Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE GOAT THIEF BY PERUMAL MURUGAN: A Review


Reading Perumal Murugan is equivalent to stepping into a flowing river. My first encounter with Murugan is The Goat Thief. It’s a collection of ten short stories translated into English by N. Kalyan Raman. A south Indian by birth, at first I looked at Murugan’s creative universe with some scepticism. I doubted the possibilities of engaging with the noetic realm of the characters to the extent Perumal Murugan does in this collection. The natural and the supernatural could be seen merging in all the stories of the collection. The real meets the surreal also. Every reading and rereading of these stories render them with a meaning unexplored in the earlier attempt. This makes him a versatile writer.

I heard of Perumal Murugan for the first time through a controversy a year ago. The author had written his own obituary following the subversion of his Tamil language novel, translated into English as One Part Woman. The Goat Thief is his first collection of short stories in the English language.

Reading his short stories in The Goat Thief, starting with “The Well” curiosity had the better of me. I was engulfed by the intent to decode signs through which Perumal Murugan may have responded to the time of suppression. However, far from being a propagandist, this South Indian author establishes himself as a major literary artist India has seen.

The translator has approached the text with honesty that springs forth through the lucid yet deep prose. Tamil is supremely a lyrical language. The idiosyncrasies of the source language are not easily transferable into the target language. As Perumal Murugan himself attests, his prose style is “dialect-inflicted”. The stories of The Goat Thief are extremely readable. The tools and strategies successfully employed by the translator are evident.

The publisher also deserves a special mention. Juggernaut Books is revolutionizing Indian publishing scene through their interventions in the digital space through the Juggernaut reading app as well as print publishing in the traditional format. The book I review here is a hardback volume with a cover that speaks through the spaces between the reader and the author. The cover establishes an abstract connection with the text and the landscape that becomes the background of the story in a simplistic way. Juggernaut books also recently published the English translation of the Malayalam novel Enmakaje by Ambikasuthan Mangad translated into English by J Devika as Swarga. Through such attempts where a writer from the peripheral space of national literature, marked as ‘regional language writers’, is foregrounded, translated into a language that the whole of the country understands.

This process is not merely an act of locating artistic equivalence. A different kind of equivalence is also sought through this attempt. The regional woes seek a way to penetrate the psyche and imagination of the nation. This has the impact of healing the wounds of the nation and the pain of its regional subjects. Sharing the concerns and receiving the acknowledgement are part of this healing process. The Goat Thief is also a book that tries to find out how to heal those spirits that are in disharmony with the rules of the society.   

Perumal Murugan locates his stories in the most usual and habitual fields of everyday life. He transforms the 'every day' into the extraordinary through diligent prose as well as audacious creative interference. The Preface to The Goat Thief contains the meaning that Perumal Murugan gives to short fiction. He equates the art of writing short stories with the art of drawing kolams in Tamil culture. 

Every character in this book has uniquely identifiable rhizomatic elements deeply rooted in the culture of the author. For instance, the well from the story by the same name pictures a well that traps an individual. Perumal Murugan beautifully mingles a nightmarish agony with a seemingly everyday activity. However, jumping into a well to take bath is not what one may see in Kerala, for example. The wells here are mostly too deep to jump in. even if the depth is not a challenge, people refrain from such activities. Needless to say, it is a uniquely Tamil event. 

Like stepping into a flowing river, each reading renders these stories with multiple significations. The ripple of the first story is seen through all the others in the collection. The natural and the usual appears in the universe of Perumal Murugan as the supernatural and the unusual. In the short story titled “Musical Chairs” for example, a chair forms the central concern of the story. Through introducing the almost supernatural existence of the chair as someone with a personality, the writer unveils a poignant tale of a married couple. The major themes of the stories serve the purpose of elaborating the lives of those who are in conflict with the mainstream society. 

I can certainly say that this is one of the best short story collections I have read. The Goat Thief may be the best short story collection of the year not just in India. This is the work of a genius.


Buy:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

WHO IS AFRAID OF PRIVATE-BUS OPERATORS?

I would like to bring to your focus two different yet connected issues today.

I came across a newspaper report that instilled memories that were seemingly dead beneath the ashes of time.

It was an April evening. April was summer in Kerala. The late April campus was especially oriented towards the end semester exams and of course, a steaming series of work for a teacher.

It was about five years back. I worked as a Guest Faculty at a reputed institution, back then.

I was coming back home after an especially tiring day at college. The usual bus I took had left from the bus stand at Thalassery at the usual time. I was a bit late that day to reach the bus stand. So I missed that bus.

The reason for that was to be immortalized in my later writing life.

I went to a book fair at Thalassery old bus stand. Books have always been my craze. I bought Edgar Alan Poe’s collection of short stories with a yellowish cover and the title “Penguin Classics” on top of the front cover.

Then I went to the bus stand, I took a bus from the old bus stand. But I was tired and decided to choose bus ride instead.

I was fortunate enough to snatch a back corner seat in the next bus.

I was happy. So I waved to one of the Guest Faculties at the Legal Studies Department when I saw him get on the bus. He was late too. And he had to hang on to the iron bar on top as there were no seats available by the time he got in. I raised my left hand. He smiled and walked towards the front side of the bus.

The bus had already started. I listened to the music I had stored in the memory card of my cell phone. It was good music. I kept music as my constant companion to drown out all my tiredness and fatigue. Music is a good companion.

When the bus left Mambaram, my destination was coming nearer. The next stop was the Jawan Stop. There was a shelter for waiting for the bus on the right side of the road. On the left side of the road were two stationery shops. A few people flocked on the left side of the road to catch the rare buses that go to Chalode, my hometown. Buses to Chalode were rare from Thalassery in those days. I think it continues to be the situation. There are many buses running between Anjarakandy and Thalassery though. Anjarakandy is a junction and small town that sits between Mambaram and Chalode.

I was immersed in the music. I felt heavy with sleep.
Then, with a loud roar, something hit me on my back.
I was knocked forward. I couldn’t breathe.
I saw the metal sheet from the right flank of the bus rip off and dangle from one side.
Quickly it dawned on me that another bus from behind had hit my bus.
How? Why? Would I not be able to reach home in time? What would I tell my folks who are waiting for my arrival?

Something or someone repeated inside my head, “keep breathing… keep breathing….” So I did.

Someone, a human being, this time, asked me, “Are you wounded?” I couldn’t talk. I coughed and tried to nod.

The good people in the bus took me to the nearest hospital. They took my cell phone and called my parents at home. Because I had occupied the back corner seat I was the one most seriously hit.

My parents were in shock. Somehow, they managed to reach the hospital.

The doctor said I had to be operated immediately. The veins and tendons on the left wrist were severed by a piece of sharp glass. All over my face and body were bandages to cover wounds caused by broken glass and iron bars.

“You are fortunate to be alive,” one of the co-passengers who took me to the hospital and waited beside my bed until my parents showed up said. He is a good friend of mine at present. Later that night I discovered that the person was from Chalode too.

My parents spent thousands of rupees of money on my treatment.

My job as a Guest Faculty did not have a medical insurance or provision for applying for leave on a medical emergency. So my superior suggested I quit. I did that happily, as I was contemplating a life with my parents and family, with a less stressful job environment.

That one moment of the accident, that shock, that utter chaos, created something inside my soul—a realization that family is precious.

Then there was the case against the driver of the bus that hit my bus and the claim for insurance. When I came out of the shock and pain of the wounds, I started processing the events that took place on that evening. The bus that hit me was going to Anjarakandy. From there it was to return to Thalassery. The stops between Jawan Stop and Anjarakkandy junction were three or four. The bus that I was in was going to Chalode, through Anjarakandy. The bus that came behind was racing with the bus that I was in, for more passengers, for a few coins more.

When the case against the driver came to court, I met him face-to-face. He had a beard and long hair. He looked as if he was drugged. He said he knew where my house was. He said he wished he could come meet me at the hospital or at home in order to make apologies. He said he didn’t because he was scared of the wrath of my family. I said it’s OK. I realized that the man was also threatening me in a subtle way. He knew my house. He knew that my family lived there. He looked like a maniac. So I decided to drop the charges and leave the matter there. Deep inside I wished he refrained from driving jobs in the future.

Recently, I saw him behind the wheel of a bus named “Prathija” that runs between Thalassery and Chalode. The same man, the same looks, and my mind raced backwards. I shouldn’t have left him like that. If he caused another human being to suffer from his rash driving, I would never be able to forgive myself. 

This craze for meagre economic profit haunts the private bus operators in Kannur. The impact of this madness is borne by the innocent people of the community. These private bus works or their owners never learn their lessons. Many people lose their lives due to bus accidents every day. The government too is blind towards this unabashedly open carnage. I was being lucky on that day. There are many who not as fortunate as I was. Here is an example.

Today, as I went through the pages of Mathrubhumi Daily, a Malayalam newspaper, a similar story hooked me. It was the story of Dilna from Kannur. Dilna underwent a bus accident at a very young age. The bus she was travelling hit a sidewall and the laterite stones fell over her causing her permanent handicap. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t go to school.
A scanned cop of the newspaper report: Courtesy: Mathrubhumi Daily

Her family doesn’t have the money for further treatment. When the insurance was claimed, the company did not release the money saying that the money that was claimed was more than they deserved. Who would teach these rascals the price for human life?

Thank God, Dilna is alive. However, she bears the cross of her wounds throughout, even if she didn’t deserve it.

I feel a guilty conscience when I saw the report. It is the fear of people like me that become the strength for the demons behind wheels racing buses across the streets. I am not worthy of taking up the case of Dilna or any other person. I know someone may feel more confident that I do at the moment. To that someone, I urge, please do something.        

Sunday, August 6, 2017

TAKING ACTION: Motivation

I know that you are a person of immense potential because I believe in the theory that everyone is born equal. I may be wrong. It doesn’t matter. If you want to be the best in your field, be successful. Everyone dreams of success, only a few live it.


You need to take the decisive step, that journey, that phone call, or send that email with your bio-data attached, or see that person face to face in order to make the magic happen. The magic of success is the denominator of all human actions. Momentum creates consistent action and thereby success. Without a move, there is no hope for momentum in life. so taking action is more important than planning action. 

The greatest threat humanity faces is perhaps global warming. As individuals, we face our own version of a cataclysm: non-action. You act when you log into Whatsapp Messenger or Facebook. That’s good action, right? Does it take you anywhere close to where you want to be in the next ten days? If the answer is no, then you know what kind of action I am talking about.

If the job you seek is abroad, away from your family… from your beloved ones… hesitate all you want. At the end, it must be the decision you want to make that must be made. You, not how others influence you, must be the commander of your journey.

Your heart is that of a dreamer. It can take all the challenges in the world. Remember the pains you have gone through in the past… the departure of that family member…Oh…that was painful… wasn’t that? Don’t you remember that humiliating experience with your class teacher? Yet, here you are. Alive and well, wondering if your heart could take it anymore.

Let it burst if that is its fate. What good is a heart that cannot take the pain of a dream coming true?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THE CATALYST CALLED PAIN: Motivation

A connection between your present and future is evident. What we do in the present is paid for in the future. Someone keeps the accounts. Call it the cycle of nature. Therefore, it is important to realise how important it is to live with a mission. Every step counts. What’s your life’s mission? Have you taken your first step?

The process to convert your present into future is automatic. The process to convert future into the success you planned for in the present is not automatic, and requires consistent effort.

Pain is the catalyst that converts the present dream into a future reality.

I am talking about the pain inflicted in the process of fighting for your dreams. Don’t bypass pain. Pain, on the experiential level, is like a book of wisdom.

You must differentiate between the pain of the world and the pain of your mission. Run as much as you want from the pain of the world. But the pain of the mission is yours to experience and learn from. Don’t run from it.

Have you a chance to find that opportunity you always longed for somewhere away from your home? Are you afraid to go in search of your dream job alone? The difference between the successful person and the unsuccessful person is the ability to face the pain in following a dream. All of them experience pain. But when they talk about their efforts their pain seems like a good story that leads to a great ending. “Turn your wounds into wisdom,” said Oprah Winfrey.

Lesson:

The pain in the present could be transformed into fruits of the future.

Have you taken the first step towards your dream? Read about first step here> http://anu-lal.blogspot.com/2017/07/motivation-first-step-rule.html

This Blog Post is in association with BW Books

Sunday, July 23, 2017

MOTIVATION: The First Step Rule

The first step is always the worst step. This is the irony of life. It is our first step that we make some of our greatest mistakes. It is the same step that we learn some of the greatest lessons of life. The first step has the trap of inexperience. It is also the doorway to opportunities.

You either take your first step or perish consumed by inertia or non-action.

What’s your greatest dream? Whatever it is, the moment of achievement is born with the first step. 


The Mr You in the future might be that elegant human being, fully developed, and self-actualized. You are murdering that individual by not taking the first step towards your goal.

After the first step, at least for a couple of days, don’t look back. Don’t think about the past. Don’t recollect the pain. Let’s go back there later. Now, it’s time to arrange our stuff… to look for further opportunities, to take the second step in the journey. Remember, your first step always offers you the possibility to choose the next.

Only the first step blesses you with the miracle of the second step. The hope of the journey belongs to those who stop the postponement of the start. 

Start!

If you don’t know what your first step is, create the first step by writing about your goal.

Non-action is the failure. By taking the first step, you have already defeated failure. Everything else is only lessons for future steps.

LESSON:
The difference between a goal and a daydream is the first step.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

REPETITION: An Old Story

"Champions keep playing until they get it right.” - Billie Jean King
 
In repetition lies the reality of success. Repetition without total commitment and passion is, however, a waste of time.

Often, in classrooms, I give repetitive writing exercises to my students. Most of them would certainly show a tired face or boo my instruction right away. I always take it as a good occasion to tell them the significance of repeating words and sentences on paper.

I unveiled the same measure in an English Literature classroom about six months ago.
I saw the tired faces. I saw the silent frustration and the booing from the backbench.

“All great writers did this exercise. This is the rhythm of creation. Write, repeat… write, repeat.” I sing sang my words into that chaos of conflicting interests in front of me. 

“Didn’t you get the reason why I want you people to do this?” I asked.

“No,” they said. “Why do we care?”

I looked into their faces. Innocent, yet affirmative. I thought, why on earth did I become a teacher!

What they said was their honest response. However, their words were sharp. It hurt the teacher in me… or should I say the ego of the teacher in me?

“Sir, do you have any printed notes for us?” suddenly, someone stood up and saved me from the state of embarrassment. 

“Why do you want printed notes?” I enquired, a little frustrated because, in the previous class, I had told them that by doing the classroom assignments they’d be able to answer all question in their examinations. There need not be any note-giving in this class. They simply did not need it, I had arrogantly concluded.

It was a girl student named B. I had thought that she was saving me from the embarrassment of facing the earlier response of the students. But it was clear now that she was only stabbing me behind my back.

“Printed notes are for losers,” I said aloud. “They will destroy your ability to think and write for yourself. Write. Find your own voice.”

“Sir,” the girl student who sat next to B, named F stood up. 
“Yes,” I looked at her, regretting that I shouted, perhaps unnecessarily, at my good student B.
F looked around and asked hesitantly, “Can you dictate those printed notes for us, then? We will write it down in our notebooks.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

ACTOR DILEEP: When the Mob Dictates the Punishment

Events like what has transpired in the previous few weeks related to the arrest of Actor Dileep used to be rare in Kerala society about a couple of decades ago. With the growth in visual media and the arrival of digital media, the news has metamorphosed into a show. If it’s a show, there must be a director. Who is the direction of this grand show?

The police have taken actor Dileep to various places for evidence collection. Various media reported that mobs have chased the crew with angry slogans. Perhaps, this is the bottom end of the mountain of showbiz looks like. It’s a deep bottom filled with dark irony.

The value of any actor in Malayalam cinema is based on the number people who cheer for him or her. This is the same criteria for much of Indian cinema. The irony is that the same number of people make a mob that pursue someone, whatever the reason is.

When a mob dictates punishment, the potential to postpone justice for the given culture increases. We have seen the same in Northern states where mobs kill individuals in the name of caste, keeping beef, or stealing money. We are a republic, a civilised society, with our very own judicial system. When a mob conceives the right to deliver punishment, the system breaks down.

Actor Dileep is accused of conspiring to assault and rape an actor. Let the judiciary decide what punishment it thinks relevant this man is to be delivered to. Let the trials happen.

A group of people seems to win any argument in Kerala. Various groups have wiped out many murders, political or apolitical. This must change.

Crimes are abominable. Every crime is. The system must be able to prevent each of these crimes. If the system fails to prevent crimes from happening, if the system fails to instil in the subjects of a state the security and confidence it deserves, then people will rise up and take the necessary measures to prevent future crimes by committing more crimes. They will also take revenge against crimes that were left unchecked in the past.

The mob eruption in the actor assault case has a historicity. The culture has a history of many such cases where women were assaulted and the culprits remained either unpunished or found ways to dilute the punishment by playing the judiciary. For example, the Soumya murder case.

When the society fails to win the trust of its subjects, the culture rises up against the social system. One of the many reasons for the presence of these large mobs in the actor issue is due to such a failure of the society. Mob justice is not a solution. It’s a problem.

When a woman is assaulted, we must take part actively in relocating our priorities through bringing the discussion to the forefront of the society. However, a group of people, under a flag or a label, should not be lead to demolish properties or kill other people in the name of justice. We cannot all be criminals. Criminals should be punished. But by punishing them, we cannot afford to lose our sense of justice. That would bring total disaster to the thin line that separates justice and injustice.   
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