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Translator's note: The Curse

I first translated Salma’s poems in 2004 as her contribution to a workshop for women writers from all over India. The translations provoked enough interest for an international portal for poetry to host more of Salma’s poems in my translation, along with an interview and a few essays on her work. The poems, along with Salma’s trailblazing first novel in Tamil, Irandam Jamanglin Kathai (2004), established her as an important new presence in the literary landscape. The publication of her novel in an English translation by Lakshmi Holmstrom, The Hour Past Midnight (2009), received wide attention from readers and critics everywhere. Following the novel, her collection of short stories, Saabam, was published in 2012.

It was after a few years of engagement with Salma’s work as a translator of her poetry and occasional prose pieces that I started work on her short stories. Initially, I was to translate a selection of the stories in Saabam, but progress on this front was slow due to various reasons. In the meantime, Salma continued to write stories that were ambitious and compelling. These stories were more representative of the writer’s growing mastery of form and structure.

And thus, we decided to include five of the later stories in this collection. Of the five, ‘Karugamani TV’ (‘Black Beads and Television’) was published in a festival edition of Hindu Tamil Thisai, and ‘Kuzhappathin Sutruppadai’ (‘The Orbit of Confusion’) was published in Kalachuvadu magazine. The other three—‘Toilets’, ‘Atonement’ and ‘Childhood’—are being published here for the first time ever, in English translation. ‘Pori’ (‘The Trap’), ‘Vilimbu’ (‘On the Edge’) and the title story, ‘Saabam’ (‘The Curse’), are from the Saabam collection.

Earlier versions of ‘The Trap’, ‘On the Edge’ and ‘The Orbit of Confusion’ were published respectively in Media Voice, Out of Print and Guftugu. I wish to thank Asha Menon, Indira Chandrasekhar and Githa Hariharan for commissioning and featuring these stories in their magazines.

In both her poetry and fiction, Salma employs a direct and forceful style. As a writer, Salma closely follows the constant inner shifts of the women in her stories, who seem to be driven as much by memories and a wistful yearning as by the need to press on against a pervasive social condition of captivity and subordination. Her observation of the domestic world of ‘ordinary’ women is always subtle and rich in detail. The politics that Salma foregrounds through the personal tribulations of her characters has a universal quality to it. As translator, I have tried to replicate these layers of meaning in the translated text.

It has been a pleasure to work with Radhika Shenoy and Kartikeya Jain, my editors at Speaking Tiger, on bringing this book to its final shape. I acknowledge their contribution with gratitude.

N Kalyan Raman


September 2020


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