Writer Perumal Murugan, who proclaimed his own ‘death’ in 2015 after right-wing groups agitated against his novel and resumed writing the next year after a Madras High Court ruling, says his greatest regret is that he has been “a fool who had not assessed the environment at all”.
He has now come out with his new book in Tamil “Kozhaiyin Padalgal” (“Songs of a Coward”), which was written during his ‘exile’. These poems speak of the silence, that period when he was fighting the battle internally as well with the external forces. Some are melancholic while others are angry. Most of them have a very stark imagery of nature and use nature emphatically as a metaphor for the poet’s anguish.
In an interview, Murugan told PTI that poems of this collection were natural expressions and there was nothing like a challenge in writing them. “There is a piece titled ‘Song of a Coward’ in this collection. Viewed together, each poem by itself, in a way, appears to be a song of a coward,” he says. On why he used the word coward, he says, “Whether we accept it or not, there comes a moment in everyone’s life when they feel that they are a coward or circumstances brand them so.”
“Songs of a Coward”, published by Penguin Books, is translated from the original by Aniruddhan Vasudevan and has 210 poems of Murugan. Murugan says his “greatest regret is that I have been a fool who had not assessed the environment at all” though the ‘literary exile’ was never torturing. “Because I have a wide range of likes and interests, nothing tortures me. I am always ready to shift from one thing to another.”
He feels that there can be neither a writer nor writing without freedom of expression. Asked if the ‘literary exile’ motivated him to write more vigorously, he says, “It is not so. I have planned to read a lot of books that I wanted to read. My reading is faster than my writing.” Murugan’s earlier book “Pyre” had made it to the longlist of this year’s DSC Prize.
“That novel receiving such recognition has boosted my confidence in writing. Personally speaking, this is what made it significant for me,” he says. Awards and recognitions have increased his sense of responsibility, he says, adding “I find it difficult to shape myself to match this sense of responsibility.” Murugan does not have any immediate plans on his next project.
“It has been nearly three years since I submitted myself to fate without a plan in mind,” he says. But one topic which he has not written about as of yet and wants to deal with is about his ancestors. “I have undertaken a journey trailing the life of my forefathers. That is the one I want to complete writing. I do not know when that will be possible. It needs an atmosphere conducive to it,” he says.
An author who writes in Tamil, Murugan says the best works of each Indian language must be translated and this will highlight the fact that amid the linguistic diversity, India is one single entity. The Tamil author faced protests from Hindutva and caste outfits in 2015 for his novel “Madhorubaga” and later announced in a Facebook post that the writer in him was dead.
Last year, the Madras High Court in a judgement had dismissed an attempt to bring criminal charges against Murugan and had said “Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at: Write.”