12 June 2017

Review #616: Pyre by Perumal Murugan, Aniruddhan Vasudevan (Translator)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We are united by our common fears and divided by our individual freedom!”

----Ramana Pemmaraju

Perumal Murugan, the idol of Tamil literature in India, who has been shunned by a court of law because of the fact that his books have erupted fires of scandal amongst its people, thus bringing an end to the glowing career of a talented writer in the country, whose another Tamil book named, Pookkuzi has been translated from the original version of Kongu rural dialect into English by the author's dedicated translator named, Aniruddhan Vasudevan and in English its called, Pyre.


Saroja and Kumaresan are in love. After a hasty wedding, they arrive in Kumaresan’s village, harboring the dangerous secret that their marriage is an inter-caste one, likely to anger the villagers should they learn of it. Kumaresan is confident that all will be well. He naively believes that after the initial round of curious questions, the inquiries will die down and the couple will be left alone. But nothing is further from the truth. The villagers strongly suspect that Saroja must belong to a different caste. It is only a matter of time before their suspicions harden into certainty and, outraged, they set about exacting their revenge.

With spare, powerful prose, Murugan masterfully conjures a terrifying vision of intolerance in this devastating tale of innocent young love pitted against chilling savagery.

Kumaresan and Saroja marries one another out of love, despite the fact that they both belong from different caste and in no possible way their individual families would accept this inter-caste union of two loving souls, adding more, Saroja is a very pretty and fair skinned city girl and not a typical village girl, that Kumaresan’s family would never approve of. So this newly wed embarks upon a journey to the village where Kumaresan was born and brought up from the city where they eloped and got married. Soon to their dismay, even before setting foot in the village, both
Kumaresan and Saroja are slightly criticized by a villager, yet this slight negative remark did not give them any idea about what was waiting for them at the end of their long journey. Little did they knew, that this holy union of a man and woman would enrage the entire village from Kumaresan’s own mother to the neighbors o the distant relatives to the random strangers from the nearby villages, and that these people instead of accepting the marriage or welcoming the new bride in her home, they begin scheming against the newly wed couple that would ultimately snatch away the only happiness they ever longed for.

Rarely we, the people belonging from a different part of the country other than Tamil Nadu, where the story is set, get to taste the local or regional flavor of other states other than ours own. And here comes Murugan, who successfully and cleverly lets his global readers get a taste of the raw regional flavor of culture, beliefs and traditions in a poor Tamilian village, filled with illiterate people belonging from a lower caste strata. The setting in this book plays a vital role, where apart from the brutally honest story, the author highlights the shortcomings of Tamil Nadu's rural side's norms, beliefs, values and customs, the narrow minded ideals and the vagaries of such a society that put a tight grip on the minds and the souls of those who exist in such a place.

But from a literary perspective, the book disappoints, and so its narratives as well as the characters, even the art of story telling that once left me entranced when I read the author's previous book, this time, the storytelling lacks that subtleness and depth. So that failed to give me any perspective of my own, and an Indian reader like me, I'm accustomed to honor killings in the name of caste quite strikingly, so Murugan's cinematic story telling only made me felt like trapped inside a sappy and dramatic movie. Nevertheless for readers who aren't accustomed to real life events like these, might find this book as highly enlightening and horrifyingly vivid enough to ponder about the story long after it has ended. Sadly for me, it was a same old dramatic plot told with a rural flavor and with requisite drama to suffice its approach and outlook.

The writing is articulate yet lacks depth. And with a simple yet sporadic prose, the readers might only find solace in the predictable yet an addictive climax in order to keep reading till the very end. The narratives are very poorly depicted, even though it is inspired highly from the local dialect and that might feel a bit heavy upon its readers, yet the dialogues exchanged between the characters lack emotions, period. Since this is a predictable story especially the title that will give its readers about the outcome of this novel, still the vividness and the raw horror will grip the readers' minds.

The outline of the characters are only sketched but the layers of shades of their myriad personalities are not drawn properly, and hence the characters failed to make me connect with their plight or demeanor. There are three main characters, Saroja, Kumaresan and the evil mother, Marayi. The story is told mainly from the perspective of the new bride, Saroja, who is a timid, hopeful yet obedient wife to Kumaresan, who from the very beginning is submissive towards her husband's demands and wishes and obeys like a dutiful wife, and even though she often voices her fears and thoughts to her husband, yet most of the time, those thoughts are often left to astray. As Kumaresan turns out to be someone obnoxiously sanguine about the whole situation, and dominates his wife to adapt to this harsh village lifestyle. Marayi, on the other hand, is the mirror image of Saroja, who is a widow and single-handedly raised her son, and has high hopes on him, so on her son fails her by bringing home a wife from a different caste, she starts singing sad death songs and makes it difficult for the new bride to adjust to their home, although she never once fails to constantly bicker and utter ugly and foul words to the poor and helpless Saroja. And the rest of the characters too reflect such a morbid society where a woman becomes a victim upon choosing to marry a man not out of his caste but out of love. Yes the tragic yet very brutal truth is highlighted with bold characters through this story.

In a nutshell, this is a compelling and absorbing story that will provoke the readers to feel enraged towards the Indian society's idiosyncrasy that even to this day exist in the most rural parts of the country.

Verdict: A truly gripping read!

Author Info:
Perumal Murugan is a well-known contemporary Tamil writer and poet. He was written six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry. Three of his novels have been translated into English to wide acclaim: Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Kiriyama Award in 2005, Current Show, and most recently, One Part Woman. He has received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books.
Visit him here

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