Perumal Murugan on his Amma

Amma—is the first word a child utters. Amma—a term that suffices numerous meanings for us when in distress. Amma—a word which we say 100 times a day yet many a time we take her for granted. Her emotions, needs, dreams, and sacrifices are never given any importance. Author Perumal Murugan in his latest book Amma pays tribute to his mother in the most beautiful and poetic way and makes the reader question her relationship with her mother.

At the recently concluded 5th edition of Kerala Literature Festival held in Kozhikode, the Tamil writer spoke about the reason behind his latest book, his style of writing and struggles. Murugan’s Amma captures the life of his mother, who with limited means managed to raise a family and defeat societal stereotypes like gender, religion, and poverty. “My mother was uneducated but strong-willed. It was she who took me out from a narrow world. She did it naturally. Her contribution to my writing personality has been a strong backdrop,” shared the winner of ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman for writing in Indian languages.

Amma is his first non-fiction novel to be released in English, when quizzed on what inspired him to write a book on his mother, he said, “I never planned to write a book about my mother. When she passed away in 2012, I wrote many essays dedicated to her and got numerous appreciation from the readers. It was during one conversation with my publisher when he suggested that I write a book on her. He told me, ‘you have so many things to say about your mother, why don’t you write a book on her’. At that time I did not give it any consideration. It was only a few days later when I discussed the subject with him again that I was informed that he had finalised the English publisher. I then started working on it.”

In the book, there is very little reference to his father. He elaborated that he deliberately wrote very little about his father as the center of the narrative needs to be his mother. “He was a hard-working man who loved his family. But I do have my complaints about him. Because of his addiction to alcohol, we lost him at a very young age and due to which my mother had to face a lot of struggles in her life,” shared the professor of Tamil literature.

This star of contemporary Tamil literature writes on topics that are very close to his heart and growing years. Explaining his style of writing, the author of 10 novels, and an equal number of short story collections and poems said, “I have resided in the village all through my life. So, there is a strong bond with the land and the farm animals. I never gave up farming. I have a great interest in writing about village life as well as men and cattle.”

For his readers, his writing is also a reflection of the societal stigma. Murugan begged to differ, “Every writer writes based on his experience. Though the intention is not to reflect on the society but to show what is prevalent in society. It is up to the reader to imagine the rest. As a writer, it is our duty to portray the reality.”

Then again, does not his writing strongly reflect the contemporary issues and complex emotions of the world? He said, “As a writer, I never had any intention of writing on human emotions. In all my writings, I try to showcase/ represent the societal problems through the angle of my protagonist. It is their point of view that I write.”

In 2015, Murugan faced a lot of criticism and protests from the Gounder community over his 2010 released novel Mathorubhagan (One Part Woman). Talking about his sabbatical from writing and the struggles he faced at that time, Murugan said, “It was a difficult time for me and my family. Yet, I still do not feel like talking about the incident. As a writer, it was one of the most difficult phases. I wrote over 100 poems during that time but it was never about the incident. Most of them focused on my mental state.”

Currently, he is busy promoting his book, Amma, and plans to publish a collection of short stories by the end of this year.

More Stories
Translation: A Cultural Transfer