(Asymptote Journal) "Aesthetic Choices Are Political Choices" An Interview with Meena Kandasamy
Indian writer and translator Meena Kandasamy has always been interested in intimate human relations and historical lesions caused by caste, gender, and ethnic oppressions. She explores these topics in her poetry and prose with equal power and precision, most notably in her books of poems such as Touch (2006) and Ms. Militancy (2010), as well as her three novels, The Gypsy Goddess (2014), When I Hit You (2017), and Exquisite Cadavers (2019). Activism is at the heart of her literary work; she has translated several political texts from Tamil to English, and previously held an editorial role at The Dalit, an alternative magazine documenting caste-related brutality and the anti-caste resistance in India.
After translating political speeches, philosophical texts, and feminist poetry for many years, Kandasamy recently translated a novel for the first time. The novel, Salma’s Manaamiyangal (2016), translated by Kandasamy as Women Dreaming (2020), is a multigenerational narrative set in rural Tamil Nadu. Its opening thrusts readers into a woman’s nightmare, and the narrative goes on to explore the desires of a group of Muslim women and their intersecting lives. While delving into the women’s yearning for freedom, education, and dignity, Salma’s novel also unearths man’s enormous will to control by means of religious extremism, laws, and domestic restrictions. Like Kandasamy’s own novels, Women Dreaming defies the traditions of social realist fiction; if we hope for the novel to “acquaint us with characters” or offer “access to their feelings,” we will be frustrated. But Salma’s aesthetic project is a political one—the novel’s paratactic arrangement of short chapters and shifting perspectives convey the collective and interchangeable experiences of women who dream in the face of extreme adversities.
I recently corresponded with Kandasamy by email. Our conversation touched on her career as writer-translator, literary craft, and the stakes of translation. —Torsa Ghosal
Read the full text of my interview with Torsa Ghosal here.