Today, Perumal Murugan, the Tamil author, comes alive.

In December 2014, threatened by religious and caste groups for writing the novel Mathorubhagan (One Part Woman) which they deemed offensive, the Tamil writer announced in despair: “Author Perumal Murugan is dead."

Last month, the Madras high court, hearing an appeal to prosecute Murugan and ban his book, declared there was nothing obscene in the novel and that “the right to write is unhindered". The judgement further states: “The author Prof. Perumal Murugan should not be under fear. He should be able to write and advance the canvas of his writings. His writings would be a literary contribution, even if there were others who may differ with the material and style of his expression....Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.’"

Emboldened by the judgement, Murugan has decided to emerge from his self-imposed literary exile with the publication of a collection of 200 new poems, Oru Kozhaiyin Paadalkal (A Coward’s Song), written during this period. They powerfully express the state of his mind in these past 19 months.

We bring you two poems from the collection, translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.

A Coward’s Song

Misery befalls no one
because of a coward
Riots break out nowhere
because of a coward
Nothing gets destroyed
because of a coward

A coward
does not draw his sword
or aim it at a tree
to check its sharpness
Why, a coward has no sword
to begin with

A coward
causes no one to feel fear

A coward
fears darkness
Songs come forth from him

Nature welcomes
a coward
He doesn’t pinch away a leaf
or pluck a flower

Nature embraces
a coward
A mother gathers a terrified child
and suckles it

Nature garlands
a coward
For he steps out only
to feed himself
He stays in and
keeps out of trouble

A coward
also finds it hard
to stay confined
He keeps cleaning up
nooks and corners

You won’t find a coward
in a playground
He never rouses crowds
into hateful nationalist frenzy

A coward
joins no political party,
abides by no ideology,
and is loyal to no leader

A coward
cannot prepare a welcome flyer
he cannot pour milk over big banners
he simply cannot whistle, prance about,
and go out in processions

A coward
steals from no one
he doesn’t stop those
who come to take away this things

A coward
does not attempt to rape anyone
he cannot even look in stealth
at another’s body

A coward
never turns into a murderer
However
He thinks about suicide
and does it, too

Just come quietly

Resistance Revolution
Mutiny
These are all
worthless words today

All that is left
is to die, flesh torn
and ravaged, like a chicken
caught among crows

I ask for nothing, sir
Let me just live by the side
as a spectator
as a mere spectator

How can that be?
How could we bear
the condescending smile
of a teetotaler
in this drunken revelry?

Even the dirt in your fingertips
will be noticed
made much of
And daggers will unite
to chop off the finger

If you resist, you will disappear
if you step aside, you will be ruined
Swindling, fraud,
murder, selfishness,
robbery, jealousy
are part of the game

There is only one way from hereon

Just come quietly
partake in all of this
You will thrive

Excerpted from Oru Kozhaiyin Paadalkal (A Coward’s Song) by Perumal Murugan, with permission from Kalachuvadu Publications.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

Close