New Age Islam
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Islamic Personalities ( 27 Jul 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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From purdah to poetry and politics

Salma has been nominated for Asian Booker Prize


By M. C. Rajan in Chennai


ROKKIAH MALIK’S carefree teenage days ended years ago, when she and some friends accidentally ended up watching an adults-only Malayalam movie in the local cinema hall. She was stopped from going to school and couldn’t even step outside her home. Not many people, especially a teenage girl full of zest for life, could have endured that kind of ‘punishment’.


But Rokkiah endured, and was completely transformed by the experience. Today, she is Salma, noted Tamil writer and politician whose words reflect the plight of oppressed womanhood. Stunning the conservative Tamil literary milieu with her bold poetry, Salma talks about the “suppressed sexual fantasies” of a woman in captivity. But even while celebrating the naked female body, her poems are full of repugnance, hurt and anger.

Just sample these lines:


“Knowing everything Opened wide my vagina” …


“The solitude of the bathroom Awakens a fear of the loathing of nakedness…”


The poet, who has two collections of poems and a novel to her credit, has now been nominated for the Asian Booker Prize. For a girl who was forced to quit studies and all ties with the outside world when in Class IX, it is quite an achievement.


Salma’s poems explore the relationship between the body and mind. For her, it is the body where emotions are born. So, do her poems reflect her personal life? No, she says. “The pain and suffering reflected in my work does not belong to my individual not belong to my individual self. It belongs to all the women in a similar situation.”


Recalling her urge to write, she says: “Books, especially classics in translation, helped me kill loneliness. In my village, especially in my community, girls were stopped from going to Salma was made to quit school in Class 9 School after they attained puberty and I was no exception.


I developed a liking for Russian classics. Fyodor Dostoevsky was my favourite as I found an affinity with the themes in his works.” Salma was born into an affluent family in Thuvar.


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