Friday, October 28, 2016

Byline Madurai

Perumal Murugan and  Home

 Perumal Murugan spoke in Delhi,  on August 22nd 2016, at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, after his two books, One Part Woman, (Maadhorubaagan) and Pyre, were published  in English, by Penguin. The foremost question in  some people’s minds was, “Will you be comfortable in metropolitan cities like New Delhi, Paris, or Berlin?” Murugan, a quiet, self assured, soft spoken man made it very clear that he longed for home, that he had never slept under a roof till he was twenty. The great outdoors, the cowshed, the loveliness of the trees, the rich earth, that was what he missed most, now that he had been forced out of the familiar places which he was so intimate with.

One Part Woman represents the Aradhaneswar cult, a soft and sensuous code for unmitigated passion, when Parvati comes home to Siva, and merges into him. For those who hated Murugan’s representation of  an arbitrary coitus as serving the practical interests of people without children, the traditions of local communities were forcibly sanitized by them, in popular protests in order to write new cultural histories. Murugan however, was very clear that tradition and history are suffused in our present. He believed that fiction merely clothed emotions which still lie latent, and all the possibilities of promiscuity, when conjoined by faith, deliver us into a landscape that is peopled with other realities, other truths. To write intimately of the wretchedness of traditional practice, with the seductiveness of the novelist’s claim to represent reality, was his only crime. To be forced to leave home because he told a  historical tale, haunted his days, till the  Court came out with the verdict that he was free to write, “Write!”

 The holy hill at Tiruchengode, Namakkal district, where the  Aradhaneswara  (symbiosis of Shiva and Parvati) cult still exists, is a site of tremendous power. The ancient Saivite shrines illustrate that the cult of the goddess is dependent on the absorption of the devi. Much of the advaitin principle of assimilation is brought to our notice here, in the convergence of symbols, and the secret and the hidden are represented as important symbols of a cosmic fertility. The local community reinforces the idea not only of the vividness of sarpa worship, which are chthonic reminders of ancient cultic forms before anthropomorphism takes place, but are also  emotional organisers of contemporary representations of fear, sexuality and effervescence. The rat, the boar, the elephant,  the cow, the bull become the totemistic forms of the meeting of nature and culture, where their  sacred and aesthetic presence becomes of immense importance. Within this, the segregation of local communities can be well located in terms of their personal relations with the animal world. In the hill at Tiruchengode, Amba nestles with Durga, which communicates the primacy of her status during Navarathri over other manifestations of the divine.
The hierarchy that Hinduism imposes in tradition is inviolable when the order of birth is prescribed by tradition. Perumal Murugan describes this inviolability by looking at how each caste then represents its order in terms of the consummation of its caste rules. Lower caste orthodoxies can thus be as powerful as upper caste ones, they can be as forbidding and as totalizing. The real world view of the poor then closes upon itself in terms which are borrowed from varna, or colour, and the power of the presence of existing rules can exclude as much as it can forbid. Love by itself can never survive in the face of these terrible rules, they foreclose destiny, they crumple free will.
Perumal Murugan, named after the great Lord at Tiruchengode,  now resides in  solitude, in exile with his family in  an unfamiliar urban milieu. Yet, the landscape that he describes for us, is so over powering, so exquisite,  that we can only dwell in the calmness of these rural spaces. Here subsistence farming allows the Tamils their historic splendor of unspoiled lands, with  their produce of groundnut, rice, sugar cane, jasmines, plantains, palm trees (providing areca, dates, and nongu, and coconuts,) also the mangoes which ornament every house, and the  moringa trees. The sea at Rameswaram, with its cross bow of water at nearby Dhanushkodi, is  very close. The blue is turquoise and grey, and the sun provides us a  dazzling glimpse of this hot, unfettered land. Not far from Tiruchenkode, the Uttarasumangalai temple presents us the  remembrance of the whispered conversations of Siva and Parvati, an upadesha  which is love itself.
Saivite cults are open to all, choosing the massive hillocks and flat plains  to communicate love and valour. Here are Perumal Murugan’s people, his multi caste village, his green topography of cultivated land on red soil that  he longs for most. Surely the Goddess at Tiruchengode will usher his return home.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Because I don't want war.

The magic of words
We must believe that words have efficacy. More importantly, we must hope that people believe what they say. War is an easy word, and drumming for war makes the war mongers feel that they have a job to do. Soldiers are people who have families, and while soldiering on is something they do, occupationally, for love of the country, the war mongers see them as fodder in war. The second world war was fought to end all wars. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasake left the molten shadows of men and women on the kerbside as they ran.
Water wars are the worst, for our common humanity becomes lost as we view the ‘other’ as the enemy. We always blame someone else for our troubles. Colonial water sharing devices are out of sync with modern needs, and egalitarian motives. Across the border, the Pakistani enjoyment of lands is represented through 200 families owning most of the land. As in India, when land redistribution occurred, the wealthy families gave away unproductive lands to the cultivator farmer, and kept the better acreage. So the ways in which we understand how tribals represent the  force of an illegal marauding army which in India we call “terrorist”, is placed back in terms of how terrorism manipulates emotions of border people. The line of no return faces us very soon in terms of how we think of every day questions of blocking water to Pakistan, which the present government thinks as practical.
These are mighty rivers, which cross the borders of China, Pakistan and India. We have seen how floods over run North East India, when dam work across the border releases excess water. If we block the Indus, Punjab will be flooded and while boundary lines are political, river basins are not. The arsenal that Pakistan develops is nuclear. If they bomb us, they too will die. We do not live in isolation from one another. If the emotional encroachment in Kashmir over years has been so huge, it is because the local people have been singled out for attention by terrorist infiltration and for martyrdom, by specialised training in camps. We have to be very clear that the presence of the army in border areas is a natural phenomenon. The case for  territorial supremacy in India is a question of history. The British could never suppress the emotions of  people  of the North West or the North East of India, and over decades, the Indian government was able to provide a sense of solidarity to tribal communities in both areas to invest their sense of belonging to the presence of the Centre. Federalism was seen to be the answer to these multi sited loyalties. Kashmiri merchants following their trade routes  arrived in all parts of India, without feeling the necessity for secessionism. If we look at the protracted battle between the Centre and the State, comprising Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, we must presume that Kashmir is a part of a larger entity, and should it receive it’s Azadi, then it will be surrounded by segments of the state which remain loyal to the subcontinental image of India.
The map of India  presents it’s own logic of subcontinental identity. Terrorism can never promote democracy, as Paul Wilkinson argues in “Terrorism vs Democracy” ( Routledge 2001). The armoury of guerrilla warfare is time tested, with successful results, and the price that the civilians have to pay is huge. Where the state practise of terrorism gets in the way of diplomacy, we have to understand that the grammar of mediation must come from other legitimating institutions, such as ambassadorial functions of surrounding countries. Without State support, the idea of freedom and autonomy, regarding the right to work and travel may well be taken away from us by parochialising interests which sees war as the first option available. Why should we think that people across the borders of our country want to die? They would be the first victims, and evacuation would create more wounded, more zones of loss and privation.
Citizens’ forums have a great part to play in both India and Pakistan. Their role is primary in avoiding war. Unless we identify our share of common interests, the soldiers whom we value as true patriots will die terrible deaths in war, or in post war camps. Anyone who has been to Kargil, knows that the heroism of our soldiers cannot be disputed. Even now, the stones leach blood. To put the army to dysfunctional use, by shooting and killing citizens in Kashmir, who think differently from us,  is a terrible act of finality. It is true Gorbachov and Rasisa Gorbachov died in penury and singularly difficult circumstances, but let us not forget the first lessons of the 1990s, the lessons in dialogue.