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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Perumal Murugan’s debut novel out in English after nearly 30 years. An excerpt

The work bears everything, including commentary on caste politics, which the author will come to know of, later

By: Lifestyle Desk | New Delhi | Published: July 10, 2020 12:16:46 pm
Titled Rising Heat, it has been translated by Janani Kannan and published by Penguin Random House India. (Source: Penguin Random House India)

Way back in 1991, 25-year-old Perumal Murugan had created a stir in the Tamil literary circles with his debut, Eru Veyyil. The story centers around a family in rural Tamil Nadu that undergoes change once the state takes ownership of their farmlands. The roots of the story are autobiographical, and the work bears everything, including commentary on caste politics, which the author will come to know of, later.

Now, the book is finally available in English to be read by a wider audience. Titled Rising Heat, it has been translated by Janani Kannan and published by Penguin Random House India.

Here’s an excerpt. 

It was an ungodly hour. Must have been twelve or one at night. There was a knocking on the door. Appa would wake up to the smallest sound. He got up and opened the door. It was Thatha and Paati. ‘Amma . . .!’ he burst out in disbelief and everyone woke up then.

The two of them were standing drenched to their bones and shivering like fledglings. Thatha was shedding more tears than the water on his back. ‘Payya . . . look at what I’m reduced to! We came running all the way with just the clothes on our back.’ Appa didn’t say anything. He held his father by the hand, brought him indoors and gave him a towel to dry himself with and a veshti to change into. Paati changed into another sari. They still could not grasp what had happened. Thatha could not speak at all. He was sobbing and stammering.

And seemed very agitated. He then cupped his cheeks and sat quietly, resting his elbows on his legs. Paati was the one who told them what had happened, little by little. It had been pouring for the last four days. Even though it went down to a drizzle occasionally, the rain never let up completely. If one stepped out thinking it was just a light rain, it became a dense downpour in an instant. The roads were all covered in mire. No matter which direction one turned to, it was wet all around. Nothing much was getting done.

People still rushed to work with umbrellas and upturned wicker baskets. The lake that lay dried up and barren woke up suddenly from its slumber. But this rain definitely couldn’t fill the lake. And even if it did, the water wouldn’t come as far as their backyard. It was a very remote spot that used to be under cultivation earlier. If the lake got filled up, this region got just a little wet. That’s why they had built a
platform there and put the shed over the platform. There was a two-foot high pile of sand that was above land level. No one expected the water to reach the shed. Thatha and Paati had put their cots indoors and gone to sleep.

Even though it had rained for three days continuously, they knew that the lake was not even a quarter full. Paati woke up in the middle of the night to relieve herself. When she put her feet on the floor, they were met with ice-cold water everywhere! If the water had reached beyond the levee, this was surely a big storm! She woke up Thatha frantically and went out. It was roaring outside. As though a large mob was fuming loudly and rushing towards another mob. It was a massive flood raging with the mission of filling every vacant spot in and around the lake with water. ‘As soon as we placed our feet outside, the water crashed upon us in waves. There was no other sound around us. Only the crashing and piercing roars from an invisible corner. I was frightened to the core.

The book has been translated by Janani Kannan. (Source: Penguin India)

Didn’t think of any of our belongings. There were ten chickens but we didn’t look for them either. We didn’t think of saving anything else. Only our lives. We held our lives in one hand and held each other with the other throughout. The water level was above our knees. We could barely get in and wade through it. You know how the black mesquite thorns are everywhere too. We placed each step carefully, and till we slowly climbed out of that place, we weren’t sure if we were going to die or survive. ‘It seems that they may have opened out the waters from Karattur.

Otherwise how will so much water get here? It has been so many years since this lake was built. I have never seen water like this before.’ There was a large pond right in the middle of Karattur town for all the waste from the surroundings. That pond always stood stagnant, topped with a coarse froth. All of Karattur’s waters drained straight into it. Only when that big pond was full did they open it up. When they did do this, it ran over the roadways and stank up the city as it moved away.

It then flowed via Keeravur to reach the lowlying area and make its way straight to the lake. It was only during such times that the salts from the leather hides were washed too. The lake had overflowed because the pond water had been released. Paati’s body could not handle the cold from being drenched in the rains. She shook violently. Her teeth rattled. It was a strange sound. The boy and his father
wrapped her in a blanket, laid her on a cot and set out in the rain. If the water was still not high, they could, maybe, save the chickens and some things from the shack. Thatha wanted to go with them too.

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