Pyre – Perumal Murugan

Saroja, who has grown up in a big town, and Kumarasen, who grew up in a village and has come to the city to learn a trade, fall in love with each other and, since they belong to different castes, decide to have a runaway marriage. They then make their way to Kumarasen’s village where he dreams of setting up his own shop and where he believes he can hide the fact that theirs is an inter-caste marriage from both his relatives and the villagers.

The book had an excellent cover,one that has a clear link to the story and the translation into English is deft and extremely well done. The translator has done justice to the author’s descriptions of locations and people, bringing them to life as we read along.

It was just the sheer depth of tragedy oozing out of the prose with every single sentence that convinced me even before I had finished reading the first page of the book that this love story was doomed to end in spectacular failure. The novel begins as the two of them get off a bus in the middle of nowhere and start walking towards Kumarasen’s village. One can feel the city-bred girl immediately shrinking and recoiling from the harsh terrain and the idea of what lies ahead. But then she looks at her husband and seems to derive strength from his confidence in his mother’s love for him and his obvious love for his new bride. Their love is a new, exciting and forbidden thing – everything the young and the brave crave for and thrive on – and something to derive strength from, that is until the harsh reality of rural India sets in.

Kumarasen’s utter and inexplicable stupidity in the face of the colossal in-your-face hints/realities presented to him by his mother and the other villagers is frustrating and incredibly annoying. Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows it is easier to get lost in a crowd rather than in a small village where everyone minds everyone else’s business. And his stubbornness in ignoring his mother’s vicious tirades in the hopes that they will ‘eventually’ become less virulent before they disappear altogether was the height of foolishness. Even when he is physically assaulted from the most unexpected quarters, he fails to take decisive action, instead weeping and wondering why people dear to him are behaving as they are. And then, while surrounded by all this hostility he embarks on day long journeys leaving Saroja alone to fend off his mother’s forked tongue and the lascivious eyes of the village louts. No, I could not empathize with this man at all.

 One can hardly fault Saroja who is lost and alone in an alien environment. It is plain that she made a terrible error in judgement when she decided to follow the love of her life to his remote village and when she failed to force her husband to get her out of that place despite repeated insults on them, both verbal and physical, putting her faith in the age-old idiom that the husband knows best.

The story is supposed to make the reader angry at the primitive thinking processes of the villagers and by extension the entire population of our country that is mired in this quagmire of caste-ism. However, in this story, the out-of-proportion reactions of everyone in Kumarasen’s village are expected and understandable considering the set-up in which the story takes place. So while one does feel frustrated and irked by their mindless opposition to something in the name of religion, my anger seemed to be directed primarily at the husband who failed completely on every level by making wrong decisions and then failing to rectify them.

This was more a novella than a full-length novel and while I agree that it raises awareness about the evils of the caste system in our society prevalent to this day, it was simply too tragic for me. So overwhelmingly laden with distress and sadness that it leaves one feeling exhausted. Many people would like it for precisely this reason, but I am no longer able to bear such moroseness in my reading.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s