Coming from a celebrated woman author, this book raises expectations of a ‘reading feast’. ‘Saabam’ is a collection of 11 short stories by Salma alias Rajathi Rokkiah. Written in a distinct style, the stories are ‘women oriented’ and explore their lives, mental state, emotions, sexuality, relationships, feelings, everyday struggles and much else in a poignant, simple and straight forward narrative.
Awakening the feminine consciousness, the writer also hints at the profound and painful gap between the highest potentials women intuit in lives and the way their lives actually turn out on a day-to-day basis.
As mentioned in the foreword, the short stories were written after a long gap and express the author’s anguish and unpleasant experiences — of broken friendships and relationships, oppression, loneliness and emotional crisis. These determine the language and content, and probably find expression as an “emotional catharsis.” In total control of the central theme, each story tries to showcase everyday life in its closest form.
The stories are titled Salanam, Vali, Pori, Saabam, Yutham, Izhappu, Vilimbu, Vidhi, Irul, Thozhi and Marumugam.
Saabam deals with the curse of womanhood — struggles, poverty, difficulty and delay in getting married, heart breaks, etc in a melancholic and thoughtful depiction. Vilimbu (Living on the edge) follows a young woman and her relationship with other family members who are facing serious health issues. Woven around a car journey to the hospital, the narrative brings out the physical and psychological complexities of the main characters in a detailed and compelling manner.
Thozhi (Friend) is a story about friendship and the pangs of guilt, sympathy and affection. Salanam vividly describes a train journey and the problems associated with inter-religious/caste marriage. Marumugam addresses caste discrimination and highlights the sudden behavioural change of a female nurse who stops eating food that is cooked by a maid from a lower caste.
Vidhi (Fate) deals with the problems caused by a nondescript letter that changes the fate of a woman. The author laments the fate of women and the custom of pandering to the demands of a bridegroom during many occasions and festivals.
Vali (Pain) is about the sceptre of childlessness. The protagonist is pained at the lack of understanding between married couples even after many years. In Izhappu (Loss), the author mentions that death does not hide and come, but catches us unawares. Here, she underlines the fact that rather than imagining to be in a land of milk and honey, women must realise that they are wrestling with a new kind of discontent — a new problem that has no name.
Each character in this collection is vividly brought to life and conveys the pathos and melancholy associated with the lives of women with an astute observation of the subjects and surroundings.
Though the background of each story is about Muslim families with a liberal sprinkling of Urdu words such as khabrasthaan (burial ground) and maut (death), it is an impressive collection of short stories.
This book makes for a compelling read, exploring in thoughtful, haunting perspectives themes that depict the contemporary culture, society and lives. Women must step out to gain freedom to do, be and have anything they want. Sadly they haven’t necessarily cultivated the power to cause their lives to flourish and thrive. That the author is a feminist voice espousing the cause of women comes through clearly in the work.
Each character in this collection is vividly brought to life and conveys the emotions associated with the lives of women.
Saabam (The Curse)
Kalaichuvadu Publications, Nagercoil. Pages: 144, Price: Rs. 110