The struggle to ‘‘belong’’ is a long and arduous journey with no destination in sight for people across the world divided by race, language, caste and religion. With religion taking centre stage and acts of terrorism based on misplaced beliefs of a “few” claiming innocent lives, “divisiveness” and “polarisation” have become catchwords driving political dialogue. As incidents of intolerance over the way people dress, eat or live become frequent, “trust” is lost creating a wedge between the majority and the minority destroying the social fabric of a nation that in the past embraced different cultures with a magnanimity that stunned the world.
Presenting an entirely new perspective on people of a community who made the choice of remaining in India decades ago and whose hearts beat for it through a compilation of stories titled ‘Minar Kathalu’ are two eminent Telugu writers, Mohammed Khadeer Babu and Vempalle Shareef. The short stories encompassing works published between 2005 to the present carry the tagline stories with “A Muslim Perspective” and unravel disturbing trends that have members of the community constantly under the scanner.
Mohammed Khadeer Babu, a journalist, is an eminent writer with 10 books to his credit. Hailing from Kavali in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh and growing up on a diet of stories fed by his grandmother, his literary expositions based on real-life experiences are replete with wry humour and serious observations of the world seen through his eyes. His books ‘Dargamitta Kathalau’ and ‘Poleramma Kathalu’ offer ample proof of this while ‘Metro Kathalu’ is an impassioned look at the lives of women in the urban context.
Vempalle Shareef, a Public Relations Officer with the Andhra Pradesh School Education Department, is a former journalist, news presenter and short story writer from Cuddapah, who has penned 50 short stories, many of them for children. Recipient of the Central Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for his story ‘Jumma’, Shareef uses literary works to reflect the angst and suffering that abounds in the society around him. ‘Topi Jabbar’ is another of his popular works.
“We felt the need to present the Muslim view in deference to changes taking place in our polity and communal incidents at various points from 2002. We also showcased the constant pressure imposed in having to prove our patriotism time and again. Writer Rahmatullah in his story ‘Khairunnisa’, which is part of this compilation says, “Unmindful of the criticism we face, we proudly proclaim to the world ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’, an overriding sentiment shared by us,” says Shareef. Outlining the effort that took two years to fructify Khadeer says, “These stories are without malice or motives. They are narratives into which many real-life incidents are interwoven. They are neither complaints nor accusations but an appeal to be understood.”
These stories have been compiled with the two-fold objective of creating awareness about the Muslim community as well as presenting the leadership crisis within it. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of jobs and the insecurity of being under a shroud of suspicion for incidents that happen in any part of the world are problems that are very real, the duo feel.
Shareef’s story in the compilation titled ‘Paani’ deals with the travails of a Muslim farmer in the drought-prone Rayalaseema region, while Khadeer’s story ‘Get Published’ deals with media bias in reporting stories where Muslim boys are arrested on suspicion for incidents in far-off places and let off a couple of days later irreparably damaging their reputation. ‘Sweet Packet’, a tale of a Muslim boy who is an India fan, who goes out to distribute sweets on his birthday, after India loses a match to Pakistan and gets lynched by a mob, who mistake his gesture for an act of betrayal is heart-rending and an example of prejudice prevailing over reason. These stories it is hoped will destroy the Minar of suspicion that divides communities and forges better understanding.