Amma by Perumal Murugan, Trnslated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan
Published by: Eka/Westland Publications
Non Fiction, 191p
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Perumal Murugan’s tender yet truthful essays capture the life of a strong, independent and extraordinary woman: his mother. She raised her children with the income from just a few acres of land that she managed on her own, tending to the cattle and crops with maternal concern, all the while minding her unruly husband. Every obligation met, all accounts squared up, each meal cooked to satiate the tongue and heart—Amma never rested, not even when bedridden with Parkinson’s. She lived a farmer’s life and died a farmer’s death.
Amma is a homage to a way of life and values—simplicity, honesty and hard work—lost to us today. Peppered with unsentimental nostalgia and delightful humour, and vividly documenting village and farming life in the Kongu region, Amma tugs at generational memory. Murugan’s non-fiction writing, his first to appear in English, is as deeply affecting as his fiction
About the author:
Perumal Murugan is a critically acclaimed and much loved Tamil writer and poet. He was written novels, short stories and poetry anthologies. Many of his novels have been translated into English to wide acclaim. The English translation of his novel Madhorubhagan, or One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, won the Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Prize in 2017 but also mired the author in controversy.
*Thank you Eka (Westland Publications) for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
Perumal Murugan’s writings in the realm of fiction have already made strong connections with readers and literary critics alike and his latest ‘Amma’ is going to be much loved and appreciated as well. A collection of 22 chapters/essays that revolve around the writer’s mother, this latest offering from Perumal Murugan is not just a memoir of the author’s childhood but also, the memories of his ties to his mother juxtaposed with his social cultural commentary. This combination gives an intimate look into the author’s early life filled with the everyday rigor of hard agrarian life and how it consumes his mother.
The essays are deeply personal in the way the author has taken readers to the domestic life he lived in: a father who has a small job but a big addiction to local toddy and how it leads to domestic strife and physical abuse. Any reader who has read Murugan’s work will be able to see the seeds and grains of the author’s fictional characters in his mother: her innate wisdom and knowledge of farming practices; the way she is full of heart and deep courage but still follow patriarchal stereotypical practices as dictated by society in the way she defends her husband’s vagaries and later, when her own father comes to live in her house; in the way she is practical and contradictory, taking charge of things around her.
It is difficult to pin down a favorite chapter from this book given the way the author has captured memories and presented to them but I will have a special place for ‘The Gift Accounts’ based on the practice of Moi (Mandatory gifting). I come from a different part of the country but we practice the exact same socio cultural practice under the name ‘poppaang’ for gift in kind and ‘poyeng’ for gift in cash in times of family functions like birth, death, sacred thread rituals, marriage/engagements etc and could relate to the sometimes deep churn that such a practice leaves on a close knit community when gifts are a burden or an accounts waiting to be tackled.
Two translators – Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan are credited for the book and while the weight of translating from one language to another and hence, shifting a socio cultural context from one culture to the other is not felt, the initial chapters that speak about the food that the author’s mother makes, felt a bit lost in translation for someone who is not familiar with the food and the terms used.
If you love reading personal essays, there is no way that you can forgo reading this beautiful book. If you love Perumal Murugan’s writings, you have to definitely read this without fail.