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Life in the margins

SEASONS OF THE PALM — Koola Maadaari by Perumal Murugan: V. Geeta — Tr. in English; Tara Publishing, 38/G A Shoreham, 5th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai-600090.

Rs. 295.

IT HARDLY matters whether the author or the translator is a Dalit or not. Koola Maadaari cannot be denied on any count. Perumal Murugan has subsumed the pangs of the marginalised folk in his creative smithy and wrought a sharp, poignant sword.

Whether it will have an effective thrust to format the future of these Gounder and Chakkili families depends on the sensitive reader. The real villains are the hardy rural life that has not much to give the toilers and the curse of casteism.

Koola Maadaari is almost a hell's image set beside the heaven construed in our traditional Brindavan. Unlike the mythical cows of plenty, here the goats do not yield much. The adolescent Chakkili boys and girls spend a good deal of their time grazing the goats of their Gounder masters.

At the receiving end

It is a harsh life for these bonded children who have no sympathy from their own drunkard fathers and helpless mothers. Nor is it all cream and roses for the rest. The stronger person punishes the weaker; man tyrannises over woman; and the Chakkili being an untouchable caste, they are at the receiving end all the time.

And yet one can identify Gokula here in the simple regard the children cultivate among themselves, the manner in which they pluck moments of joyous togetherness while out grazing the goats, the leadership of Koolayan, the sauciness of Belly, the bonds of friendship that occasionally cut across caste inhibitions and the virtue of sharing they foster by sheer instinct.

The children quickly forget the constant physical and verbal abuse, which is part of their strategy for survival. Perumal Murugan has expertly piloted the fragile craft of the narrative to safety through the waves of sex and foul-mouthed language that one cannot simply wish away.

The end of Selvan and Shortie (Koolayan) reminds one of the denoument in V. Raghavan's short story "Narasimham" and Neela Padmanabhan's novel, "Talaimuraigal".

Translation style

The agony of the dispossessed children and the ecstasy they pull out from their drab lives have been brought out very well by V. Geeta in her simple English that effectively conveys the Tiruchengode dialect peppered with the Telugu of the Chakkilis.

Seasons of the Palm is not a word-for-word translation. However, Geeta leaves out nothing that is important for the action. By turning the past tense of Perumal Murugan to the historical present throughout (a la Rajam Krishnan), she has also made the novel more evocative and dramatic. But did the author agree to the change? It could confuse students researching into the style employed by contemporary Tamil novelists.

As for the expanding area of Indian literature in translation, Shortie will not be easily forgotten as he is the very personification of adolescence doubly troubled by untouchability and poverty. Nor the different Gounder households. Nor Veeran the sacrificial lamb, giving consent to be slaughtered when sprinkled with water for the holy feast.


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