Everyone knows about the controversial novel One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan thanks to the hooliganism of the self-appointed guardians of Indian culture. But controversy, although it introduced me to the book, is not why I am recommending it here. The reason for the recommendation is simple. It is a beautiful story and a well-written one. The English translation by Aniruddhan Vasudevan reads smooth, and hence even though I can’t read the original, I am convinced that it does justice to the original work.
The descriptions and the characters transport you hundred years back to the little, sleepy village in Tamilnadu, which is the scene of the aching story. In a time and society where children are the sole reason and purpose of a marriage, and fertility treatments are several decades into the future, what happens to the lives of a childless couple? The medicines are not working. The gods ae not listening. Another tradition offers a way out. A tradition that acknowledges the primal emotions and instincts, as well as the social necessities. But already, at the time of the story, the morality is changing. The tradition may not be conducive to a “modern” couple’s relationship.
You get sucked into Kani and Ponna’s love, their pain and their dilemma. And before you know it, it has become your own story, the story of people around you. The struggle for living up to societal expectations, the cruelty in the event of failure, the difficult choices presented, occasional philosophical realization of the futility of it all, it is everyone’s story. Read it.
Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.
All of Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child—from prayers to penance, potions to pilgrimages—have been in vain. Despite being in a loving and sexually satisfying relationship, they are relentlessly hounded by the taunts and insinuations of the people around them. Ultimately, all their hopes and apprehensions come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of the half-female god Ardhanareeswara and the revelry surrounding it. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test. Acutely observed, One Part Woman lays bare with unsparing clarity a relationship caught between the dictates of social convention and the tug of personal anxieties, vividly conjuring an intimate and unsettling portrait of marriage, love and sex.