Perumal Murugan: Killing literature or our own society?
In Ray Bradbury's book 'Farenheit 451' the populace reached a state where books were outlawed. The book explored several themes, one of which is the suppression of creativity, imagination, and how censorship has led to this dystopia. Ironically, the publishers of the book made quite a few changes to the book, as they feared some parts of it could 'contaminate the young'. The book was 'shockingly savage', as one reviewer put it. But as it stands now, we are fast reaching the era.
The right to be offended has taken over our society. Protests are a daily affair and nothing is spared in the world– everyone is offended by something. Washermen, barbers, police, even God seems offended today by anyone creating anything. Cultural vigilantes have taken it upon themselves to kill.
Anyone who has ever done anything creative - written a poem, made a painting, composed a song or even stitched a basic dress knows how much passion goes into making your final piece.
If you write a book for publishing, there is a lot of blood and sweat involved in it. A creative piece of writing cannot be just random thoughts penned down, it needs to be appealing to the readers. The piece has to have finesse, a grasp over the language – a point of view or story that has not been put forth before.
When a creative person is driven to a point where he has to stop doing what he does, either out of fear or force, then there is a problem in the societal framework. Because, it is creativity that drives civilisation forward. Imagine a world without creativity, we would still be animals because none of us would know how to cook. Because it is the creative ones who take risks – who decide to walk on the less beaten track.
And it can't be state controlled. Or we will regress to a time when the earth was flat because the church said so.
Perumal Murugan, a Tamil writer recently declared himself dead. He withdrew all his previous works and decided never to pick a pen again. All this after he had to withdraw his latest novel after a series of protests from fringe groups in Tamil Nadu. It is hard to imagine the despair this man must have gone through to stop doing something he is passionate about. Someone who killed the writer in himself.
Another victim to the rising menace of cultural vigilantism. While the world rose to criticise the Charlie Hebdo attack, Murugan would be forgotten. But ultimately this outrage and the fact that the state is giving in to the violent threats from outfits is going to lead to such people to put a stop to more and more. While the makers of 'PK' have all the means to keep going despite protests, a writer like Murugan will succumb to the death threats he receives after his book released. The danger is looming heavy upon us.
The incident has left me wondering what literary stalwarts like Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto would have faced if they wrote today. If they stopped writing due to fear... I shudder to imagine.
Many of his friends have stood up for him but the population at large is going to resort to slacktivism at best. We are too 'busy' in life to really care what is happening around us. Time and again, we look at the trending hashtags, maybe add a few opinions of our own and then go back to the grind.
This short attention span is what Bradbury wrote about. However vicious his world turned out to be – we are accelerating in the high speed lane towards to the same Armageddon. For when creativity is shackled and people like P Murugan are forced to stop what they are doing – dystopian literature will no longer be work of fiction.