Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | February 4, 2015 | 2.18 pm IST It is necessary to look into the politics of the times to understand why some things are opposed at certain times while others are not. To illustrate, are the tales of three fiction writers in three different languages, and three different points of time. Two writers are contemporaries and the last, is a remarkable poet who lived in the court of a Nayaka king in Tanjavur over 200 years ago. Last month, when Permual Murugan said that the author Perumal Murugan was dead, he was not talking of Roland Barthes views on literary criticism. After a long battle with groups who opposed his book Mathorubagan (One Part Woman), burned copies of it, finally forcing him to withdraw the book, Murugan wrote: “Writer Perumal Murugan is dead. He is not a God to resurrect. He doesn’t believe in re-birth also. The person who lives here after will just be an ordinary cheap editor Pe.Murugan.” Opposition to the novel came because of a certain practice that he referred to in his novel. Mathorubagan traces the life of a childless couple who lived in a town in which childless couples practiced “traditional free, consensual sex rituals” in order to have children.  Opposition came from several quarters – caste groups who felt that they were wrongly portrayed in the book, Hindu Munnani and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Read: 'Author Perumal Murugan has died' , hounded by Hindutva groups author puts up poignant post Writer and journalist Gauri Lankesh said that in his novel Parva, well-known Kannada author S L Bhyrappa too referred to “niyoga” – a practice where a married woman has sex with a man who is not her husband, for the purpose of having a child. Parva is a re-telling of the Mahabharatha. Published in 1979, the novel is regarded as one of Bhyrappa’s best works.  Writing about the novel in January 2012, Arvind Adiga said: “Pandu invites three tribal leaders to impregnate Kunti, his first wife, so that his heirs, and not his brothers, might inherit the throne. Kunti’s dilemma is the recurring one of Parva: she has to reconcile her Dharma, her role as a wife, with the instinctual drives for sex, kinship and power that strain against it. When she consents to sleep with the tribal leaders, Madri, the second wife, listens jealously to the love-making from the next room: Her body became a pair of eyes and her ear a nose.”” It is the same advice that Kunti gives Draupadi after the battle of Kurukshetra. She believes that the lineage of the Pandavas must continue. Lankesh quotes a passage at the end of the novel from an English translation of the book brought out by the Kendra Sahitya Academy:  “Kunti turned to Draupadi and said: Subhadra cannot conceive. Arjuna is past his prime. You are our only hope.Draupadi said: What does it matter if this lineage diesKunti became furious and said: No, you cannot say that. You must conceive.” Lankesh says that this portion of the novel in essence, was talking about “niyoga”. She points out that while both books refer to the same practice, it was Perumal who was hounded. “If they (right-wing activists) are offended with Perumal, they should be offended with Bhyrappa too,” she said. However, she clarified that she was not calling for the same treatment for Bhyrappa, but was pointing out the selective outrage. She said that she was making the opposite argument, and that the freedom of expression should apply equally to both: “I totally accept Parva, and I totally accept Perumal’s novel too.” Describing Bhyrappa’s telling of the Mahabharata, Adiga says: “The Pandavas win, but win nothing: their children are dead, their kingdom is ruined. Parva ends in a rhapsodic, nine-page long block of prose. Fires burn in a forest, it rains in the city, a horde of women raped during the war come to the Pandavas to ask who will look after their illegitimate children; the new king does not know how to answer.” In the years since writing Parva, Bhyrappa has expressed views espoused by the RSS, and critics have denounced some of his works for denigrating Muslims (Aavarana), Buddhism (Saartha) and women (Yaana).  During the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in Shravanabelagola, several writers including Lankesh questioned how a “misogynist” writer could be given the title of National Professor. Lankesh told The News Minute: “How can a writer with such horrible views about half of India’s population – women – be made National Professor?” Rewind to 200 years ago and we find Muddupalani, a highly accomplished courtesan in the court of the Nayaka king Pratapsimha, who wrote an erotic epic called Radhika Santwanam (Appeasing Radhika) in Telugu. In 1910, another courtesan Bangalore Nagaratnamma reprinted Muddupalani’s epic. A year later, the Police Commissioner Cunningham seized all copies of the book and affected a ban, which was revoked in independent India. The Telugu Academy of Letters too brought pressure on the British government to maintain the ban.  The leading figure of the social reform movement in Andhra and a novelist and literary critic Kandukuri Veereshalingam had said: “Many parts of the book are such that they should never be heard by a woman, let alone emerge from a woman’s mouth. Using sringara rasa as an excuse, she shamelessly fills her poems with crude descriptions of sex.” This history of Muddupalani’s erotic epic is chronicled in detail in Volume I of a two part book Women Writing in India. Editors Susie Tharu and K Lalita say that there was “no direct evidence to suggest that Muddupalani’s work was attacked or dismissed in her own times”. They write: “If the honours and rewards bestowed on her by Pratapsimha, her royal patron, can be taken as the response of a contemporary reader, there can be no doubt that her work was truly appreciated in her own times.” Radhika Santwanam is a sringaraprabandham, a genre of Telugu literature which retold the story of Radha and Krishna in multiple ways but mainly though the sringara rasa, or erotic pleasure. Muddupalani wrote of Radha, Krishna and a woman named Ila Devi, whom Radha has brought up since Ila was a child. Radhika, encourages the union between Krishna and Ila Devi, but she herself is in love with Krishna and desires him. In the section of the epic from which Radhika Santwanam gets its name, Radhika “calls Krishna names, accuses him of ignoring her, and demands that she keep up his relationship with her. Krishna responds warmly and appeases her with sweet talk and loving embraces.” This section “If I ask her not to kiss me” is published in Women Writing in India: If I ask her not to kiss me,Stroking on my cheeks She presses my lips hard against hers. Both Bhyrappa and Muddupalani use characters of popular mythology in their works to tell the story in their own ways. Perumal fictionalized accessible history, from around a hundred years ago to tell the story of a childless couple. All three of them discussed sex and sexuality in different ways. But each was treated very differently indeed, based on the politics of their times.  Permual, whose work caught the attention of caste groups and the RSS; Bhyrappa, whose work went unopposed by the RSS (or anybody for that matter); and Muddupalani, whose work was appreciated during her own life but opposed by the influential writers who imbibed Victorian sensibilities courtesy of the British. Follow @anisha_w   Tweet
Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.