Translated from the original Tamil (‘Irandaam Jaamathin Kadhai’) by Lakshmi Holmstrom
‘The hour past midnight’ is a story about women. Not the educated, emancipated and economically independent city-dwelling women like us, but about those women who’re still, in this time and age, shackled to their homes and hearth, by notions of religion, by society and sometimes, by themselves. It’s a poignant narrative of the lives of the women in a small south Indian town, of their everyday struggles and worries, of relationships, of love and hatred, and of death.
The author, Salma, herself is from a small-time town in Tamil Nadu (a south Indian state), with a very conservative society that expects women to be silent and tied to the kitchens of their homes. As the note the book says, she shocked this society when she published her first book of poetry. I first read about the author and the book in a newspaper article, and got a chance a while later to pick up the book. I’m glad I did.
The book traces the lives of a bunch of Muslim women, their children and their omnipresent omnipotent men. There’s Rabia, a little girl, whose innocence and naivette touches us so profoundly. There’s Firdaus, a beautiful girl who’s forced to marry an older man, one whose very sight she finds repugnant and whom she refuses to accept and so walks out, on her wedding night. And then we have Wahida, who goes to her new in-laws’ house with a fairy tale dream and is shocked at what reality actually brought to her. The author shows us women from all walks of life – the well-to-do, the educated, the poor and the destitute and no matter how different each is, they’re all bound by the fact that their lives are not theirs to live. They’re constantly pushed and pulled around by the men in their households, by their extended families, by friends and neighbours. We also get a glimpse of their way of life, how they celebrate their festivals and the daily prayers and rituals. That was one of the things I enjoyed about the book, that it helped me learn a lot more about a culture that I’ve always been seeing around me, but knew little about!
Another highlight is Lakshmi Holmstorm’s translation – never once did I feel that it was a work of translation! The prose was so effortless, even in places where the Tamil influence was very tangible. I’m not a fluent reader of Tamil, but I know enough to feel that the original would’ve been that much more touching because the translated English version is!
At approximately 470 odd pages, one might feel the book dragging along, around the half-way mark, but then it was never too boring to give up entirely. Pick it up, if you’re the kind who enjoys reading about different cultures and religions, about little women and big dreams.