrets that not enough is done in terms of literary transactions.
“Many works of Malayalam, adjacent to Tamil Nadu, have been translated into Tamil. But not many works from Tamil into Malayalam. Tamil language works have hardly been translated into North Indian languages. I really wish for more translation between Indian languages,” says the author, whose novel ‘Pookuzhi’ will soon be adapted into a film.
“While the director has written the screenplay. I am working on the dialogues. After this, I plan to write some short stories. This year, I am also planning to write another novel,” he concludes.
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