The book Pyre is originally written in Tamil by the author Perumal Murugan and translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan. It is the same combination of the book One Part Woman. As expected, the translation is impeccable. That is half the objective of the book achieved. Aniruddhan also mentions at the beginning that there are different dialects used in the book to show regional flavour. But, the same cannot be literally translated into English. Alas! If only one could read the original. These are the nuances we lose out in English. And a whole lot of the author’s skillfully written dialogues are lost.
But, to the credit of the author, the social problem highlighted here is very specific to India and other places where caste and honor is of paramount importance. It is more important than the people involved itself. Though, this story is in the past, there doesn’t look like anything has changed in reality in the present.
A man loves a woman and the woman loves him back. But, does the heart understand the barriers or boundaries of caste? The couple love each other and have no issues. But, the society with its old customs and superstitions with no basis, cause people to do the unthinkable.
In the book, a migrant Kumaresan falls in love with Saroja from the town he works in. Saroja elopes with Kumaresan one night leaving behind her father and brother. Kumaresan brings her back to the only place he knows, his home. It is an obscure village which has not progressed much with the times. To top it Saroja is not accustomed to the rituals and customs of Kumaresan’s village, moreover village life is alien for her. She finds it difficult to eat their food or carry water for long distances. And she is also fair-skinned making Saroja instantly different from the rest of the village. Everyone agrees she is not of the same caste as them. Kumaresan’s mother, Marayi, believes she is bad luck as she is of no use to them. How can she be when she has not brought in any riches or land, or gold? She cannot even cook what they eat completely ignoring that Saroja is a good cook but it is different from Kumaresan’s. The final blow comes when the village decides to ostracize them. What follows is a life of punishment for Saroja. Every minute of the life she endures is described making you feel her boredom, helplessness and finally indifference. But in all this Kumaresan is a gentle husband who is trying his best to get Saroja accustomed to the new place and customs.
The narration goes back and forth into the past and the present. The past is the moments reminisced by Saroja or Kumaresan. It highlights the differences they are finding in their current lives. The story is sometimes from Saroja’s view, sometimes from Kumaresan’s view. This may be a bit distracting when reading.
It is a beautiful story and I enjoyed it. But, every time my heart would compare it with One Part Woman. But, that one is a masterpiece for which Perumal Murugan has won many awards. If we do not compare it with One Part Woman, this is a wonderful book.