I’ll be honest. I got interested in the book by the strange title and the oh-so-cute picture of the goat on the cover.
Rarely does one come across a book with a dual title. My confusion was put to rest on reading the preface. In olden times, Tamil novels often had double titles. So by adding another name, it was the author’s wish to enter the league of the ‘great Tamil literature works of the nineteenth century’.
Once, in a village, there was a goat. No one knew where she was born. The birth of an ordinary life never leaves a trace, does it? The opening lines of the novel were enough to get my attention. The novel is centred around an old couple who live in a thatched shed in a village in Tamil Nadu. Their livelihood, like many farmers in rural India, is dependent on the annual rains and the rearing and trading of farm animals.
By a chance accident, or divine providence, the old couple find themselves in possession of Poonachi, a black goat which is a rarity in those parts. They firmly believe that the creature was blessed to them by Bakasura, the demon god. Was it actually the Rakshasa or a trick of the light, only time will tell.
Even a miracle wonder cannot be saved from the perils of rural life. Once in the old man’s possession, Poonachi was almost attacked by an eagle – an ominous sign for the times ahead. The eagle perhaps was also intrigued by the size and colour of the four-legged creature. The safety and comfort of the shed in the couple’s home was also not enough for the frail and tiny Poonachi who now had to fight for nourishment with the other members of the herd. In order to test and reap the full benefit of the miracle, the old woman tirelessly worked to ensure Poonachi’s well-being. Even saving her from the clutches of death, literally!
Interestingly, the novel doesn’t disclose the names of the old man and the woman. Not even of the distant relatives, the other villagers or the government officials. On the other hand, every couple of pages we are introduced to the goats by their names. The message is clear, goats and not humans are the protagonists of the novel.
Born into a family of farmers, Murugan is comfortable in painting a perfect picture on the rural life in Tamil Nadu. The attitude and behaviour of the villagers, the local customs and the fear of a distant yet all-pervasive government is seamlessly part of the narration, which is centered around the orphaned Poonachi. As the little black goat grows to be a profitable member of the herd, the attitude of the couple begins to change. “A miracle was something that happened rarely. If it happened frequently, it was normal.”
Poonachi – an outsider with a perpetual half-full belly, the second choice for a playmate, shunned by other nanny goats and the apple of the couple’s eye is a character full of joy, curiosity and hope. Challenged at every step of her life, as she completes a full circle, she gains wisdom and understanding that many humans fail to do. As I read through the novel, I marvelled at her resilience, empathised with her distraught emotions, felt her pain and hatred for those who wronged her.
Just like the famous novel ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, through anthropomorphization of the goats, Murugan has drawn an allegory to convey a strong message on the sufferings of the human women. Poonachi too shares a life similar to many rural women in the villages.
Before Poonachi, I had never heard of Perumal Murugan, my limited knowledge of Indian writers is to be blamed for this. But now, I am looking forward to exploring more of his works. This novel was not one that I had planned to read, I accidentally came across it on the Kindle Unlimited store.. now was this a chance accident or divine providence? I think the latter..