Writer Perumal Murugan is dead. That was the shocking Facebook message put out by the author of the Tamil book, ‘Madhorubhagan’, which was brought out in English by Penquin as ‘One Part Woman’. Celebrated in academic and literary circles as a poineering chronicler, whose oeuvre immortalised the beauty of Kongu region, its culture, temples, rituals, traditions and dialect, Murugan now urges his avid readers to consign all his work to fire. That none could prevent the author of about 35 books from going into a self-imposed exile throwing away all that he had earned over a period of over three decades is perhaps a catastrophe as tragic as the Charlie Hebdo massacre. For both have throttled freedom of expression.
In Murugan’s case, it is ironic that the people whose lives, sufferings, triumphs and words he captured in his books played second fiddle to a fringe group that finally pushed him to the precipice. After a 18-day protest against Madhorubhagan, on Monday night a ‘settlement’ was reached. But it left Murugan unsettled. Perhaps the hostility was too chilling. Perhaps he felt lonely fighting philistines. But, should the authorities have summoned such a meeting because some people were burning books?
Should not they have given protection to the writer instead? Questions like this could now flow incessantly but what preceded the forced surrender of the author to an intimidating anti-democratic force was a matter of shame. Apart from a few writers and intellectuals who voiced their opposition to the protests, there was no expression of solidarity at the national level. Had it come, Murugan might not have withdrawn his entire body of work and called it quits. Is he not entitled to his creativity? Unless civil society sees a threat to democracy in the armtwisting of authors, the culture of intolerance cannot be fought. And more writers will die.