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Becoming Salma

When her first collection of poetry, Oru Maalaiyum, Innoru Maalaiyum (An Evening And Another Evening, 2000), was published to great acclaim, Tamil writer Salma had to lie to her husband’s orthodox Muslim family that she had uterine problems, to be permitted to go to Chennai with her mother and attend the book launch on the pretext of a visit to the doctor. She returned home without a copy of her own book. Rajathi Samsudeen, popularly known by her pen name Salma, is now an international literary figure.

She has been a guest of honour and the only representative of Tamil literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair (2006), the London Book Fair (2009) and the Beijing Book Fair (2010). Her novel, The Hour Past Midnight, was longlisted for the Man Asian Prize (2009) and shortlisted for the Crossword Book Prize (2010). Women Dreaming, another novel, was longlisted for the Dublin International Literary Award 2022. Both the books are translations from Tamil. From the days of having to hide her identity to write the truth, Salma, the feminist writer and activist, has now carved herself a space among national and international writers.

Poems of fearlessness

i, Salma (Red River), her first collection of poetry in English translation, was launched at the India International Centre, Delhi, this week. The book discussion, between the author and the translators, K Srilata and Shobhana Kumar, shed light on Salma’s poetry as a bold statement against the oppression of women in our society and literature as a means of liberation. “Though her fiction is available to us, Salma’s poetry was hitherto inaccessible to a larger audience in the country. This translation of her selected poems is a bridge between Tamil literature and us,” says Sukrita Paul Kumar, poet and academic, at the book launch.

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