On the return of Perumal Murugan
‘ON MONDAY, THE Tamil writer Perumal Murugan posted this, as translated by The Hindu, on his Facebook account: ‘Perumal Murugan, the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself. He also has no faith in rebirth. An ordinary teacher, he will live as P. Murugan. Leave him alone.’ But to not write is not something that will happen even if he intends it. He will write. It is something he has no control over, no matter how much humiliation he has had to face.’
It was in January of 2015 that your columnist wrote the above passage and he is happy to note that Murugan has indeed not been keeping his pen idle and this week released a book of poems, titled Songs of a Coward. And yet, there is also a stray thought that should Murugan have stuck to his decision, would he not be more immortal?
There is no half-suicide in life and a retracted suicide in literature only serves to make this gesture somewhat pointless as a protest for anyone now. Should we quibble with Murugan about this? Definitely not. For he has suffered more than his fair share and even the response of writing these poems comes from that agony.
It is a thankless job to be a writer in India. At least a writer honest to himself. It is a solitary endeavour that can stretch for years with zero guarantee of returns. For a first-time writer, all he has going is the hope he will someday be published, and, even if he does get into print, there is a high probability that his work will go unnoticed because readers have their own tastes. True writers whittle away at a confluence of uncertainties by relentlessly penning book after book until something gives way to recognition. There is still no money in the exercise, though, unless you are Chetan Bhagat. And if you are a writer not of English but of the languages, you would find it hard to get a place in the literary festivals that matter. You are still however prey to all the normal desires of a man—money, fame, appreciation, acknowledgment. And all the failings of man—anger, hurt, frustration, greed.
Then having made this long, agonising journey to become a published and recognised writer, if a few passages of your work became the target of some venal political activists, then you are back to facing the onslaught alone, with mental torture and imminent physical harm thrown in.
After that brief reaction that his Facebook post evoked, who remembered Murugan over the last year and a half? Why would anyone write in such an environment? Because writers have no choice over it. As Murugan said in an interview he gave NDTV, “Writing is not a tap that can be opened or closed at will.” In effect, he was saying a literary suicide is a contradiction in terms. But it takes the experience of performing one to come to that understanding.