Book Review: One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

Book: One Part Woman

Author: Perumal Murugan (translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan)

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication year: 2015 (first published 2010)

Number of pages: 256

Price: Rs. 239 (Amazon/Flipkart)

My rating: 3.5/5

Little over a month ago, I heard on the news that the Tamil author Perumal Murugan was being harassed because of “objectionable content” in his book ‘One Part Woman’. Hitherto, I hadn’t even heard of the author, let alone the book. I decided to read it for myself. Luckily, the book was still available on Amazon as a Kindle download and I purchased it right away. So much for silencing the voice of the author.

The book is set in a village in pre-Independence southern India. The story traces the lives of Kali and Ponna, a childless couple who’re regularly taunted by their relatives and village-folk for not having any children. They are constantly at the receiving end of jibes which often leave the wife, Ponna, hurting, although she doesn’t shy away from retorting to these glib remarks herself.

We are told how difficult it becomes for this couple to not worry about being childless as they are constantly humiliated by almost everyone around them. They are kept reminded of this also as people try and come up with various theories as to why they haven’t been blessed with a child; theories ranging from having displeased the Gods to ancestral wrongdoings.

As the story progresses, we are told about a local village festival in which all rules of matrimony and loyalty are relaxed for one night; a night when any two consenting adults can decide to be with each other. Some of Kali and Ponna’s relatives are of the view that Ponna should go to the festival and try to conceive a child. It is this event which tests this couple’s wish to have a child to the limit: should Kali make the difficult decision of allowing his wife to be with another man for one night to probably get the child that both he and his wife desire so eagerly?

The narrative picks up various threads from the past to help us give insights into the decisions that the couple makes. As the night of the festival approaches, there is rising tension as suspense grows over how the various individuals in the book will react.

Although this was the English translation that I was reading (wherein I did stumble a couple of times in the narrative), I could easily imagine the fondness that the author has for the countryside. His descriptions of the farmer’s daily lives, their homes and their fields provides a beautiful glimpse into village life. The book also shows how religion has been woven into the very fabric of these people’s lives as Kali and Ponna try to appease almost every God and pray at every temple they come across.

I loved the dynamics of Kali and Ponna’s relationship. This is a young, loving couple who are going through what is clearly a very testing time for both of them. And yet, both seem to have a different approach. Ponna dearly wishes to be a mother, not only because it will mean an end to the constant barbs from others but because she is genuinely fond of children. She is slowly becoming bitter at her condition and isn’t the one to not speak her mind out loud, even to her husband. Kali, though equally disgruntled about not being a father, seems to have made his peace with the current reality. By the end of the book, you’re left sympathizing both of them.

Update on 6th Aug 2015: My good friend Sudha G. has written an excellent review (much better than my own humble effort above) of the book here.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘One Part Woman’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart, Amazon.in or for your Kindle.

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