Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Title: The Goat Thief
Author: Perumal Murugan
Translator: N Kalyan Raman
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
Pages: 240
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan takes a slice of life, the thinnest sliver of one, and illuminates it, and the revelation is dazzling.

The stories inevitably turn on the protagonists. The intensity and the relentlessness with which the characters find their situations changed for the worse is totally inexorable.

In The Well, we watch with disbelief as an innocent episode of swimming in a well, along with three children, aged 8-12, becomes dangerous for a man. 

This story sets the stage for the others, and we become mentally prepared to realise that we will learn to identify with the protagonists of Perumal Murugan’s stories only to watch them suffer, often for no fault of theirs. It is a reminder about how life, and society, often stacks the odds against us.

In The Wailing of the Toilet Bowl, a newly married woman overestimates the amount of rice she must cook for the day, and the leftovers end up in a vat filled with stale rice. The question of how to get rid of it torments her. Her husband pours the contents of the vat into the toilet bowl, and so begins her irrational fear of the never-satisfied hunger pangs of the toilet bowl.

In Musical Chairs, a husband and wife become obsessed with a chair they find in their new house. By and by, the couple find themselves driven apart by their desire for the special chair. The wife then prevails upon her husband to buy her a chair of her own, but he transfers his obsession to the new chair, and it too becomes a source of friction.

In The Night the Owls Stopped Crying, Raju, a night watchman, falls in love with the ghost of a rape victim who haunts the sprawling estate that he has been hired to guard. He thinks his suit is doing well, until the living begin to pose a hindrance to his dreams.

In An Unexpected Visitor, an old woman who lives alone, vainly hoping that Death will claim her, discovers a renewed burst of energy when her granddaughter and her husband ask her to look after their six-year-old son for a few days.

In Mirror of Innocence, a two-year-old girl wakes up in the middle of the night bawling and demanding a certain something and frustrating her parents and grandmother. There can be no peace or sleep until that thing is identified, discovered and given to her. Here, the author captured very well the frustration of parents when little children throw tantrums.

In The Goat Thief, Boopathy, the eponymous thief, tries to escape with a stolen goat under the cover of darkness. His efforts fail, and he loses the goat. When he tries to make a getaway, he finds himself chased by the villagers. Feeling completely beleaguered, he rushes madly into a coconut grove, only to find himself dangerously trapped.

In the starkly named Shit, we come to know of the narrator and his friends, all bachelors, residing in a large rented house. They live a good life, drinking when they want to. The star attraction of their drinking episodes is an attractive plastic tumbler, that one of them gets to drink from, in turns, while the others make do with steel tumblers. The house they live is enveloped in a dirty stench, caused by a rupture in the pipe  leading from the toilet to the septic tank. To repair the problem, the friends must pay a sweeper Rs 500, an amount that seems exorbitant, until the narrator, and we, realise the enormity of the sweeper’s efforts.

The story consists of dual stories about the tumbler and the shit, which go on parallelly, leaving us confused about how they could belong in the same story, until the author gets them to converge in a spectacular manner.

In Sanctuary, the narrator, a youth becomes so engrossed in the games he plays with little boys in a well, that he actually regresses to a child himself.

Muthu Pattar is The Man Who Could Not Sleep. The insomnia is a strange affliction for him, a hardworking old man who has always rested well after hard labour. The cause of the insomnia is a sudden spurt of jealousy he feels, and he resolves his problem in the only way he knows how.

The heroes and heroines of Murugan’s world are threatened in their own stories. The character swimming in the well, the newly married housewife all alone at home, they all find themselves consumed by their circumstances. 

And yet, even as they find themselves alone, one can sense their fortunes being guided by Murugan, who feels deeply for them in their predicament.

Most of the characters, both the leading ones as well as the secondary characters, are unnamed. The exceptions are Raju, the night watchman, Boopathy, the goat thief, and Muthu Pattar, the old man who cannot sleep. Even Paati and Kunju, the great-grandmother and the child, are a form of address and a nickname respectively.

The long paragraphs, most of which are over-a-page in size, invite us to immerse ourselves in the story. Like the protagonist in The Well, we jump in with jolly abandon only to find that it is not so easy to get out of it, to extricate ourselves from the clutches of the little tyrants. The stories, like the well, claim us.

There is a sentence in the first story, The Well, Like a ripe coconut detaching itself from a bunch and dropping to the ground, which describes how the protagonist jumps into the well, while the children are still arguing over who will be the first to disturb the well.

The significance of Murugan’s stories fall into our consciousness with exactly the same precision and delicacy.

(I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of this review from Juggernaut.)


  1. Great review! This sounds like a fun and quirky collection.

    1. Oh, they certainly are. The plot ideas seem so odd and unreal, and yet they are the stuff of reality, happening all around us. Only the right eye can spot the story inherent in them.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...