“Today is a happy day for me. My collection of poems is being released in the capital… I don’t want to relive the dark days of January 2015. I didn’t believe I would be able to write again,” said Perumal Murugan on Monday. He was replying to author Nilanjana S Roy, who had asked the Tamil writer what it was like to declare himself “dead” as a writer.
That was in 2014, when Murugan had withdrawn his 2010 novel Mathorubhagan (One Part Woman) after a Kongu Vellala Gounder outfit accused him of insulting women of the community and degrading a Hindu deity. The writer was forced to flee his hometown Namakkal in February 2015.
At an event organised by Penguin India, his English-language publisher, to celebrate his return to writing and to release Kozhayin Paadalkal (Songs of a Coward), a collection of 200 poems written during his self-imposed exile, Murugan read out Hometown:
Don’t be in haste
to ask anyone
about their hometown.
There might be people
who cannot tell you their hometown.
There might be people
who dream about their hometown.
The 50-year-old also read out a statement he had prepared for the event, held at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library here. “I have resumed my writing with poems. Just as before, my writing could start from poetry and move into other forms… I am, however, unable to say when this will occur… Perhaps not at all. So what? Poetry will do for me,” he said.
After the exile, writing, perhaps, will not be the same for him. “The first three of my novels were set in the field of my lived experiences. Most of my writing has been in the realist mode. I doubt I can write like that now. I might have to resort to different modes. Only time will tell,” he said.
After the threats he faced from caste outfits in 2014-15, caste is likely to continue to play a key role in his work. “I don’t believe a writer cannot write about caste in this society,” he said to rousing applause. “Caste is ubiquitous but subtlety is present everywhere. Why is caste so divisive — this is a question that has plagued me all my life. I believe no writer can write a single word in defence of caste.”