Book Title: The Curse
Translated by: N Kalyan Raman
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Genre: Literary Fiction: Short Story Collection
Breathtaking stories about women and the worlds they inhabit by one of India’s finest writers.
In ‘The Curse’, acclaimed author and poet Salma blasts through the artifice of genre and language to reveal the messy, violent, vulnerable and sometimes beautiful realities of being a woman in deeply patriarchal societies. Loosely rooted in the rural Muslim communities of Tamil Nadu, these stories shine a light on the complex dramas governing the daily lives of most women moving through the world.
In the title story, a young spinster is caught between her desire for marriage and a dark family history that haunts her like a curse. In ‘Toilets’ a woman recounts in stunning, visceral detail how access to the most basic human space has been regulated by trauma, shame and the male gaze. In ‘The Orbit of Confusion’ a daughter writes a heartbreaking letter, struggling to come to terms with her anger and love for the woman who raised her.
In these and five other emotionally charged stories that are at times humorous, even spooky, Salma crafts exquisite and contradictory inner worlds like Alice Munro with the playfulness and spirit of Ismat Chughtai—in a voice that is entirely her own. Available together for the first time in English—in a lively, nimble translation by Kalyan Raman—these stories will grab you by the throat and leave you fundamentally changed.
About the Author:
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. She has published anthologies of her poems and has two novels to her credit.
About the Translator:
N Kalyan Raman is a writer and translator. He has been translating Tamil fiction and poetry into English for the last two decades, for which he received the Pudumaipithan Award in 2017.
Salma’s writing is a sharp reminder of how women fight so many battles in their lives that leave them battered and weighed down with having to conform, battles where they must fight one another because they cannot ever dream to have a place for themselves. These 8 short stories will grasp at you with brute force and leave you gasping for breath with the taut depiction of the inner world of women who are cloistered and kept on edge. The stories revolve around the lives of Muslim women but have almost an intimate familiarity that speaks to you.
Staring with the first story, which pits the women in a family against one another, each with a set of what might look like eccentricities but in reality are the physical manifestation of repressed hurts and pain in their lives to ‘Trap’, the shortest story of the lot that peels off layers of anxiety and uncertainty that women who have no agency in their lives face, the author bares the roiling of women who are left to fend for themselves. It is a sharp yet subtle critique of how patriarchy pits women against women who snaps at each other because they are unable to reach anyone else.
The title story ‘Curse’ works on various layers: the cross that women across generations bear for the mistakes committed by man and how belief systems can be so entrenched that it impairs every thing in life to the point of not being able to recognize when things start on a good note that bodes well. It is about how a young woman believes in a curse foisted by an ancestor and hence, remains forever watchful with dread that something bad is going to happen to her.
Toilet is another story that goes into a detailed narrative around a woman’s basic bodily needs and functions tying the knots of stigma and perceived discrimination. It will be familiar terrain for many women in this country who has suffered day long outings for want of a clean toilet, women who have had to squat and defecate outdoors under cover of darkness, every woman who has had to made to bear the taboos that menstruation means. It’s also a story that gives an essence of how women’s needs are curtailed by the presence of male agency and control over spaces.
‘Black Beads’ and ‘Television Set’ is almost an ode to the time that the TV first made its appearance in small towns but trust Salma to not keep it at mere nostalgia but add texture to the story by following a not so central character who asserts her love for entertainment over everything else that society deems important for her.
‘The Orbit of Confusion’ is a letter by a daughter to her mother that bears the strain of the relationship and how maternal ties can be toxic and manipulative and yet remain coated under the veneer of love, respect and affection when it is anything but. The stories in this collection are set in the inner lives and upheavals of Muslim women but they are universal in the way they speak of the fractures that exist in society today that ends up belittling women, targeting them and keeping them confined in spaces and situations that wear them down. The stories, the situations the women in the stories they are placed in, the claustrophobic world they find in, all of them comes alive in the translation making this book a must read.