Mathorupagan – Perumal Murugan 7



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Mathorupagan - Perumal Murugan

As I close the book Mathorupagan by Perumal Murugan, and struggle to gather my thoughts on this book, particularly in the backdrop of the furore its translation (One Part Woman by Aniruddh Vasudevan) has created and the resultant decision of the author, I realize that this is one of those books which will stay with me for a long long time.

Kali and Ponnaa, farmers in a small village of Thiruchengodu area, enjoy a happy and fulfilling marriage. Inspite of a happy and sexually-active life, they are childless. Though they yearn for a child, it is the social stigma more than the personal need that drives them to perform various penances and rituals, drink all the herbal potions and even undertake some perilous athletic feats to satisfy and appease their Gods Mathorupagan (the part-male part-female form of the Hindu Gods Siva and Parvathy) and Puvatha, of whose wrath they may have earned by the wrong-doings of their ancestors.

People have this cruel way of pinpointing one’s deficiencies with the only aim of scoring a point over the other person, and the couple’s barrenness comes in handy for anyone who wants to win an argument over them. Open attacks, sly taunts and vehement arguments later, both Kali and Ponna withdraw themselves into a shell consisting of their home, their fields and their farm.

One night, when their mothers are heard construing a plan, Ponnaa is curious as well as worried that it might be a plan for a second marriage for Kali. Though Kali yearns for a child, he is not ready for another marriage, because he feels that Ponnaa might feel wounded if the other wife conceives, or it might be an injustice to another woman if she too does not conceive, thus proving Kali sterile.

It is at this juncture, that the controversial social practice is introduced. During the 15 day car festival of the Thiruchengodu temple of Mathorupagan, on the 14th night , there is (apparently) a custom where the rules of marriage are relaxed and a childless woman can choose to be with any man of her choice, considering him as her God. If a child is indeed conceived by this social and divine sanctioning, the child is considered God-given. [Note: The author quotes oral tradition as the evidence for this social practice; it is around this reference that the present controversy lies.]

Kali is hurt by the suggestion whereas Ponnaa is ready to oblige if he thinks they should. While Ponnaa’s helplessness and the innumerable insults that she has borne through the 12 long years make her say this, Kali is unable to tolerate even her readiness. The resultant emotions, the eventual choice of Ponnaa to do the unthinkable and the events that manipulate her to make the choice form the rest of the story.

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  1. The author has painted a beautiful picture of the life of people of a certain period (appears to be around the 1940s) in the kongunadu area — the local dialect, the nuances and the day-to-day life, pleasures and struggles of farmers.
  2. The emotions and feelings of Kali and Ponnaa at each stage of this journey leading to the climax have been captured with sensitivity.
  3. The Nallaa chithappan character, a rebel who cares a tuppence for the social mores, has been etched very well. Some of the questions raised in passing by Perumal Murugan through this character, are very critical and pertinent to our society.

! ! !

  1. Before the days of in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, what did our society do to face such an issue as childlessness? Second marriage of the man was an option that came in aid when the woman was sterile. The custom highlighted in the book shows that people did explore the possibility of male infertility and a potential solution was thought of, though covert.

? ? ?

  1. When we can easily accept bigamy, mistresses and even occasional and random waywardness in a man, why do we find it so difficult to accept such a one-time event for a purpose, when it concerns the woman? When Kali himself has been to the 14th night festival as a youngster, why does it become intolerable when it Ponnaa wants to make use of this custom? Isn’t this an expression of the male attitude of considering the woman as a possession?

 Social and emotional drama/trauma


Book Details:

Title Mathorupagan
Amazon Paperback
Amazon Kindle Edition
Flipkart Paperback
Editor(s)/Author(s)/Illustrator(s)/Translator(s) Perumal Murugan (பெருமாள் முருகன்)
Publisher Kalachchuvadu (காலச்சுவடு)

About Menaka S

Menaka is a computational linguist by education, an optimist by attitude and a dreamer by how she spends her time. Being left-brained, she runs PlusMinus'n'More to indulge her right brain interests.


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7 thoughts on “Mathorupagan – Perumal Murugan

  • Ravi

    //When we can easily accept bigamy, mistresses and even occasional and random waywardness in a
    man, why do we find it so difficult to accept such a one-time event for a purpose, when it concerns the
    woman? When Kali himself has been to the 14th night festival as a youngster, why does it become
    intolerable when it Ponnaa wants to make use of this custom? Isn’t this an expression of the male
    attitude of considering the woman as a possession?//

    Wrong way of understanding things. We not only tolerated bigamy, mistresses , even polyandry was
    practiced by our people until 1950s in neighboring parts of kerala and by tribal people of nilgaries and still among tribal peoples of Himalayas. As far as freedom of living is concerned people selected their own way of living according to their need/necessety. Dominant male attitude might be a common social issue, but here the problem is something different.

    Firstly, Bigamy, mistresses ,and even polyandry falls under, relationships between one to a few
    fixed individuals and this relationships lasts life long. But this story portrayes a “polykoity” scenario
    which is considered taboo/barbaric in almost all parts of the world. This book became controversial,
    because author tries to falsely colour the larger mass of practicing such a socially unacceptable
    practice, which could have been followd by a smaller sinister groups in some remote corners.

    // why does it become intolerable when it Ponnaa wants to make use of this custom? //
    intolerable by whom. I shall specifically take intolerable by kali and proceed further.

    Secondly, the ethics of mutual trust/ understanding, a couple develops after marriage, the elixir of their relationship is more important than how they lived their life in the past or before marriage. If this couple had an understanding about the conciquences and both have consented to a common decision, then we dont have any right to interfere in between their personnel stand. Its their right to choose how they live. When ponna took that decision ,she verywell knew that kali wont agree. When a women like ponna, who used to advise kali during many occasions in the past to arrive a decision, went ahead with that decision without getting the approval of kali, she breached their mutual trust , and by the way spoiling their entire relationship,which is unacceptable by any norms.

    There is nothing called male dominant attitude involved in this way of thinking. Even when a man breaches this mutual trust with his women, still its a violation of ethics.

    • Menaka S Post author

      For the first point, I would say that it is not a regular scenario. It is an one-off event.
      For the second one, please reread the book, there is a manipulation by Muthu. So, as far as Ponnaa is concerned, Muthu has managed to convince Kali for the greater good of all. It is not a breach of trust, but it is perceived breach of trust.

  • Neha Shayar

    Excellent book and one of the best I have read recently. The last chapters wherein the author narrates the predicament of the couple is terrific and I am unable to shake off the emotional turmoil it created in me, even now. Sad to hear that he was forced to stop writing .Hope he will come out of the problems created by this book and write its sequel. Highly recommended.

  • KavithaV

    Societal Pressure faced by the childless couple is well depicted .
    The geographical descriptions, the contrast thinking of the character
    nalluppayyan regarding childlessness and the exploring of places by
    muthu are very interesting to go through.
    A good read.