Aniruddhan Vasudevan has translated Perumal Murugan’s controversial novel ‘Maddhorubagan’ into English, as ‘One Part Woman’. He came out openly as gay in 2005 and was subsequently involved with the LGBT activism in Chennai. He has also worked actively around social issues such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the Cuddalore SIPCOT pollution.
Vasudevan is also a classical dancer, trained under renowned danseuse Chitra Visweswaran. In a telephonic conversation, he spoke to SUPRIYA D G about his involvement with the book’s translation, his commitment to social causes and his passion for writing and research.
When Aniruddhan Vasudevan bought Perumal Murugan’s ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2011, he was, as he says, “deeply moved and touched by the love and passion embodied in the relationship between its characters Kali and Ponna”. Vasudevan strongly felt the need for such work to be translated and spoke to Kannan of Kalachuvadu who had already published several works of Perumal Murugan before. Kannan suggested that Vasudevan translate the book. In what became an interesting journey, there was no hint of the controversy to follow. Vasudevan’s experience translating pamphlets and research questionnaire came useful in attempting the translation of a few chapters. Eventually, it was picked up by Penguin for publication.
Those who have read the book ‘One Part Woman’ will attest to how the beauty and skill of the original Tamil version is retained in the translated version. Vasudevan says that as a translator he became aware of his own language use, influenced as it was by his being in several locations and imbibing their language influences. However, the book is also a testimony to the writer’s research and grasp of a cultural context that has never found its way into mainstream narratives. Vasudevan believes that ‘One Part Woman’ is a plural text that enables different interpretations. “I feel that people can slip into the text wherever they want,” he says.
In 2014, Perumal Murugan’s book ‘Madhorubagan’ was targeted by certain groups that called for a ban on the book. They claimed that the book’s contextual references were degrading both Lord Shiva as well as the women who worshipped a manifestation of the deity, Arthanareeswarar. The book uses the famous Sengotuvallavar Car Festival (Vaigasi Visakam) in Tiruchengode as a narrative backdrop to the possibility of conceiving a child out of wedlock.
Perumal Murugan, is a professor in Tamil and a highly respected writer. Facing threats to his life from the groups who called for a ban, he gave up writing altogether. Vasudevan, however, adds that Perumal Murugan subsequently made changes to the edition following the furor over the book’s references that may have hurt the sentiments of certain groups because he did not want to make a big deal about it. The case is still being heard in the high court in Chennai with no effective ban on the book yet. Regarding the controversy surrounding the book and the demand for its ban, Vasudevan speculates that, “the foregrounding of female desire can be threatening to a patriarchal society.”
We are witnessing a culture of protest and counter protest. Who decides what gets said or heard? For Vasudevan it is important to have a moral and ethical orientation to be able to have a dialogue when there are several voices clamoring to be heard. “Our self representations are changing. We are all hybrid forms.” How can we articulate our opinions in a fixed manner?” he asks. “There is no once and for all ways to talk about it. But by letting other people act on our behalf, we are giving them power”, he adds.
While Vasudevan is committed to social justice, he does not see himself as an activist. Rather it is a term that has been conferred on him, one he wears with much humility considering that he founded an organization called The Shakti Resource Centre. He is also a trained Bharathnatyam dancer who experiments with interpretations, infusing a queer perspective into traditional pieces. Yet, in donning several mantles, he does not feel obliged to make a connection between the different aspects of his personality to make a point. “I don’t feel the need to tie all parts of my life together”, he claims. Not a believer in master narratives now, at one point in his life he was “confused between his passion for dance and his ambition to become a professional dancer.” “I enjoyed dance, justifying my commitment to it in the hours of practice and the joy I derived from it but mistook it as a desire to be a professional dancer” he admits. But as a person with varied interests, he believes he would have been unable to give the kind of commitment and discipline that is required for a professional dancer. More importantly he asserts, “Dance has kept me grounded in the body. The only justification is that it should have been the one that comes from a selfish place- one that gives me a sense of passion and joy to dance.”
In the United States, he has collaborated and worked with well known Bharathnatyam dancer and teacher Lakshmi Sriraman of Shree School of Dance in Kentucky and Daniel Phoenix Singh of the Dakshina Dance Company in Washington DC. Vasudevan is also working on a translation of short stories by well know writer Ambai. Also on the anvil is a short novel, a work in progress. “It is a novel in translation”, he admits, probably reflecting the shuffle between spaces and the languages English and Tamil.
Aniruddhan Vasudevan is currently pursuing his PhD in Anthropology at The University of Austin atTexas. His research involves looking at caste practices, language use and sexual orientation.