A week after the police advised Tamil writer Perumal Murugan to leave his home in Namakkal following protests by caste- and Hindutva organisations against his book Madhorubagan, the author has announced that he will withdraw his entire body of work from publication and will never write again.

The announcement came after four hours of negotiations with the groups that had objected to the book.

Last month, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh burnt copies of his novel  in Tiruchengode in Tamil Nadu on Friday, The Hindu reported, saying that parts of the book insulted the Kailasanathar temple, Shiva and female worshippers.  They claimed to be offended by the sexual permissiveness described in the book, which is set around 100 years ago at the time of an annual festival in Tiruchengode.

After repeated threats on the phone, the writer decided to flee his hometown a few days ago.

On Monday night, Murugan posted a note on his Facebook wall announcing his decision to stop writing altogether. He offered to compensate his publishers and readers if they incurred any loss and asked people to leave him alone.

Writer Aniruddhan Vasudevan translated this in a note that is circulating on social media websites.

Here is the translation.
Friends, the following note will stay on Facebook for the next two days. After that, Perumal Murugan will withdraw himself from all social networking activities. He thanks all those who supported him on social media.

On behalf of Perumal Murugan, a note from Pe. Murugan:

Author Perumal Murugan has died. He is no god, so he is not going to resurrect himself. Nor does he believe in reincarnation. From now on, Perumal Murugan will survive merely as a teacher, as he has been.

He thanks all magazines, media, readers, friends,writers, organisations, political parties, leaders, students and anyone else who supported Perumal Murugan and upheld the freedom of expression.

The issue is not going to end with Madhorubagan. Different groups and individuals might pick up any of his books and make it a problem. Therefore, these are the final decisions that Perumal Murugan has taken:

1. Other than those books that Perumal Murugan has compiled and published on his own, he withdraws all the novels, short stories, essays and poetry he has written so far. He says with certainty that none of these books will be on sale again.

2. He requests his publishers – Kalachavadu, Natrinai, Adaiyalam, Malaigal, Kayalkavin not to sell his books. He will compensate them for their loss.

3. All those who have bought his books so far are free to burn them. If anyone feels they have incurred a waste or loss in buying his books, he will offer them a compensation.

4. He requests that he be not invited to any events from now on.

5. Since he is withdrawing all his books, he requests caste, religious, political and other groups not to engage in protests or create problems.

Please leave him alone. Thanks to everyone.

Pe. Murugan

For Perumal Murugan.

The first scheduled peace meeting on January 7 collapsed because a group withdrew at the last moment without informing the district revenue officer who organised it. As threats of a bandh grew that day in Tiruchengode, Murugan released an eloquent defence of the book and appealed for calm.
Madhorubagan – A Clarification

I have been writing poetry, short stories, and novels for some twenty-five years now. My books have been received favourably by critics, fellow writers, and readers. I have also received a number of literary awards and prizes. Compiling a dictionary of words in dialect of the Kongu region of Tamil Nadu was a task I undertook all alone and completed singlehandedly. This work even received a Government of Tamil Nadu award. In addition to these, I have also edited print ‘Kongu Nadu,’ a historical work written by T.A. Muthuswami Konar, a scholar who lived in Tiruchengode early in the last century. I have also compiled short fiction written in the Kongu region. In these ways, I think, I have added to the glory and fame of Tiruchengode.

Tiruchengode is my hometown. I was born and raised there. I have a great fondness and respect for my hometown. I believe that using my town’s name in my fiction adds to its fame. I have written my works in such a way that they bring out the distinctiveness and the sincere labor of its people. It is in that tone and intention that I wrote ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010. The novel time is set a hundred years ago, and it poignantly speaks of the travails of a childless couple.

Novel writing brings together life, fiction, and imagination. It would be hard to find in real life all that one finds in a novel. It is likely to contain a higher percentage of fiction and imagination than that of what we actually encounter in everyday life. ‘Madhorubagan’s is set in a period that’s a hundred years in the past, and it was incubated in my own imagination.

Through the ages, the desire to produce children to perpetuate one’s lineage has been an intense one for many people. Today, assisted modes of conception have a licensed presence in our world. In olden days, such facilities did not exist. People have followed, in various ways, the practice of begetting a child by engaging in sexual union with a man other than one’s husband. There is evidence for such practices in the Mahabharata.

Carnivals where crowds assemble have often provided opportunities for such union and conception. In the field of folklore, oral histories are available that attest to this fact. Cultural anthropologists such as Theodore Baskaran, A. Sivasubramanian, and A. K. Perumal have recorded these facts. I linked one such narrative to the Tiruchengode festival and wrote ‘Madhorubagan.’

The novel also discusses the conflicts between those who endorse and those who oppose the practice of having sex with another man at the festival with the aim of conceiving a child. None of the descriptions in the novel pertain to today’s time. I have written it as depicting a society of a hundred years ago.

The Tiruchengode of the novel is not the Tiruchengode of today. It has been constructed as a fictional and imagined town of ages ago. If you remove the name of Tiruchengode, the story could happen anywhere. The novel has been written in such a way that it brings out women’s inner lives. It speaks of the sufferings experienced by a childless woman. It does not insult any woman. What the characters speak are their perspectives on things. It cannot be attributed to the  author or to the larger society.

There is nothing in the novel that could be construed as being insulting of god or of the temple. It has been written with the affirmation god resides within all of us. I have no intention of insulting Tiruchengode. I have merely depicted it as a place where different prayers and offerings of childless couples converge.

The views our ancestors held about life were very different from our own. It serves no purpose to judge them by comparing them with ourselves. It is important to acknowledge and understand them. The novel fictionalizes a small portion of a tradition that ranges across texts as varied as the Mahabharata and our folk traditions. I would like to state very clearly that I had no intention of hurting anyone by writing this novel.

However, not only have some people protested against the novel, they have also distributed photocopies of select pages from the novel to thousands of people. They have propagated the idea that the novel insults women and the town. Sadly enough, many of those who have read these pages have fallen for this propaganda. I still believe that a person who reads the novel in its entirety will like it. Those who have canvassed against the novel have not asked me for an explanation. Nor have they been respectful to those who have tried to engage them in conversations. Intensifying the issue seems to be their primary intention.

I come to understand that, thanks to the propaganda of those who oppose the novel, a lot of the residents of Tiruchengode are angry at the novel and with me. I understand that they feel truly hurt that the novel insults our town. I do not have even the slightest intention of insulting Tiruchengode, its people, religion, or caste. But I understand the sentiments of the people of Tiruchengode. I also hear that protestors are considering measures like calling for a bandh, which can be disruptive to people’s everyday lives.

It distresses me to see that my writing could be a cause for a disruption in the daily life in Tiruchengode. Gandhi once spoke in Varanasi at an event in which the then Viceroy participated. He condemned that fact that the measures that had been taken to accommodate the Viceroy’s visit were disruptive to people’s lives. ‘The Viceroy’s life is no more precious than one day in the life of the people’, he is believed to have said. I take my cue from Gandhi. I do not think that my book is more important than the everyday life of Tiruchengode and its people.

Therefore I express sadness with the people of Tiruchengode, who, in their reading of the novel, find it wrong on my part of to have used the town’s name and some of its other identities and landmarks. I would also like to state that in the subsequent editions of the novel I plan to remove all references to Tiruchengode. I request the public and the protesting groups not to engage in any form of protest that would disrupt normal life.

Perumal Murugan