Monday, May 15, 2017

Seasons of the Palm by Perumal Murugan

We glorify the grand and the majestic yet it is the everyday lives that are the most interesting. It is astonishing that the accident of birth leads to such different lives when we are essentially the same.

Sitting in a coffee shop, as I start reading Perumal Murugan’s story of a little untouchable boy I begin to feel the usual sympathy for him. But the story cuts me short. This is not about me or my distance from the characters in this act. It is only about a few friends who meet every day while grazing the cattle for their Masters. It is about the bond between a boy and a mute sheep which is stronger than any bond between humans, yet at the same time, more delicate than the morning dew. It is about a relationship between two boys which looks like friendship but can never be that because they are born unequal and will always stay that way. It is about the earth and a people who live by it. Understand it. Something that most of us living in concrete houses can only imagine.

Who likes things to end? But they do end, there is destruction waiting in the wings, and all that is left finally is sadness and desolation.

This is not a sorry tale. But gloom and disaster always lies about the corner. A lost lamb, a failed attempt at collecting some peanuts from another’s field, a day missed at work can always lead to terrible consequences. But there are consequences for the Masters as well.

The description of the countryside and all its treasures is mesmerizing and flows smoothly. The translation is of high quality. You forget that it is a translation and immediately get engaged in the story. The one sore point I have about the translation is of the use of nicknames like Tallfellow and Stonedeaf. These might be accurate in the cultural context of the original language but feel out of place in English. Much like the hurriedly dubbed Chinese action movies on TV.

Poor strong Belly – she talks tough, sings merrily, but a single fear sits snug and heavy in her heart.

Isn’t this true for all?

[This is part of a series of book reviews I am doing for Flipkart]