Perumal Murugan crafts a new kind of urban-realist fiction with Estuary

28 July 2020
It is unsurprising that smartphones are viewed as culturally disruptive objects in Murugan's Estuary, and are the novel’s device of choice to excavate changing social attitudes.
ARUN SANKAR / AFP / Getty Images
It is unsurprising that smartphones are viewed as culturally disruptive objects in Murugan's Estuary, and are the novel’s device of choice to excavate changing social attitudes.
ARUN SANKAR / AFP / Getty Images

As a child, Perumal Murugan was cruelly assigned the epithet “eruvukali”—one who “shits his pants in fear”—by his father. The anecdote is sparingly laid out in Amma, his recent collection of essays dedicated to his late mother. 

A complicated father-son relationship takes centre stage in Estuary, Perumal Murugan’s latest novelDeftly translated from the Tamil by Nandini Krishnan, the book’s breezy take on parental anxiety is proof that Murugan’s dexterous imagination lends itself terrifically to narratives of urban unease. 

A seemingly innocuous request by his teenage son throws Kumarasurar’s life into disarray. Meghas, halfway through his first year of computer science at an engineering institute requires an expensive, state-of-the-art mobile phone. Kumarasurar’s wife, Mangasuri, who dotes on their son, urges Kumarasurar to give in and buy one. The demand is troubling for the forty-something civil servant who ekes a modest income and is yet to pay off his house loan. Fuelled by everyone around him, his imagination conjures up a Dantean descent for Meghas that leads to internet addiction, sexual perversion and death.

Karthik Shankar is a writer and editor from Chennai.

Keywords: perumal murugan surveillance Tamil Nadu translation mobile phones masculinity
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