Let’s all have sex. Let’s all have sex all day. Now that I have your attention may I request you to hold your libido in check while we discuss forbidden literature? To those offended please accept my most sincere apologies for having resorted to this cheap trick but I wanted to titillate the attention of the cheapest and the narrowest minded to read this... and that seems to be the dominant majority amongst us. Two days ago my copy of One Part Woman arrived. I ordered it online the day Perumal Murugan announced that he was withdrawing all his books and that he was giving up his life as a writer. The little I could do to show my solidarity with the "departed" author and to hit out at his detractors was to order the very same book that spelt death to its creator.
I have started reading One Part Woman and aside from the principle of owning the book, I am actually liking, the reading of it. It has the earthy feel of vernacular in a language that I understand - English. It draws pictures that I can relate to. The tree that the son-in-law plants in his father-in-law’s barren courtyard is foliage, today alien to a metropolitan setting. Yet, the narrow mindedness of those whose fickle prestige is dependent on how fiction is written, points to the spreading paucity of intellectual fecundity. And that has resulted in the tree of Perumal being pruned. My question to those who have even a toehold grasp of literature is why should we allow the unlettered to get away with this? Here is our Je suis Perumal moment, here is our instance to be One Part Woman but we keep quiet. No blood has flown but a soul is dead. No guns have barked but a pen silenced.
Compared to years past there is an ever increasing number of people who can read but statistics do not take into account those who cannot understand or rather those who remain intrinsically uneducated. Sadly the march of civilisation, I use the word loosely, and the spread of requisite literacy has far swamped the need for ethical education. Millions have the letters but their minds remain uninitiated, their beings have not evolved, their inner eye not opened, they still rummage in the sink holes of petty platitudes. Not "su-shiksha" not "a-shiksha" but we are facing the wrath of "ku-shiksha".
A novelist sets his plot in a familiar locale so it is natural for the Perumals to write about people and culture that he is familiar with. This Perumal for instance did not write the official history of his people, he did not write an ethnological report – all he did was create fiction. A plot needs friction in fiction and the fiction writer is allowed to give his characters whatever colouring he wants. If a reader disagrees all the reader, need do, is not read the book/books. If a reader inadvertently finishes reading a book before realising that it is disagreeable, then there is no need to vomit venom on the author, just make it a point, to not read any other book by the same person… because that is how civilised, educated cultures behave. And that is how market economy works – more the number of people not wanting to buy and read a particular writer’s books sooner the eventual demise and obliteration of the culprit author as an author. But in our misguided society of expanding literacy the "offended" reader thinks it is socially acceptable to threaten physical harm to the "offender" – the person of the author.
I wonder what will happen to literary traditions if those baying for the blood of Perumals are allowed to spread. If by their logic - highlighting even one negative aspect of any culture should not be allowed then soon we will be reading literature that is mass censored, intellectually shallow and brainlessly stereotyped. No writer will want to write about the ills that ail society because the lowest common denominator might feel that their traditionally fragile toes are being stepped upon.
Idealistic novelists and their irascible dissenters have always existed, what is alarming is that the system does nothing to keep in check the ill mannered and the uncouth. What is upsetting is that we don’t have the gumption to wear T-shirts that announce "I am Perumal". What is intimidating is that an environment is being created where louts flourish and free thinkers attacked.
Perumal Murugan is dead - long live Perumal Murugan.
Now if it does not hurt anybodies culture lets go back to sex. Let’s all have sex. Let’s all have sex all day… lets procreate like rabbits since our brains are evolving to shrink to that particular size anyways.