'One Part Woman': the novel that Tamil writer Perumal Murugan is being hounded for

An excerpt from the novel by Perumal Murugan that is under fire, literally, for being sexually permissive.

Though Kali had resumed normal conversation with Ponna, he was constantly haunted by her words.

He was now convinced that women were terrible creatures. Mother tells the son, ‘Send your wife to another man.’ The other mother is ready to take her own daughter to it. And Ponna says, ‘I will, if you are fine with it.’ No one seemed to have even an iota of hesitation anywhere. He, on the other hand, was still hesitant to talk about those long-gone days when he had been to the fourteenth day of the festival. While a man felt so shy about these matters, look at these women! What they dared to do! If someone told them that the only way to have a child was to drop a rock on his head while he slept, would Ponna be ready to do that too?

These thoughts drained his trust in her. A falseness entered in his sweet words to her. His embrace was no longer wholehearted. There was no softness when he made love to her, not the usual generosity that let him include her in its sway. He came to be possessed by a fury for revenge, a desire to pound her violently and tear her apart. It was hot in the barnyard those days, even at night. He’d wake up suddenly and go home. Ponna kept the earthen wick lamp burning softly through the night. He would peep through the gaps in the wooden planks on the door to see if she was asleep. Sometimes he even went back to the barnyard without waking her up. Whenever he saw that the light inside was put out, that there was nothing but darkness, he panicked. On such days, he listened carefully for any sound that came from inside the house. Sometimes, his tapping on the door woke his mother. When she asked, ‘Who is it?’ he replied shyly, ‘It’s just me. Go back to sleep.’

A sense of urgency and carelessness started pervading all his actions. However much she tried to hold him tight and take him inside her, all he wanted was to hold back adamantly and ejaculate as soon as he could. Whenever he decided to drink loads of arrack, which he knew would knock him out till morning, he asked her to come and stay in the barn. He would force her to drink. Earlier, on the nights he drank, his body lost its harshness and spread on her like a fluid. He would chatter happily for a long time. On such nights, he wore only the loincloth. She’d playfully pull it open. But he would feel no shame. She would say in mock anger, ‘You have no shame. Look at you! Sitting with nothing on.’ And he’d reply, ‘Why should I feel any shame in front of you? Why don’t you be naked too?’ But there was none of that intimacy now.

Now he downed the arrack like water in quick gulps and passed out right away. At whatever time he came to at night, he jumped on her and took control of her. It took him several mornings to regain a sense of balance. ‘The drinking is getting out of control, maama. Please drink less,’ she said lovingly. He responded with a slight smile. His face never blossomed again in a full smile.

Whenever he crushed her underneath him, she begged, ‘Maama, please don’t show your anger on me this way. It is unbearable. Just hit me. Get a club and beat me to pulp if you want. But please don’t torture me like this.’ His heart went out to her. His embrace and kisses then said to her, ‘It was my mistake, dear.’

When she menstruated every month, she came to sit and cry in the barn. It was consoling to bury her face in his lap. He’d ruffle her hair and say, ‘Let it go. We should be used to it by now.’ But she kept hoping things would change. Sometimes, her crying made him cry too. So they cried together, lamenting their fate. Ironically, it made him happy on the inside whenever she got her periods on time and came crying to him. The way his mind worked, she was trustworthy as long as she was menstruating regularly.

Subsequently, he reasoned: ‘Poor thing. How can I be so suspicious because of just that one thing she said? She only said it in the urge to do something to have a child of her own. Does that mean I can conclude she would go with any man? Didn’t she come to me complaining about Karuppannan’s advances? She said what she said because of me - she said it for me. She said, “I will go if you ask me to.” And I didn’t ask her to. Then why would she go?’ This made him treat her with affection, and it looked as though the Kali she knew was back.

But it lasted only a week. He then got back to being irritable, and she was at a loss for words to placate him. But since she was annoyed too, it was easy for her to raise her voice. It put him in place a little if she shouted at him. He never raised his voice. Even when he had to call out to her from the field, he didn’t yell. He’d move closer and call her in a voice that sounded like he had a raven hidden deep inside his throat. She felt bad that she needed to shout and fight with him. This went on for a year. She had no other way but to observe him closely and choose her responses accordingly.

Excerpted with permission from One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Penguin Books.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.