Poetry International Poetry International




(India, 1968)
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 with a language of compressed intensity and startling metaphoric resonance.
Salma is the author of two books of poetry: Oru Maalaiyum Innoru Maalaiyum (An Evening and Another Evening) (2000) and Pachchai Devathai (Green Angel) (2003). More recently, she has also tried her hand at short fiction and the novel.

Debarred from education and confined to her home from the age of 13, Salma remained a voracious reader and fiercely committed closet writer. Despite periods of personal crisis, she remained firm in her resolve to continue her writing even in a somewhat orthodox marital home. As she once remarked, "When you write what is in your mind, it makes you feel that you are sharing it with someone. And that encourages you to write more and more." The language of her poetry, she declares in the interview that accompanies this edition, was shaped by the acute aloneness of her life as a writer. "Feelings that could not be shared with anyone created a language of intensity."

At a recent women writers’ camp organised by SPARROW, she recalled how she and her mother paid a surreptitious visit to Chennai for the launch of her first book of poetry, without divulging details to any other members of her family. It was with her growing participation in local politics (hers having been declared an all-women’s constituency) that she began to grow more assertive about her identity as a writer. She attributes her present situation of relative autonomy to that momentous decision to stand for local elections.

Salma’s poetry breaks new ground in Tamil poetry for its articulation of an unapologetically subjective female worldview, its bold examination of life in a traditionally restrictive patriarchal context, its refusal to allow the erasure of personal memory. Even in translation the words retain a chemical charge, as they evoke a world of love, sexuality, betrayal, frustration, motherhood and a self that will not be silenced, belittled or dehistoricised by the normative injustices of the status quo.

This world, says Salma, is not a private one. It is shared by millions of women in similar life situations. "Neither my pain nor my feelings are solely that of an individual; they belong to all such women."

Transmuted into the searing language of poetry, it also belongs, one might add, to men – and indeed, to readers of every persuasion, cultural and sexual.
© Arundhathi Subramaniam
Oru Maalaiyum Innoru Maalaiyum, Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, Nagercoil, 2000
Pachchai Devathai, Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, Nagercoil, 2003


Irandaam Jaamangalin Kathai, Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, Nagercoil, 2004

Also On This Site
The Universe in the Closet: Interview with Salma by N Kalyan Raman

Tehelka: A fellow writer talks about an encounter with Salma and her poetry at the Frankfurt Book Fair. (October 21, 2006)
Boloji.com:  An interview with Salma (November 14, 2006) 
The Hindu:  An article on Salma’s fiction  (December 12, 2004)
The Hindu:  A review of Salma’s novel  (October 3, 2006)
Newindpress:  An article about Salma’s politics (April 22, 2006)
Shewrite: A film on Tamil women writers by Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère