Rules and Transgressions: A Reading of Salma’s Irandaam Jaamangalin Kadai
This novel, the first by a Tamil Muslim woman from Tamil Nadu, was published in 2004 by Kalachuvadu. It is set in an unnamed small town near Madurai, and concerns a community of trading and land-owning Lebbais and Rowthers. It tells the intertwined stories of three generations of women, vividly invoking what it means to grow up as, and become, a Tamil Muslim woman.
In a crucial passage, the patriarch of the family central to the novel states the importance of adabu in the rearing of a female child. In this paper I shall examine the moral and ethical framework of the concept of adabu within which Salma places her women characters. Adabu (from Arabic adab) has a broad range of meanings: ‘good manners’, ‘etiquette’, as well as ‘behaviour according to Shariah’, and by extension, obedience to the will of Allah. Salma herself, in the glossary she provides, glosses adabu as ozhukkam (which goes back to the more secular morality of Tirukkural), and she uses the word ozhukkam frequently in the text. I shall examine to what extent these two concepts overlap, and where they cannot.
Having set up this pervasive moral framework with its complex set of rules, Salma, as a feminist and a novelist, tells the stories of transgressing women. Allowing her characters individual will and agency also means giving them the will and desire to transgress, despite the knowledge of the dangers of transgression. I shall develop this theme, linking Salma’s novel to her sizeable body of poetry.
Ms. Holmström is a writer and translator, who studied at Madras and Oxford Universities. In 2000 she received the Crossword Book Award in India for her translation of Karukku by Bama; and in 2007 she shared the Crossword-Hutch Award for her translation of Ambai’s short stories, In a Forest, a Deer. One of the Founder-Trustees of SALIDAA (South Asian Diaspora Literature and Arts Archive). Royal Literary Fund writing fellow, University of East Anglia, 2003-6. Her selected publications (including translations) include, Ambai: In a forest, a deer (2006), Clarinda (2005), Pudumaippittan (2002), Waves: An anthology of poetry and fiction (2001), Karukku (2000); Silappadikaram and Manimekalai: A retelling of two classical Tamil poems (1996).