The ‘pen' drive
ZIYA US SALAM
First she won over the Tamil literary world. Then the hearts of English readers with her novels. Now prepare for Salma's English poetry, says ZIYA US SALAM
Photo: Sandeep Saxena
DETERMINEDNothing could deter Salma from writing her destiny in the words she chose
It has taken almost a quarter century for Salma's poems to reach the non-Tamil readers. The English readers though are not alone in having to endure this long wait. The Tamil readers too had to wait for a good decade before they could read Salma's works! Now being brought out by Zubaan in English, the poems were composed many, many summers ago, when Salma was known as Rokkiah, a little girl who had to drop out of school after the ninth standard, as the men in her community believed good girls do not go to school post puberty! Then she got married at 20 to a man who neither had the inclination nor the suspicion to know that his wife could write! Rokkiah though continued to write. Quietly, anonymously. She wanted to write but did not want to be seen writing! So Rokkiah became Salma.
She won acclaim in Tamil literary world but stayed in comforting anonymity at home and neighbourhood. Until she contested local panchayat elections.
Now soaking in the accolades coming her way for “The Hours Past Midnight” that was brought out by Zubaan last year, Salma reveals her poetry collection is on the way too. And like her novel, it is being translated by Lakshmi Holmstorm.
“The poems have been translated by Lakshmi who did a fine job with my novel too. They are somewhat autobiographical in nature but I have talked of larger issues affecting the society too. Though I have written short as well as long poems they all talk about women, their suffering, their deprivation and how men often use the bodies of women to meet their requirements, be it at the personal level or even the political level.”
A feminist with her works and deeds, Salma says, “Some 20 poems have been translated. I started writing them when I was 15 or 16. I talk of women's identity crisis, their suffering. People often tend to think of suffering as either a medical ailment or poverty but suffering can be both physical as well as emotional. I have raised my voice against men in my poems because they use religion for their ends. Islam permits women to attain education. Rather it makes no differentiation between men and women when it comes to education yet men do not want women to go out and make an identity for themselves.” Indeed. Salma herself had to wade through anonymity for a good 10 years before she could find herself a place under the spotlight. “Our society does not want women to step put of the shadows of men. For many years I wrote under the pen name so that my husband and family members would not know. My husband got to know my pen name when I contested panchayat elections. First time he read my poems, he opposed me. But I persisted. Now he has changed.”
Salma believes men in all communities use women. “Men do not give freedom to women. Girls are not asked for consent for their marriage. They are told not to raise their voice. They are supposed to live a cloistered life. Their only business is to prepare food and keep the house clean. They are deprived of their identity. This leads to a lot of suffering, a feeling of complete loneliness. I have tried to express that feeling through my poems.”
Are they then just reactive in nature?
“I cannot say but I have expressed my true feelings. I want to tell the world that Islam does not prohibit women from education. It is the mullahs who deprive them,” says Salma, calm as ever, her voice not rising above a whisper.
Yet she makes a forceful point even as she prepares her bags to leave for a U.S. Government's international leaders visitors' programme beginning later this week. She would surely be heard. And seen.
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