Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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A Novel in Which Female Characters Fight Impossible Battles With Outstanding Courage to Preserve Their Dreams

Book title: Women Dreaming

Author: Salma

Translated by: Meena Kandasamy

Published by: Penguin Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India

Genre: Fiction, Literary, Translation

Book summary:

What a life! She didn’t like being here, and she didn’t like going there.

Mehar dreams of freedom and a life with her children. Asiya dreams of her daughter’s happiness. Sajida dreams of becoming a doctor. Subaida dreams of the day when her family will become free of woes. Parveen dreams of a little independence, a little space for herself in the world. Mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, neighbours…

In this tiny Muslim village in Tamil Nadu, the lives of these women are sustained by the faith they have in themselves, in each other, and the everyday compromises they make. Salma’s storytelling – crystalline in its simplicity, patient in its unravelling – enters this interior world of women, held together by love, demarcated by religion, comforted by the courage in dreaming of better futures.

A beautiful novel by writer and activist Salma, translated from Tamil by Meena Kandasamy.

About the Author:

Rumaan Salma is a writer of Tamil poetry and fiction. Based in the small town of Thuvarankurichi, she is recognised as a writer of growing importance in Tamil literature. Her work combines a rare outspokenness about taboo areas of the traditional Tamil women’s experience.

About the Translator:

Meena Kandasamy is an Indian poet, fiction writer, translator and activist. Most of her works are centered on feminism and the anti-caste Caste Annihilation Movement of the contemporary Indian milieu.

My Review:

Salma’s Women, Dreaming translated from Tamil by Meena Kandasamy is a book that will leave you thinking and in some parts if you are a woman, grateful for the paths that other women charted in their lifetimes before you. There is no one plot or story but a multitude of stories, of lives that are pushed and pulled this way and that, by forces and people who have the upper hand because of who they are and the position they have in the family and larger society.

Each woman in the story right from the time they were girls have aspirations, some space to breathe and speak to be heard, to be able to laugh with abandon but what they get are dictates on what they can and cannot do, where they cannot go and how they cannot dress. Following three generations of women, this searing narrative follows two families intertwined through marital ties and ties that speak the same language: shared disappointments, dreams gone too soon even before they can register, the oppression of not being able to take decisions and having to explain why they need to dream, shared curses and resentment. The women are bound by their traumas that weigh on them as heavy as physical ailments, which they must let out bit by bit, in angry curses and swearing and in dirges and loud lamentations.

Salma’s writing is visceral: her female characters fight impossible battles but the women bristle with courage, they hold on to their dreams, they recoil from the oppression aimed at them but they have desires of the mind and the body that they hold on to fiercely. The male characters look like they hover on the fringes of the narrative for it is the women who overshadow them in terms of their personality but the fact is that they decide the fates of the female characters in the story as in the real world by their whims that they impose on others to keep up their toxic masculine facade of being in control. The women are aware in their understanding of what is happening to the other and instead of a hackneyed oppressed becoming oppressor, there is a silent grit that each drives from the other.

This is a book that you will feel strongly about: you could either feel claustrophobic reading of the cloistered lives and the control that the male characters over the female protagonists but you could also end up being more aware of what generations of women have had to endure for things to change bit by bit, sometimes going back to square one right again. Either way, Salma’s writing is here to hold a mirror and reflect on the many silent battles that women continue to fight. The only minor flaw to the writing was the repeated mention of a male character’s trip to Saudi over and over again to explain his change in outlook and an older woman’s ability to know who was approaching her and with which mood despite being blind. This minor hiccup does not take away from the power of Salma’s writing and the way she brings the repressed trauma of women to the fore.

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