Perumal Murugan

Portrait Perumal Murugan
© Ali Ghandtschi

Perumal Murugan was born into a family of farmers near the temple city of Tiruchengode, India in 1966. His family belongs to the Gounder community, the largest agrarian caste in the Kongu Nadu region. As his father was not able to feed the family by agricultural labor alone, Murugan worked as a soda-seller in a local cinema. He developed an interest in literature at an early age and wrote a number of children’s songs, some of which were broadcast on an All India Radio children’s show in Trichy. Murugan studied Tamil literature in Erode and Coimbatore and moved to Chennai in 1988, where he completed his doctorate and came into contact with Makkal Kalachara Kazhagam (Ma Ka Ka), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India. While studying Marxist texts, he decided to write works of fiction, primarily exploring his own region and direct life experiences.

Between 1988 and 1991, Murugan published over a dozen short stories in »Mana Oosai« magazine and quickly became an important new voice in Tamil literature. Endowing his protagonists with a vivid sense of dignity and vitality, his stories contain detailed descriptions of life in his home country, including the cultivation of arable land and the cooking of millet over log fires. In 1991, he wrote »Eru Veyyil« (tr. Rising heat), the first of ten novels. It is narrated from the perspective of the youngest son of a family of farmers torn apart by the pressures of urbanization. Murugan’s second novel »Nizhal Mutram« (1993; Eng. »Current Show«, 2004) draws on his childhood experiences in the 1970s and was praised for its realistic and frank depiction of the protagonist’s everyday life, his joys and sense of freedom. Murugan’s third novel »Koolamadari« (2000; Eng. »Seasons of Palm«, 2004), which was nominated for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005, depicts the adventures of a young goatherd from the Chakali caste who works off his invalid father’s debts in a Gounder home. The novel »Madhurobhagan« (2010; Eng. »One Part Woman«, 2014) – in which he explores the problem of caste segregation in a married couple desiring to have a child – was accused of maligning Hinduism by Hindutva supporters, prompting Murugan to announce in 2015 on his Facebook page that he would no longer write books. In 2016, the Madras High Court decided there were no grounds to remove his novels from circulation and called on the state to provide artists and literary figures with adequate protection from such attacks in the future.

Murugan is a professor of Tamil at the State Arts college, Attur (Salem) and has published five poetry collections and six non-fiction books on language and literature.