Women, Dreaming by Salma translated from Tamil by Meena Kandasamy is a story of a Muslim village in Tamil Nadu that holds firm dogmatic beliefs about religion, faith, and the position of women in society. These women are scapegoats of a patriarchal society and oppression, not just from the opposite gender but also the women clan. As if they are conditioned for it- what is the need of education, says the mother. Why you need to go out of the house, says the husband. Salma frames the book around three, at times four generations of females, their life following the set path and behavior complying with the norms of a prejudiced male-dominated society.
Mehar and Parveen are two such females who instantly capture the reader’s attention through their situation that is alike- suffering towered upon by the husband- and yet how different their approach towards handling it. Hassan is the connecting link between the two women- Mehar’s husband and Parveen’s brother. His religious beliefs blind our male protagonist to the extent that leads to the soul suffocation of women in his family. And he has brought it upon himself to educate the society with the same orthodox notions.
The book has been structured so, that the chapters read like musings from the character’s mind. The anger, the helplessness, and the melancholy of these women percolate through to the reader seamlessly. The re-occurrence of a scene in the book multiple times has been transcribed as a POV of two or more characters: what was bewildering here was the stark differences between the opinions of a man and a woman. A man’s driven by his rightful ego that he thinks he has earned as part of his gender, and a woman’s driven by fury combined with her vulnerability.
It is appalling to see that this dogmatic system has seeped down generations after generations, prevalent even now as if deep-rooted. The younger generation who understand and want to break the wheel is still haunted by it in some form of the other. Salma through her incisive writing highlights every aspect of suffering women- child marriage, sexual desire as a taboo, violent behavior for not meeting the dowry demands, controlling women’s basic rights- and how they deal with it through silence and tears or howling with curses. She uses these as a form of connectives to traverse from the story of one woman to another.
Women, Dreaming not only presents the universes of these women in which they are contained but paints a landscape where their dreaming thoughts are not to be said out loud, where they are free to dream but not to hold the reigns of it in their own hands. Salma lets the possibility of freedom gleam in her prose, simultaneously making us aware of the domain women still thrive in.
To declare if the translation is perfect is difficult until one has read the original, but little things contribute towards enjoying translated literature seamlessly- for instance, the flow of prose. With this one I found my natural instincts coming to the surface and I assume that would mean the writing is powerful and piercing. Meena Kandasamy’s translation added to Salma’s gravitating words makes this one recommended reading.
Thank you to the publisher Penguin India for the review copy.