The Curse: Stories
Longlisted | Book Awards 2021 | Translated into English
The Curse: Stories ()
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.
Salma is a writer of Tamil poetry and fiction. She has published two volumes of poetry: Oru Malaiyum Innoru Malaiyum (An Evening and Another Evening) and Pachchai Devadhai (Green Angel). Her novel, Irandaam Jaamangalin Kadhai (2004) was considered a landmark achievement in Tamil; and was later translated into English as The Hour Past Midnight (2009) by Lakshmi Holmstrom. Salma has also written a collection of short stories, Saabam (The Curse) in 2012 and a novel, Manaamiyangal (Dreams) in 2016. She was the recipient of the fourth Mahakavi Kanhaiyalal Sethia award for poetry in 2019. A political activist for the cause of women’s empowerment, Salma was Chairperson of Tamil Nadu Government’s Social Welfare Board during 2007-11.
The Orbit of Confusion
I am writing this letter to you, a woman who cannot read or write a single word, not just because I wish to, but also because I intend this to be an outlet for my growing anger towards you. This letter certainly won’t reach your hands, nor will I ever send it to you in the first place. If a third person were to read it out to you because you cannot read it yourself, you might feel tremendously hurt and humiliated. It might also plunge you into endless agony. Since you are already suffering from heart disease and other complaints, this letter might, by adding to your stress, eventually kill you. I certainly don’t want to make that mistake knowingly. Amma, you don’t know how much I loved you, love you and want to love you. It’s certainly not a love that can be captured in words.
First, I want to make one thing clear to you.
I am not, as you imagine, someone who has no love for you. I know that’s what you think, and it has kept me awake many nights. How sad that a mother can believe that of her own daughter! Nevertheless, I am beginning to think that it may well be true. For the past few days, I’ve been wracked by fear that my love for you might be fading fast. A dreadful feeling that I might have actually started hating you, haunts me like a nightmare.
Why did I think of writing this letter to an illiterate like you? During this stressful time, when I can’t share my sense of hurt and anger with anyone else or even communicate it directly to you, I am writing this letter only as a means of coping with my emotions. Certainly not to send it to you.
This letter is just like the one Kafka wrote to his father. There can always be many reasons for a father and son to be at loggerheads. So much of this is common knowledge. But a daughter is totally incapable of opposing her mother. This is true of all daughters and the reason is not such a secret. Girl children find it hard to hate a mother who is already being humiliated by their father. For them, it’s simply unthinkable. Growing up in the constant company of their mothers, daughters see how oppressive the domestic spaces to which a mother is confined can become. They see their mothers wander listlessly, weep in despair, shrink from humiliation, and impound themselves within those spaces. Sometimes, daughters also witness
the strange sight of their mothers marvelling at and admiring themselves. So I believed that daughters could not ever, at any time and in any situation, hate their mothers…till you turned Sharmila out of our house.