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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 77

Sunday Celebrity: Tamil poet Salma’s empowerment is praise-worthy

Gopal Ethiraj - When her outspoken thoughts were poured out in prose and poetry, she became cynosure, followed by praise and brick-bats. That she is a woman and Muslim, and that she was in her marital home did not matter—no stopping her views, her ‘literary fund’ breached the bund. That is women empowerment poet-writer Salma hitch-hiked with.

ByGopal Ethiraj , Chennai

Chennai , 23 August ( When her outspoken thoughts were poured out in prose and poetry, she became cynosure, followed by praise and brick-bats. That she is a woman and Muslim, and that she was in her marital home did not matter—no stopping her views, her ‘literary fund’ breached the bund. That is women empowerment poet-writer Salma hitch-hiked with.

Salma found her personal identity as a free and frank writer, and her personality as a free thinker found acceptance with her family, marital home, in her community and in the society. But, of course, not immediately, in a phased manner.

But to establish herself, Salma had to go through the mill, the rough and tumble of it with trials and tribulations. When success kept coming that leveled everything.

She is not a rebel poet and writer, but there is almost that element in her writing; she is simple and serene, but her writing is fiery and heavy with authority. She is just a women next door, but has the making of a leader placed distant, a social activist. That is the strange composition she is made up of, that makes her different, different from others.

Salma has already got the recognition as a progressive writer of growing importance in Tamil literature. Her works stand out for outspokenness about taboo areas of the traditional Tamil and also Muslim women’s experience. The suppressed women’s feelings and sensitivities, she gives easy expression. Her handling of the Tamil language is of compressed intensity and it smacks of metaphoric resonance.

Salma’s poetry breaks new ground in Tamil poetry for its articulation of an unapologetically female worldview. It expresses boldly life in a traditionally restrictive patriarchal context, and personal sensitivities. It evokes a world of love, sexuality, betrayal, frustration, motherhood and a self that will not be silenced, belittled or suppressed and subjugated. .

This life, the sufferings, pangs and pains of women are not an individual affair. It is same with millions of women in similar life situations. "Neither my pain nor my feelings are solely that of an individual; they belong to all such women," Salma says. That is why the stark reflections in her writings. She wants to call a spade a spade.

Her writing calls for social awakening in the Muslim world. Woman deserves a better treatment, she says, but says it without offending the religion and establishment. She is comparable with Bangaladeshi writer Taslima Nazreen in three respect— Muslim women, writer and social activism. But drawing from her experience and that of Salman Rushdie, Salma kept herself clear out of any controversy of that kind.

Debarred from education and confined to her home from the age of 13, in keeping with the rigid conventions of her cloistered community, Salma remained a voracious reader and she gulped down the pages of Tamil translations of Russian literature, Walt Whitman, Kaleel Gibron and Poplon Neruda, which were only books available in the library of her tiny village. And the books were few in the small library; she had read and re-read the same books again and again. Heavy reading material all these, it made Salma those big authors personified and she emerged a fiercely committed writer. Despite periods of personal crisis, she remained firm in her resolve to continue her writing even in a somewhat orthodox marital home.

Imprisoned in the house with no body of her age to share her feelings, she felt extremely lonely in the tender age. This loss of liberty ‘angered’ her and to avenge on that only she became a voracious reader, and to express her anger she found a vent with writing, first poetry that condensed her bent-up feelings and then fiction.

Salma’s parent-given name was Rokkaiah and was fondly called as Rajathi, while ‘Salma’ was her nom-de-plume. She started writing under the name of Rajathi even before marriage. Her bold expressions of female subjectivity and the foregrounding of female desire, in her first collection of poems, came as a rude shock to the male dominated Tamil literary world. There were criticisms from the literary world, and also from her relatives.

She became an under-ground writer under the pseudonym ‘Salma’ thereafter. This she continued from her marital home too. She recalled how she and her mother paid a surreptitious visit to Chennai for the launch of her first book of poetry, without divulging details to any other members of her family. When the success came, the cat was out. And no body could stop or prevent her.

Salma’s entry into politics was by chance. Her husband, a businessman, wanted to contest the post of panchyat board president. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for Salma, the local body was declared reserved for women. So her husband fielded his wife, Salma, and she was elected Chairperson of Ponnampatti Town panchayat in 2001. Now her husband Abdul Mallick is panchayat union president of Thuvarankurichi.

In 2006, Salma contested on DMK ticket the elections to the legislative assembly (Marungapuri constituency) and lost by a narrow margin of 1200 votes. The next year she was appointed as the Chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board. Salma’s concentration in the new responsibility is on counseling and mitigation of family problems, women and child development and creating awareness on women’s rights. City Police Commissioner’s office and Social welfare board jointly have a family counseling centre started last week at the CoP’s office.

Salma is the author of two books of poetry: Oru Maalaiyum Innoru Maalaiyum (An Evening and Another Evening) (2000) and Pachchai Devathai (Green Angel) (2003). Her novel and fiction Irandam Jamangalinin Kathai (Midnight Tales, 2004). Its first edition was sold out as fast cakes; the second edition is under print. This book was long-listed for Men Asian Booker Prize, but lost to a Philippine author.

The book has been translated into English as The Hours Past Midnight by Lakshmi Holmstrom. It’s Malayalam and Hindi translations are slated for release shortly. When she attended the Frankfrut Book fair recently a Spanish publisher evinced interest to translate into his colinshe language.

In 2002, Salma was invited for an international conference on women’s issues held in Sri Lanka. The National Book Trust of India nominated her to the Frankfurt Book Fair (2006). She is the featured author at the first Norman J. Cutler conference of South Asian Literatures at the University of Chicago (2007).

- Asian Tribune -

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