Moonlit Memories

Book Title: Out in the Moonlight 

Author: Perumal Murugan

Illustrator: Ashok Rajagopalan

Publisher: Tulika, 2023 (paperback, INR 215) 

Reviewed by: Nidhi Gaur

Review Out in the Moonlight

A picture book adaptation of a chapter from Amma – Perumal Murugan’s collection of essays about his mother Out in the Moonlight illustrates a tender memory of a winter night, when his mother asked his five-year-old sibling if he wanted to go to the farm with her. The young boy was excited to go on this adventure. Carrying infant Murugan on her shoulders, she handed a lantern to the older child. She was not afraid of the darkness, it was snakes she feared. But work was calling out to her and she had to attend to it. 

Set in rural Tamil Nadu, the narrative is an evocative description of farm life, rich in details of place. The season, the month, the crop that needs to be cleared, the thorny stretch of Karuvelam trees on the way to the field… these details draw the reader into Murugan’s world, at the centre of which stands his mother: Between grazing the cattle, farming and cooking, Amma hardly got a break. She didn’t have any time to clear the fields, and would worry about this the whole day.

Yet, this is not a simple portrayal of a woman worn down by cares. Amma’s work has a wholesome quality. While cutting the millet stalks, she is mindful of leaving behind some stalks for broad bean and cowpea creepers to climb on and not disturbing a quail’s nest. Her mind is not distracted by worries or fear. Instead, it is focused on the task at hand. That’s why even after a long day of work Amma is neither tired nor aware of the passing of time. Only when her hands find no more stalks does she look up and realise that she has cleared the entire field.

The story brings to the fore the effort that goes into farming and how it shapes the life of a farmer. Reading about this can be a humbling yet inspiring experience for children living in cities. Children are also likely to enjoy this book as a night-time adventure. What does a rural landscape look like at night? How strong is the moonlight? What are the sounds of the night? Will baby Murugan wake up, or will he keep sleeping as his Amma toils through the night? What about the snakes that worry Amma? Will they show up? There is much to fascinate young readers in this anecdote from the author’s childhood. 

Ashok Rajagopalan’s atmospheric illustrations open doors to the rural setting of the book, moving seamlessly through the pages, like a well-directed movie. They immerse the reader in the mood, sounds and colours of the night. 

Out in the Moonlight familiarises readers, both children and adults, with village life and the work of farmers. Children will be able to relate to the impulses of Murugan’s five-year-old sibling as he sets out on a night-time jaunt, and are likely to be captivated by the possibility of such an exploration.

About Nidhi Gaur

Nidhi Gaur is a gender and education specialist and a Gandhi and Peace Studies scholar, who has worked with children for nearly two decades.