Film tells of how Salma, locked away by family and husband, broke free through poetry

LOCKED up by her Muslim family for 25 years, Salma found her voice by scribbling words on scraps of paper that she carefully hid around her home in a south Indian village.

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The film depicts Salma's experiences and those of women like her
The film depicts Salma's experiences and those of women like her

Pieces of paper tucked between the layers of folded piles of jewel-coloured saris flowed with poems describing her forced marriage and life behind locked doors. It was only when her mother smuggled the poems out in the laundry basket and sent them off to a publisher in Chennai that Salma's voice was heard.

Salma was trapped by her family and then, after agreeing to an arranged marriage, by her husband, locked away behind barred windows, unable to continue her education and forced to write her heartfelt words in secret.

This sounds like a brutal and ancient tradition but the practice continues to this day and the poet, 46, who is known all over India by just her first name, now devotes her time to campaigning for women's rights and education for young girls.

Her story is an incredible turn of events that saw her released from her home and elected village leader, going on to become the voice for other women imprisoned by the same fate.

"I shall never stop writing poetry. It is an inseparable part of my soul," she says. "I had been yearning for my freedom of expression all these years; I feel satisfied and happy that I have achieved that.

"To describe in words the sadness of spending the most important and joyful season of one's life entirely alone is an extraordinary thing. The language of my poetry formed and developed in a situation where I had no access to even ordinary friendship where I could share my feelings, dreams and desires."

The transformation of her life and voice is told in the film Salma, which screens at the GFT on Sunday as part of the Art Screen festival.

Internationally acclaimed, multiple award-winning filmmaker Kim Longinotto charted the extraordinary story of a woman who becomes a legendary activist, politician and poet.

Salma and Kim join Adele Patrick, co-founder of Glasgow Women's Library, for a talk after the film.

The documentary follows Salma as she returns to her village and confronts the lives of the young women living there today, including the devastating story of one girl, told by her tearful mother, who set herself on fire and killed herself.

Salma said: "I was very apprehensive and my mind was full of fear and anxiety about the kind of problems I might encounter going back to make the film. I had been in the city for so long.

"In western countries, as well as in India, everybody has loved the film. Women want to reveal their identity; the tone of my film is to speak about women and their identities."

SHE says she feels no resentment either to the family members who locked her up until she agreed to an arranged marriage or to her husband Malik, who she is still with - they have two sons together.

Looking back, she still mourns the life she feels she should have had.

"It was an irreparable loss for me. I regret not having had the chance to get a proper education in my younger days. The feeling of having missed out is there but I never thought lack of proper education would remain an impediment."

Her refusal to follow traditional Muslim customs and her outspokenness about the treatment of village women hasn't been appreciated by everyone she meets.

When her nephew is interviewed in the film, he claims wearing a burka gives Muslim women freedom. And she reveals that her teenage sons are embarrassed by the frankness of some of the material in her poetry.

With a shrug she says, "My sons don't go for literature, I can't impose literature on anyone and have to allow them to enjoy their freedom."

Her ambition is to open a school in her village for young girls.

"I want them to start school at the earliest age to spread education and through it awareness about their rights," she says.

The festival kicks off tonight at the GFT with a screening of the Julien Temple directed Rio, which takes him back to the city where he filmed with the Sex Pistols in the 1970s and the Rolling Stones in the 1980s.

On the eve of the World Cup and Olympics, the director of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle charts the changes in the booming metropolis.

He will be in Glasgow tonight for a question-and-answer session with Kirsty Wark after the screening.

Other highlights of the festival include Facing Up To Mackintosh, charting the construction of the newly opened Reid building at Glasgow School of Art, and The Big Melt, directed by Jarvis Cocker, a tribute to those who worked in Sheffield's steel industry with a score that showcases the city's musical past.

l Art Screen runs from April 10 to 13. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/artscreen

angela.mcmanus@ eveningtimes.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment

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