‘A Lonely Harvest’ & ‘Trial by Silence’ by Perumal Murugan and Translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Published by: Penguin Books
Rating: 4/5 stars
At the end of Perumal Murugan’s trailblazing novel One Part Woman, readers are left on a cliffhanger as Kali and Ponna’s intense love for each other is torn to shreds. What is going to happen next to this beloved couple?
In A Lonely Harvest-one of two inventive sequels that pick up the story right where One Part Woman ends-Ponna returns from the temple festival to find that Kali has killed himself in despair. Devastated that he would punish her so cruelly, but constantly haunted by memories of the happiness she once shared with Kali, Ponna must now learn to face the world alone.
With poignancy and compassion, Murugan weaves a powerful tale of female solidarity and second chances.
Trial by Silence- In this sequel, Kali is determined to punish Ponna for what he believes is an absolute betrayal. But Ponna is equally upset at being forced to atone for something that was not her fault. In the wake of the temple festival, both must now confront harsh new uncertainties in their once idyllic life together. In Murugan’s magical hands, this story reaches a surprising and dramatic conclusion.
About the author:
Perumal Murugan is an acclaimed Tamil author. The English translation of his novel Madhorubhagan, or One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, won the Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Prize in 2017. The book mired the author in controversy and attacks on his way of writing that calls out castiest practices.
Perumal Murugan’s writings are always rooted in the earth and the soil and the lives of people who work in fields under tough conditions and are wrapped in their social beliefs and practices. These two books, the sequels to One Part Woman are no different and carry forward the story of what happens after Ponna, a childless woman who is in a very loving marriage is tricked into heading to a socially sanctioned religious festival during which she can enter into a sexual relation with another man to beget a child. While One Part Woman in itself is a beautiful exploration of the love and lust between a couple that makes other people envious and taunt them on their childlessness, it is not necessary that readers should have read the book before reading the sequel (s).
Both the books takes readers into the tough life of farmers in a small village in the country on the cusp of new changes (the white man might be leaving the country soon) where old social moorings are tight enough to expect women who don’t give birth as a curse and men are given the leeway of being the master of his destiny.
In ‘A Lonely Harvest’ Kali has committed suicide after knowing that his wife has gone to the temple festival and follows what happens to Ponna and his family while ‘Trail by Silence’ has Kali trying to commit suicide but gets thwarted after his mother Seerayi intervenes. Kali sets out to punish Ponna with his stony silence, part contempt and an unforgiving stance. In both sequels, it is Seerayi who shines with her ready wit and support for her daughter in law with whom she has earlier never seen eye to eye. It is Seerayi who gently schemes so that the truth of Ponna’s pregnancy is not revealed. Ponna remains a victim of circumstances: she has to suffer the indignity of being cut away totally by the husband in one version while in the other, she has to go through a public ceremony where she stands with her head bowed even as the villagers has to decide on whether her unborn child is indeed that of Kali’s.
There is rough beauty in a tough life filled with back breaking work but filled with the small joys of life even as social sanctions box in people. The characters that flit into both books do so by raising questions on women’s agency, social hypocrisy and on who decides social norms and community acceptance. Many of the points are raised through bawdy stories and anecdotes that work well in the milieu that the books are set on.
The power and beauty of Perumal Murugan’s writing is that both sequels are believable, possible and inevitable. Highly recommended.