On December 1, 2014, Perumal Murugan, a much admired Tamil writer and professor of Tamil literature, posted on Facebook what read like a suicide note: “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not be resurrected. Hereafter, only P Murugan, the teacher, will live.”
Twenty months on, the note has been torn up. Author Perumal Murugan has decided to live again. The man who wilted in the face of death threats over a novel he wrote six years ago, has told The Indian Express in an exclusive interview — the first given to any media house — that he is publishing again.
The first to be released will be a collection of 200 “secret” poems that he wrote — originally for his own reading — over the months of self-imposed exile, Murugan said. The collection is titled Kozhayin Paadalkal, or the ‘Songs of a Coward’.
The 2014 ‘suicide post’ had followed a peace meeting brokered by the Namakkal district administration at which Murugan had agreed to withdraw his 2010 novel Mathorubhagan (One Part Woman), which had triggered street protests by caste groups. The Kongu Vellala Gounder community, an influential intermediate caste in western Tamil Nadu, had, in particular, accused him of insulting their women and degrading a Hindu deity through his novel. Senior RSS ideologues had justified the attacks on Murugan.
In July 2016, however, the Madras High Court ruled that the ‘peace meeting’ that had led to the withdrawal of Murugan’s book was illegal, and dismissed all criminal cases filed against the author by caste groups.
“Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write,” the court said.
Some weeks ago, Murugan was transferred from Chennai Presidency College to a government college in Attur at the foot of the Vada Senni hills near Salem, where he is head of the department of Tamil. His wife, also a professor of Tamil, has been transferred with him. They were in Chennai to wrap up their household in the city, and travelled back to Attur over the weekend.
The journey, on the Salem Express from Chennai Egmore station, in several ways reversed the one that Murugan had made 18 months ago in February 2015, when he was forced to flee his native Namakkal. The author, known to be an introvert, appeared lost in his thoughts, and remained mostly silent on the train, as his wife Ezhilarasi gave him occasional smiles of reassurance and support.
Sitting in his chair at the Tamil department in his Attur college, Murugan, clad in his usual white shirt and pants, was more forthcoming.
The first poem that he penned after he was bullied by caste forces read, “I am entering into the body of a poisoned dead mouse. It wakes up with a jolt as if from a bad dream, with fears filled within,” he said. Another that he wrote during his ‘exile’ read, “Naan eli thaan, Parishodhanai eli (Yes, I am a mouse, a laboratory mouse)”.
He remained reluctant to talk about his self-imposed exile since December 2014, however, and especially about the threats he had reportedly faced from caste Hindu outfits, which had eventually succeeded in silencing him.
“Let my writings speak,” he said.
Despite his so-called “shy nature”, he remained a suspect in Chennai too. The Presidency College administration suspected his role in protests by some radical left student groups. “He was summoned and questioned once,” said a member of the college faculty.
Murugan refused to comment. “Even if I had such intentions, I wouldn’t be advising students to carry out these customary protests or violence or strikes. It is high time Marxists and leftists gave up such lazy ideas… I don’t know, these times demand more sensible and effective protest methods,” he said.
As he travels back to western Tamil Nadu with the decision to write again, Murugan hopes that writing poems may heal his wounds. “I can think of only poems now. I am slowly thinking, preparing myself to write again. I was unable to write anything other than poems in the past 20 months,” he said.