The anxious excitement of reading a book that someone else chooses for you is indescribable. It may not be one from your usual genres and it will be either an interesting reading experience or you will rue every word you read.
I had a choice to pick between two of Perumal Murugan’s books, and I chose Seasons of the Palm. When I read the email saying ‘Perumal Murugan’, I was a little disappointed. It is a feeling that we normally have when we think of a mighty disaster and its aftermath. If you do not know, here is the story. Perumal Murugan is a man who wrote books in Tamil. A few years back, he wrote a book. Some people (who I doubt were passionate readers) took offence to the book. And it culminated in Perumal Murugan declaring to the world “Perumal Murugan, the writer is dead.”! This was the man who won awards and acclaim from various corners, including the State Government. It is quite a shame that someone like that could be bullied and harassed into taking this step, while those who lauded him stood by and watched. The loss is ours – the readers.
Seasons of the Palm is the translated version of Koola Madari, the Tamil Novel. It was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize in 2005. The translation by V.Geetha is on point. She doesn’t let anything be left out from the book in the process. While translating, she has retained some of the Tamil terms and her effort adds to the charm of the book. I am not sure if the lack of a glossary takes away from relishing the book or adds to its intrigue.
What is Seasons of the Palm about? It is the story of a bunch of people, who are destined to be, as we sometimes say, stuck in the rut. Only, in this case, the rut is their life, work and their entire existence. Bonded labour is a lesion that society has not been completely able to rid itself of. It exists even in this day and age. Seasons of the Palm deals with that touchy topic, which we conveniently ignore once we are done with our Social Science class.
Shorty and his friends are all a part of the untouchable class. They are children, who are sent away to farm owners where they will work. They work like their parents once did. And they will be followed by the next generation. Seasons of the Palm sometimes brings out the child in these characters, they run around the fields, climb trees, catch fish. But then they eventually have to return to their life of drudgery. Their situation is like quicksand. As long there is status quo you are good, create a disturbance and you are in deep trouble.
Seasons of the Palm shows us the life of Shorty and his friends through their own perspective. It shows that a meal consisting of rice is almost divine compared to the stale leftovers that they normally eat. Shorty’s world has animals which need to eat to full stomachs and children can be deprived of nutrition. A world, where even serving food is to be done without touching the Untouchable Child or his plate. The world, where every day Shorty loses a little bit of his innocence.
And how Perumal Murugan has woven his story to show us this. In the beginning, there is magic – birds, trees, the ground – all are described in brilliant detail. Just like how Shorty sees the world around him and relishes its existence. Towards the end, it is more of a matter of fact description. The sheep, the cattle, the children. These are now a part of Shorty’s world that exist and one in which he is doomed to live in. There are no wondrous descriptions and no joy in them. Again, V Geetha’s efforts need to be commended for making the Season’s of the Palm as good a read as Koola Madari.
Seasons of the Palm is not a book that one can quickly peruse through. It takes time to be read. You can’t skip pages, and you will be forced to savour it. Definitely recommend!
You can find the book here – Flipkart
PS – If you haven’t read his books, Seasons of the Palm is a good place to start. It will make you realise the gravity of the crime that was committed against the author.