Both these novels of Perumal Murugan were published by Tara Books in 2004 (I think) but I read both of them twice this year. Each book in its own way deals with marginal figures inside of the complex dynamics of modern Tamilnadu. Murugan centers their lives and experiences (the main characters tend to be young teen-aged men), flipping the dynamic of narration in an interesting way. The artistry of Murugan is that he manages to anchor these works in a dense social reality while making their hunger, beauty, darkness, and savage grace transcend the countryside and truck-stop towns of central Tamilnadu.
Seasons of the Palm tells of untouchable children herding goats around a dry lake-bed. Suspended precariously over cruelty, violence, and hunger, the characters experience fleeting moments of happiness and glimpses of a salvation that is both omnipresent and impossible.
Current Show follows the boys working menial jobs, selling sodas and storing cycles, in a cinema hall. Tired, bored, with only their companionship and a bit of marijuana, there is only the search for some small bit of stability, which is difficult to attain for those outside of the movie-screen fantasies.
Both of these books are exhilarating reads, both familiar and strange, troubling, beautiful, and fascinating. Instead of navel-gazing about the Indian (or Tamil for that matter) novel in the vernacular (like the recently translated Zero Degree), Murugan’s work show the possibility of an Indian (or Tamil) literature, can alienate and challenge the reader, like the best literature.
I will be teaching Current Show in my class this coming year. I’ll let you know how it goes!