One Part Woman

one part woman

Status: Read from Oct 31 to Nov 02, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
My rating:  5star/5
Author: Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Controversy around the Book:

The book One Part Women was published in Tamil with title Mathorubhagan. Though the book was first published in 2010, it was only at the end of 2014 the trouble started. The local caste groups protested against this book alleging that Mr. Murugan had hurt community sentiments, defamed women, and outraged religious feelings. In response to these allegations, the author signed an “unconditional apology” and agreed to withdraw all unsold copies of the novel. A case was charged in Madras High Court along with criminal complaints against the author on the grounds of obscenity, spreading disharmony between communities, blasphemy, and defamation. Petitions were also filed asking the Court to ban One Part Woman.

The Madras High Court, however, gave complete victory to Mr. Murugan, dismissing the criminal complaints against the author, and dismissed the petition seeking a ban on the book. The Court arrived on the conclusion that One Part Women did not break any laws. The court relied upon three arguments: first, that the book has won many prizes, and has gained critical acclaim; second, that Indian culture had always celebrated sexuality until the Victorian British suppressed it; and third, that read as a whole, the book is not intended to titillate or eroticise, but instead, to make a broader point about how social pressures can impact individual lives.

For more details on the controversy on this book visit the link here.


Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Maadhorubaagan, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.


“There is no female without the male, and no male without the female. The world goes on only when they come together.”

One of the most poignant stories I read in recent times. This is story about Ponna and Kali, who fail to have a child even after 12 years of their married life. This book provides the clear picture of how couples are subjected to criticism and humiliation in Indian society if they fail to conceive a child. The woman is called barren and the man is called impotent. Though the story takes place in Karattur, a small village of Salem district in Tamil Nadu, this social stigma can be seen in all places in India even in today’s date. The author has written in a way which is very reflective of how the common people speak of such things in day to day life.

“Though they might have a million things wrong with their own lives, people found great pleasure in poking and prodding other people’s miseries. Couldn’t they even remember they were in a public place? What kind of pride comes from knowing that the other person does not have what one has? Does everyone have everything? Isn’t there always something lacking?”

The author’s writing is incredible, as the story bring the picturesque view of the tamil farmer’s life, with very detailed narration of the farmyards, the cattle, the activities in fields, and the wait for water during the monsoon. With all these, the author didn’t fail to bring out the misery of the unfortunate couple who fail to have their own child. Kali and Ponna, did everything possible in their bounds, visiting and praying every deity and following every ritual, to get the blessings of the lord to conceive a child. Here the author reflects the superstitions of the villagers, that are followed blindly to fulfill the worldly desires to hold their heads high in front of the villagers. Many people say that such portal of story creates superstition in readers. But I feel that author has put these beliefs as they exist in the Tamil society (which are also followed across India).

Ponna and Kali doesn’t leave a stone unturned to have their own child. But in their failure, they have become a talk of the village, hounded by evils taunts. Kali’s acquaintances suggest him to go for a second marriage. The most suffered here is Ponna, who gets to listen taunts of being a barren woman, during all social gatherings. It has become so difficult for her to go out, without hearing a bad thing about her fate for not being able to give birth to a child.

But both Ponna and Kali are very passionately in love with each other. Even being not able to have their own child, their love for each other doesn’t lessen by any means. Kali never agrees for a second marriage even after constant pressure from his mother or relatives and friends in village. He thinks about Ponna and how difficult her life will become, if he does that. He is even afraid of the thought that, if he fails to bear a child from second woman as well, he will be teased in the village for being impotent. The story also highlights the dilemma of the couple where they try to find happiness in each other’s company, stating that they don’t need a child, they can stay happy with each other. And at other times, thinking of adopting a child, stating that God has made sure that everyone lacks something, but has given a way to fulfill it.

The character of Ponna is presented very well as a woman, who is very bold with all her flaws. She faces all the insulting remarks from the villagers but knows how to answer them back, making them shut their mouths, showing a brave attitude. Whereas Kali is a loyal husband, who does not blame her wife for not being able to give birth to a child, like the other villagers. He loves Ponna, but he always tries to stop the mouth to mouth arguments from becoming worse. Kali also knows how to brighten up Ponna’s foul mood with his light humor.

Finally, the couple find a solution to their despair and grief in the form of the annual chariot festival of goddess, Ardhanareeswara, in the temple of Maadhorubaagan, the half female God. On this one night the rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night can put an end to all the humiliation and constant grief. But this also might put a big question mark on the sustenance of their marriage. The story is left open ended for the readers to draw their own conclusions.

I have read few reviews on this book before picking it and read that its mentioned that it contains many obscene statements. I feel the author has tried to put the words in same natural way, as it would had been used in normal communication, which are very harsh and raw. True that, this book is not recommended for teenagers.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan has kept the essence of the Tamil literature alive, while translating the book. Many tamil words are used as such, without translation, which I feel will be a challenge to people not familiar with tamil, or any of the south-indian languages. I feel, a glossary of these words would had been very helpful. The name of the temples and deity mentioned in the book are true and exists in real.

About the Author:


Perumal Murugan is the star of contemporary Tamil literature, having garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success for his work. An award-winning writer, poet and scholar, he has written six novels, four short-story collections, four poetry anthologies and works of non-fiction. Some of his novels have been translated into English to immense acclaim, including Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Award in 2005, and One Part Woman, his best-known work, which was shortlisted for the Crossword Award and won the prestigious ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman in 2015. Murugan has also received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan is a performer, writer and translator. He documents various public health projects and art projects, and is involved in LGBT advocacy work. He is currently a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin, and is also working on his first novel.


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