Hurt sentiments

What a strange thing human nature is! One may quite easily sit motionless in a corner for hours without any bother at all, but if one is told that one has to stay in that corner, then it becomes intolerable even for a few minutes. It’s much the same, I fear, with all this palaver about “hurting sentiments”, a topic that has been much in the world news of late.

Generally, I am, as regular readers of this blog will know, a quiet, gentle person, kind and considerate to all, who wouldn’t normally dream of hurting anyone’s sentiments. But as soon as I’m told “Don’t you dare hurt my sentiments if you know what’s good for you!” I immediately feel an overwhelming urge to go on a gratuitous sentiment-hurting spree, if only to prove that I have the freedom to do so should I choose. (I don’t, of course, but that’s only because I’m a coward, and for no other reason.) Also, quite apart from this, banning or withdrawing books hurts my sentiments, and I don’t understand why my sentiments should be worth so much less than those of others. Being kind and considerate to all and respecting their sentiments, whether I happen to share them or not, is undoubtedly a fine thing in theory, but in practice, it becomes very difficult, I admit, to respect the sentiments of those who clearly don’t respect mine.

I don’t want to go too deeply here into the rights and wrongs of all this – on what the limits of freedom of expression should be, on whether such limits should exist at all, on whether the right to offend is as sacred as the right to revere, and so on. This is partly because, as I said, I am a coward: there are a great many inflamed and potentially violent passions out there that I have no desire to inflame further. And it is also because all that needs to be said, and also much that needn’t, or, indeed, shouldn’t, is already out there: my own frail voice is hardly required to add to the existing cacophony. Further, this is primarily a literary blog, and, for reasons given elsewhere, I try generally to steer clear of political matters. However, as a blog dealing primarily with literary matters, it is not possible to steer clear of certain issues. And when an author, as a consequence of a campaign against him, withdraws all his books, and retires from his literary career, then that is a matter that should be of very deep concern to anyone who values literature, and the freedom of the writer.

The 18-day protests over controversial Tamil novel, Madhorubhagan, on Monday ended with its author Perumal Murugan tendering an unconditional apology for “hurting the sentiments of the people of Tiruchengode”. He also decided to withdraw all his novels, short stories, essays and poems published so far. He said he would compensate the publishers. He told Express that he made the decision fearing protests in the future against his published work.

I had not, to my shame, previously heard of Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan, but that is a reflection not on his stature as an author, but on my ignorance of contemporary Indian literature. I do, however, think it important to draw attention to this story as it seems to have been somewhat sidelined in the international press.

Doing a Google search on the author’s name, I find, as ever, a diversity of opinions. And once again, I do not wish to comment. The author was described in the news report linked to above as “visibly upset”: I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether Mr Murugan’s decision to withdraw his life’s work, and promise not to pursue his literary career further, was due to a genuine respect for the hurt sentiments of the protestors, or, perhaps, to some other consideration. Mr Murugan did put up a message on his Facebook page for a few days regarding this matter, and a translation of it may be found here.

Should anyone like to offer a modicum of support to Mr Murugan (since that is all that can be offered now) please consider purchasing the Kindle edition of one his novels. It is available here.

I don’t know that there’s anything more for me to say, except that my sentiments have been very deeply hurt.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rachel Pearce on January 15, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    In spite of my reservations about Amazon (greater good and all that) I bought it from the Amazon UK site : http://www.amazon.co.uk/One-Part-Woman-Perumal-Murugan-ebook/dp/B00GZQDISO/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1421323729&sr=1-2&keywords=One+Part+Woman

    Reply

  2. Thank you for this post, and for letting us know of this

    Reply

  3. According to his lawyer, his action wasn’t exactly voluntary.

    “I had used the expression “sincere regret”. But the DRO felt that this will not be acceptable to the other side and wanted me to change it as “unconditional apology”. I could not stomach it. I could see that Perumal Murugan was in real agony. … “Sincere regret” became “unconditional apology”. I thought with that everything would be over. Not yet. The DRO …produced a copy of the statement earlier issued by Perumal Murugan offering to change the name of the place [his hometown, which objected to his work] and delete the offending portions in the next edition and to take back the unsold copies. I pointed out that that was given under compulsion in the face of hartal threat earlier. Since the said statement had been ignored and a hartal was held, there was no point in relying on it. But the police and the District Administration insisted that we incorporate those portions also. I could see that Perumal Murugan was literally crumbling within. He literally was on the edge of frustration. He said “write anything, do anything, I accept”.”

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/perumal-murugan-was-asked-to-exile-himself-by-police/article6792161.ece

    Well, if you want the man to sell a lot of books, just tell people not to buy them. I hope the bump in Amazon sales helps him, but it is a tragedy.

    Reply

    • Hello Janet, and thank you for that link, and that extract. It really is, as you say, a tragedy. While, no doubt, many will now be feeling happy and vindicated, I can’t imagine what Mr Murugan must be feeling right now. India is a country with very proud literary traditions, but the future for these traditions is looking very bleak right now.

      Reply

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