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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jul '19 & Jan '20



Psychological Impact of Culture on the life of a Childless Couple in One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

Dr. R. Saranya, Assistant Professor  & Dr. J. Charly Jerome, Assistant Professor, KPR Institute of Engineering and Technology, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu



Culture is the depiction of way of life in food, clothing, religious worship, cultivation of crops, stories, beliefs and myths. India is the land of rich cultural heritage since the country is diversified in religion. The broad classification of the aspects of culture can be brought in two umbrella categories as North and South Indian Culture. Literature carries the seeds of culture in every piece of work. Art is yet another form of recording the culture of a human society. Every culture is well defined in its own language and the delineation replicates the intellectual or artistic endeavours of a social group. One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan depicts the culture of Kongunadu region of South India with the contemporary relevance. The novel stresses on the psychological impact of culture on the childless couple Kali and Ponna. The novel is set in an ancient interior South Indian village with their major occupation as farming. The cultural practices, beliefs, myth and the way of life are clearly depicted in the flow of the story. The blend of culture and the story is inseparable as in the factual life of human being. Living in the very own birth place of culture the couple cannot escape the social & religious aftermaths and the cruel attitude of people. The long-preserved aura and glorious tradition of the Kongunadu region is vividly explained in every part of the novel. Even though certain religious practices of the specific community mentioned in the novel provoked controversies, it must be understood it is a work of fiction that records or portrays the practices of ancient culture. Historians can never be questioned and so must be the author of the novel as his imagination does not always go hand in hand with the factual evidence. The research paper attempts to investigate the picture of culture in One Part Woman and the role of language in portraying the same.

Key Words: Linguistic Culture, Behavioural Culture, Spiritual Culture and Psychological Impact of Culture.  


The fiction takes the readers a long way through the past history of Indian villages where the idea of test tube babies was never even thought of by the people. It was the age when the childless couple was ridiculed for everything and the childlessness was considered as the effect of the misdeeds of their ancestors. The mockery of the society would make the childless couple like Kali and Ponna attempt any rituals like even circumambulating a risky mountain supposed to cure barren women to bear child and live peacefully in the society.  Unfortunately, the wrath of the Gods was so furious to be convinced. The more radical solution offered to the couple was at the annual chariot festival, a celebration of the god Maadhorubaagan, who is one part woman, one part man. On the eighteenth day of the festival, the festivities culminate in a carnival, and on that night the rules of marriage are relaxed and consensual sex between unmarried men and women is overlooked, for all men are considered gods. The solution has torn apart the loving couple and led to devastation in their life.

Culture reveals itself in the character, setting, language and entire plot of the novel. The beliefs, myth and practices of the society are reflected through the terms in the native form. The broad range of meanings is expressed only with the representation of the terms in its original form. The intimate emotion is expressed with the affectionate calling of Ponna – “Mamma, mamma” The socio-cultural image of the setting is reflected in the following lines “…used their houses to store the harvest…. rearranging the sacks of harvested kambu, ragi, and pulses.”The linguistic power of the novel is displayed through the original words of snacks and food items. The very description of the food names the tradition and eating culture of the society. Names of the places, festivals and Gods have been transliterated to restore the aura of nativity. The retained terms include “Kattu Karuparayya, Machan, Mapillai, Thali, Koottuchoru, Kuzhambu, Rasam, Parai drum and name of Tamil months like Aani,Aadi,Aavani.” The depiction of culture and linguistic ideology can never travel in parallel roads.

Behavioural culture explores the influence of culture in one’s attitude and behavior. Culture is an observable, powerful force built on the shared values, beliefs, and practices. Culture guides individual decisions and actions even at the unconscious level. The most visible level of culture is behavior. Behaviors are shaped by personal philosophies, vision and values, and “norms” that prevent people from questioning their culture’s assumed structure. Individual’s behaviour, satisfaction, and personal growth are determined by the culture and society on which the individual leans. The behavioural pattern of the characters in the novel varies but never delineates from the culture of the society. Ponna is treated in an ordeal manner when it comes to the subject of child bearing by almost everyone in the society. The culture in the name of customs and beliefs validates the irregular behavioural pattern on the childless woman. The happy customs of the society become a torment for Ponna as she is humiliated by the fellow women. Kali also witnesses and experiences many humiliating incidents but the society handled him the other way by often emphasizing him to remarry whereas the woman was blamed for being barren. The seeds seem fertile and fertility of the land is attributed to the greatness of the seed. Even if the sown seed is imperfect the fertility of the soil is questioned. The remarks of women characters are more than the other gender.

This childless woman smells a child’s ass and squirms at the sight of a sight of a child’s shit. How does she expect to be blessed with a child? Ponna broke into sobs. Kali did not know what to do…. Had she handled a child before, she would have done better. She did not know. That does not mean you call her barren. (158-159 C-XXIII).

An individual develops a sense of fear in facing the society and become a prey to irrational beliefs. Ponna and Kali performing the ritual of circumambulating the maladikkal risking their life intensely articulate the behavioural change of the characters with respect to the society.

But men won’t benefit from this prayer. Only women do. That is what Ponna was told by a short old woman who had come one day to weed their field of groundnuts. According to her, any woman would be blessed with a child if she walked around the barren rock…. If Ponna felt scared on seeing the spot and someone came along, it might give them something to talk about. ‘She said she would walk around the stone but she took one look at it and came back without doing it.’(51-52 C-VIII)

Inheritance of wealth becomes a major concern for the childless couple whose wealth awaits the pondering kith and kin. The earnings and the wealth of a childless couple attract the entire attention of the village as they perceive it goes in vain. They accentuate that a child is needed at least to inherit the wealth. Ponna’s sister-in-law claims “What are you going to do by saving money? Eat well, wear good clothes and be happy.” This infuriates Ponna and she feels humiliated with these derisive remarks. The real longing of Ponna and Kali’s psyche for a child does not perturb their happiness but the society’s remarks and the mere negligence in a ceremony ruins their contented marriage life. The mere thought of eighteenth day festival haunts Kali and he openly states he won’t be able to live happily with Ponna and the God’s child.

..I simply cannot touch her after that. I cannot even lift and hold the child. Why do I need all that? I am happy lying around here. I don’t want a child so desperately. Moreover all of you will call me impotent and laugh at me. So let it go. (140 C-XXI)

The only solace for the readers and the childless couple is the character of Nallayyan, Kali’s uncle and a revolutionist soul who refuse to obey the uncanny rules of the society. He never believed in marriage and begetting a child. He wants to be free from commitments and never been in the ties of societal culture.

My brother’s children used to come to my house. It would all be nice for a while. After that it would all be a nuisance with them breaking this and smashing that. I would chase them away like dogs. They’d cry as they ran. So what? In their own homes, they behaved themselves. That’s because if they broke anything, their mothers would take hot iron rods to them. So, it is better to look at it all from a distance. It is a nuisance to have to take care of children. Be relieved that you don’t have to go through all that. Let stupid dogs who know nothing about happiness keep having children and keep suffering. Let us laugh at that too. (134 C-XIX).

The key to happiness depends only on the individual’s will to beget a child or remain free. But the society strictly influences the survival of every individual. Even though Kali says no to the eighteenth day ceremony, Ponna’s mother and mother-in-law convinces her and she is sent to the festival without Kali’s knowledge. Ponna goes to the festival and the trauma she experiences in the chariot festival vocalizes the mental dilemma - To be or not to be. She could not find God in the humans who were present there and she took the opportunity to roam around the festival with free will. She gazes the shops and watches Mayilattam, Oyilattam and others like a small girl. When he was approached by few men she ignored and walked away but she was God fearing and felt that she would never be blessed with a child since she rejected two men. “Had she earned his wrath after having rejected two of the Gods? Is this a crowd of Gods too? Is he watching me?”(221 C-XXXII). She often gets the image of Kali in her mind and cannot accept any other man in his place, but one gentle touch could make her feel the presence of God and she related Kali in every touch of men but this time she “jerked her head to get kali off her mind and his image receded and vanished.” She felt the God in Sakthi, a goatherd whom she had known in her young age. “He is my God. My job is to go where he takes me.” (225 C-XXXII) She yielded to the society’s persuasion and decided to go with her God. Meanwhile Kali comes to know the fact and he utters, “You whore! you have cheated me. You will not be happy. You whore! You cheated me” and he was found breathless.

An evocative novel about a childless couple reminds us of the excellence of writing in Indian languages . . . This is a novel of many layers; of richly textured relationships; of raw and resonant dialogues and characters . . . Perumal Murugan’s voice is distinct; it is the voice of writing in the Indian languages rich in characters, dialogues and locales that are unerringly drawn and intensely evocative. - Indian Express

The novel depicts the impact of culture with the carefully select vocabulary and the linguistic excellence of the novel is highly appreciated. The depiction of culture in the simple story of a young couple, deeply in love and anxious to have a child, with the complexities of convention, obligation and, ultimately, conviction leaves the reader with profound thoughts about the importance of culture. The societal pressure has made Ponna fall a prey for the age old custom and the confounded state of Kali. The novel received lot of controversies and Perumal Murugan himself faced the severe vibrations of his own society. He wrote – “The writer in me is dead” and he has set a sensor in his mind before conceiving the idea of any further work. If the depiction of custom can cause such a catastrophe then the existence of uncanny customs and beliefs would easily ruin the happy life of any individual. Even though the verdict on the author’s case gave a hope for the writer to continue writing without fear, many Kalis and Ponnas of the real life still suffer. Culture is rich and the positivity in Indian culture is respected and adored if not there wouldn’t have been a riot for Jallikattu but the presence of irrational attitude in the society affects the peaceful lives of many individuals. The caste division and its impact highly influence the lives of many individuals. The voices of Indian writers must be heard and there should be a change in the attitude of common people in order to live in harmony.


Works Cited

Murugan, Perumal. One Part Woman. Trans. Aniruddhan Vasudevan. New Delhi. Penguin Random House India, 2013.

“One Part Woman.” Grove Atlantic,

Ageing: Gender, Social Class and Health in Pakistan,

“Literature and Culture.”,

“One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan.” Goodreads, 20 Dec. 2013,