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A bold venture by a Muslim woman novelist

By T.S. Subramanian

Salma. — Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam

CHENNAI, DEC. 25. In a new and important development in modern Tamil fiction, a Muslim woman has written a full length novel on Muslim society in Tamil Nadu — delineating especially the Muslim women's aspirations and their struggles. Salma, the 34-year old author, has titled her novel as Irandaam Jaamangalin Kathai (The Story of the Midnight). Critics say it is a sensitive portrayal of the familial relationship in Tamil Muslim society. The bold venture juxtaposes the Muslim women's ordeals vis--vis the community's tight leash on them. It runs to 520 pages.

The last time a Muslim woman wrote fiction in Tamil was when Siddhi Junaida Begum published Kadhala kadamaiya (Love or Duty) in 1938. But it was reportedly an adaptation of Anthony Hope's novel called Prisoner of Zenda.

Salma's real name is A. Rokkaiah. She belongs to Thuvarankurichi village near Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu.

President of the Ponnampatti special panchayat in Thuvarankurichi, Salma has already published two anthologies of poems in Tamil and short stories.

The anthologies are titled Oru malaiyum, innoru malaiyum (One Evening and Another Evening) and Pachai Devadhai (The Green Goddess). Her poems, translated into Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and English, explore sensitive issues considered taboo for women to write on.

Salma says: "I can write only about my community. There are several myths about women in different communities. There are myths about Muslim women too.

To that extent, our life has been shielded from the outside world." But Muslim women are no different from their counterparts elsewhere and their emotions are the same. "You know about a woman's place in a family. They are in a weak position. I have written about all this in my novel."

Although there are male Muslim writers in Tamil fiction including Thoppil Mohammed Meeran and H.G. Razul, there is virtually no Muslim woman novelist.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Chennai, says: "Thoppil Mohammed Meeran is practically the only Muslim writer in modern Tamil fiction. A Muslim woman writer in Tamil is even rarer. So Salma writing an original novel in Tamil is a new and important literary development. She writes elaborately and with a great amount of self-consciousness. The novel deals with the oppression that a Muslim woman faces in her family and society. She writes with sensitivity and has a critical perspective of the life around her. She takes into account the gender oppression. The language is creative."

Ravikumar, Dalit writer, says that Hindutva forces have misused people's ignorance about the Muslim society.

For example, there is a wrong notion that the Muslims are not adopting birth control. He points out that Salma has written in minute detail on the culture of Muslims, how they celebrate their weddings, the death ceremonies, etc.

All this is portrayed brilliantly from a woman's point of view.

"She deals with the injustice done to Muslim women. For instance, the loneliness of Muslim women if their marriage breaks down, how their desires and aspirations are linked to the fate of the community and so on," says Ravikumar.

Irandaam Jaamangalin Kathai has been published by Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, Nagercoil. Susie Tharu of the Central Institute of English and Foreign Language, Hyderabad, who is a specialist on women writing in India will release the novel in Chennai on January 10, 2005.

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