If I were to summarize my review in one line, it would contain all the cliché adjectives to describe a great book. Poonachi is a thought-provoking story with an unusual protagonist, blended with the darker sides of society. Through a goat, Mr. Murugan has shown the despicable nature of humans, the viciousness of the greed and the injustices existing in the society. I really liked Mr.Murugan’s One Part Woman and he has yet again done a marvelous job at showing the society a mirror through an innocent creature, a goat.
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
There is so much that I like about this book. The mere fact that this is translated makes me wonder how well the penmanship of Mr.Murugan would be in Tamil.
There are only five species of animals with which I am deeply familiar. Of them, dogs and cats are meant for poetry. It is forbidden to write about cows and pigs. That leaves only goats and sheep. Goats are problem-free, harmless and, above all, energetic. A story needs narrative pace. Therefore, I’ve chosen to write about goats.
— Perumal Murugan, Preface, Poonachi
The protagonist of the story is Poonachi, who is a black doe, she was handed over to an old couple by a giant man referred to as ‘Bakasuran’. At the time of birth, Poonachi was so small that it was hard to expect her to survive. The old couple, after getting Poonachi from Bakasuran, took here responsibility and fed her oilcake, and milk from nanny goats and somehow managed to raise her to be fit. It was initially declared by Bakasuran that she is from a miraculous bloodline and would birth no less than a litter of seven, which seemed laughable seeing how weak she was. Poonachi, however, did survive and delivered a litter of seven. The story takes us through similar milestones and puddles of Poonachi’s ‘ordinary’ life. The storytelling is brilliant because of the alternate narrative of what the old couple and the villagers see of Poonachi, revealing the greedy and selfish nature of humans.
The story has a narrative from goat’s point of view, hence we come across the innocent thoughts Poonachi has, her love for Poovan ( a buck) and her affection for the old lady. How she develops an understanding of the world and understands her place and purpose in the world. She somewhat represents a woman of the society with her struggles and her innocence.
“Once, in a village, there was a goat. No one knew where she was born. The birth of an ordinary life never leaves a trace, does it?”
Mr. Murugan has shown a reflection of human society through the eyes of the goat. Through the ordinary story of a goat, we see how the old couple conveniently change their stance on the possession of Poonachi from ‘lucky’ to ‘cursed’, just when things are not going their way. How they raise Poonachi like a child but do not miss opportunities to fill their pockets by exploiting her. The story shows us that in the end, it’s all about survival and making a place in society. When the villagers learn that Poonachi has a miraculous bloodline, they all come in to trade and buy the litter at high prices so they can increase their possession’s value.
Needless to say, this is not a happy story. It’s a story that leaves readers heavy-hearted and fills them with turmoil. Mr. N. Kalyan Raman has done a brilliant job retaining the essence of the story in the translated version, just as it should be.