The Goat Thief

by Perumal Murugan, translated from Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman

Read time: about 6 minutes

Short stories have always been one of my most favoured genre. What a novel does in 15 pages a short story does in 2. And, Perumal Murugan has a skill that surpasses all records. The Goat Thief was on my radar since quite some time but when I am finally done with it I want more! I love it how Murugan describes the art of writing- Whenever I think of writing a short story, I am reminded of the art of drawing kolams practised in Tamil homes. The aim is to draw- during the early hours of the morning, in shadowy predawn light- a beautiful kolam at the entrance to your house.

The beautiful art of drawing kolam finds in resemblance in the stories too. The flow in the events like they are not looking for a destination, just swaying with the music, is what drew me to Murugan’s writing. This is a collection I will always remember.

Cover: The Goat Thief

Cover page

The cover page is simple yet beautiful. The cover is rustic at the same time universal. The goat is staring right at you with the lettering all around. The little writings around seem insignificant but personal. It’s a beautiful cover that you would want to own!

Characters

I had some difficulty placing the characters in a category. The characters from all the stories do have some similarities but they are all very different from each other. Our protagonist from The Well is reluctant that the kids around him were seeking his company as if he only wanted to be left alone. In The Wailing of a Toilet Bowl we find our protagonist lonely, finding her worst fears in the toilet bowl which is calling out to her. In The Night the Owls Stopped Crying, Raju finds a company in the ghost of a young woman. The company he grows fond of while he stays aloof with the people he meets around.

It is strange how each character in the story is either lonely or wants to stay aloof, disregarding their purpose in life. As the translator says- the central character in each story is utterly alone, but not always lonely. How do they end up being so alone? Some are forsaken by others. Some are led there by the treachery of their own delusions. Not a few are trapped in that condition by the slow, inexorable turning of a heedless world.

Content

In this collection of stories, Perumal Murugan picks up his ten best stories. ‘The author follows an individual’s journey through a certain phase, in her immediate human context- of family, village and region - as well in the larger social and historical contexts.’

The collection begins with The Well where the protagonist is lead to the Well by three kids who turn the water against him. A great swimmer feels powerless against the kids who are pushing him further into the water. The secrets of the well are pondered upon and the scare spreads through the last ganglions of his body. ‘No one had invited him to swim. ‘The well had sent it’s emissaries in human form. He didn’t know their faces. The well was the count of all illusion. It was a death pit, asking for votive sacrifice.’

In The Wailing of a Toilet Bowl, the protagonist moves in to the city apartment with her newly married husband. He awaits the arrival of guests at her place for whom she keeps just some extra bit of rice to cook. She soon realises that no one is going to visit her but she cannot help but always cook some extra rice which she collects until the vessel overflows, after which she asks her husband to dump it in the toilet bowl. The bowl soon gets hungrier and wails for more. This is an awkward relationship that they share, one beast overpowering the other.

In An Unexpected Visitor, an old woman gets attached to her grand grand son who comes to stay with her. She suddenly finds a new sort of energy. But she soon realises she can’t take care of him anymore. The fear of keeping him with herself as well as letting go of him bites into her slowly as she struggles with her inner demons. Delusion slowly creeps up and is unable to hold the ground in reality.

Shit represents the mundane lives where one day a strange case of stink crops up. The only way to get rid of the stink is to call upon a man who could get inside the shit hole and scoop it out. The turn of events lead to one getting intimate with the entire action of bathing in shit all the while thinking of the permeability of it. ‘But how could he ever become clean again? What could he do about the shit that must have entered through the pores on his skins? How would he rid himself of the reek of shit that had laid siege to him from all sides?’

The title story, The Goat Thief, describes the steal. A young goat thief steals a thief but he has to let go of it for the fear of being caught. He cannot do one job right! He recollects how his father was a skilled thief. And he himself got no better than his first steal. Every time he steals he is reminded of his first time. This is a beautiful story of his consciousness and occupation.

Sanctuary and The Man Who Could Not Sleep are two beautiful stories about men losing touch with themselves and turning into another person.

I loved all the stories in the collection. Some more than the others as it happens in all the collections. The ratio is great in this one though!

Language

The language is very simple and rustic. The descriptions are beautiful. There is a kolam like flow in the stories that one will not help but appreciate.

Good points

The loved the cover page. The characters are beautifully designed. The stories are a delight to read not only for the content but also for the way it is being told. Language is beautiful!

Bad points

For the lack of finding a fault I would say I wished there were more stories in the collection! Ten are not enough!

Overall

This is a must read. Absolutely loved the collection!

Whom do I recommend this to

This is for those who enjoy short literatures. Those who like authentic rustic literature are also going to like this one!

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com