Published: 02nd November 2017
Bringing the forgotten to light, Kannada author Bolwar Mahamad Kunhi to put Prophet Muhammad's wife under the pen
A recipient of many State and national awards, he adds that with changing times, the Kannada audience has opened up more to such issues with some women also voicing their opinions on delicate issues
Muslim culture, history and tradition were alien to Kannada literature for a very long time. If that has changed in the recent past, then one has to be grateful to Bolwar Mahamad Kunhi. From writing about the Prophet’s story to exploring the situation in Ayodhya, he and his faithful pen were never scared. This three-time Sahitya Akademi Award winner is now penning Umma, a novel inspired by the life of Aisha, Prophet Muhammad's young wife.
We caught up with the author, who won the Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize for lifetime achievement in Kannada literature, while he attended the recent lit fest. Excerpts:
Are you weary of the controversies Aisha’s story could spark off? Is the character often scrutinised by people to belittle a certain religion?
Scared! Not at all. Two years ago, when I published my book Odiri, the first-ever historic novel on Prophet Muhammad, similar questions were being asked. However, within two months of its publication, the book saw three reprints proving the maturity of Kannada readers. What is welcome is that a few women have started voicing their opinions, albeit once in a while and in limited places. Does that mean that 7th-century women never had opinions of their own? Never voiced what they felt? Even in solitude? This is the subject of the novel.
The apprehension in your question is natural, maybe due to the allegations that the Prophet had married a balika vadhu, a child bride. However, we forget that most of our grandmothers and their mothers were all balika vadhus. We also forget that we Indians once protested under the leadership of Bal Gangadhar Tilak that ‘our culture is being invaded’ when the then Governor General of India, Sir Andrew Scoble, introduced a bill in the Legislative Council on January 9, 1891, to amend the prevailing IPC Section 375 that stipulated that the legal age of marriage for a girl is 10 to 12 years! (Not even 18!!)
In this novel Umma, I am trying to discuss women’s choice, less love, immeasurable affection, helpless pain, and the right of dignity she deserves. If this story inspired by the life of Aisha is read with the same spirit as the stories of Sita, Savitri, Ahalya, Tara and Mandodari, then it should not create any controversy.
Humble beginnings: The book traces the Mahatma's life and attempts to show Gandhiji's simplicity to children
How was it to write Gandhi's stories for children?
What children know of Gandhi is that he was a Mahatma who fought the British to win our country its independence. Gandhi Jayanti is this Mahatma’s ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Gandhi Marg’ is M G Road! This is what we have taught them.
To these children, this book attempts to show that Mahatma Gandhi was not an unachievable superhuman. He was a simple boy, who grew up like most of us, as a darling to his parents, went to school, studied prescribed textbooks and qualified as a lawyer. He walked the talk of how a common man can live an uncommon life to be great, to be a Mahatma.
What was the inspiration to pen your novel, Swathranthada Ota, which also bagged the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2016?
We have no option to file an application to select our motherland. This novel is an answer to the question of selection between Janmabhoomi and Karmabhoomi. The theme of the novel is of two Pakistan-born boys, Lal Chand, a Hindu, and Chand Ali, a Muslim, struggling to build their lives in Hindustan for a period of 50 years. This novel was an extended version of a short story, Ondu Thundu Godae, written about 20 years ago, which grew into a mega-novel of 1,000 plus pages with the title, Swathranthada Ota.