posters all over the place, “Madhavikutty is insane. Put her to death.” I refused the eight policemensent to protect me. There are young men, all Muslims, now occupying the guest flat and keeping vigiltwenty-four hours a day. I have received court orders restraining me from going out or addressingmore than six people at a time. Among the Muslims I have become a cult figure all dressed in blackpurdah and learning Arabic.My Hindu relatives and friends keep a distance from me. They wish to turn me into a social outcast.My sister visited me twice but wept all the time. I cannot visit my old mother. Otherwise life isexciting…Affectionately,Kamala Das (Suraiya)I get an Indian visa and fly to Cochin. Jet-lagged and tired, I openmyself to a laughing, entrancing Kamala in burqua and black.We’ve been talking for hours, between and over the heads of thenew cast of Muslim visitors. Lulled by her lilting Malayalam, I followthe bewitching movements of her slender brown arms, elegantfingers curling and extending, palms opening, arms rising, handscircling, punching the air, reaching out. Her hands perform a hand dance, hand mime, handdirections, hand tones, resting just a beat before the next arabesque.I notice too that Kamala’s posture and body language are looser and more relaxed than on my last visit. She says Muslims are friendlierthan Hindus, and with them she feels a complicity and trust. There’s more laughter in the house and she looks radiant – dark eyesbright, full lips puckering, gold on neck, diamonds in nose – her face dramatically framed by a regal, high-capped, black chador.Whatever her new reality, Kamala’s warmth to me is unchanged. She shows me a shiny silver cell phone resting like an idol on apedestal, and says it is a gift from thirty-eight-year-old Sadiq Ali, Islamic scholar, national Muslim League MP from Malabar, and herabsent lover. All day she wears the phone on a gold belt slung rebelliously around the waist of her black dress, keeping the line openand, as he requested, “dedicated to our love.” As her bangles flash and her visitors delight, Kamala listens for the phone strapped to herbody. She longs for Sadiq Ali to call. And when the visitors leave, she tells me that after their first meeting, he called for days, atmidnight, every night.“After my husband died, I found myself insecure and totally untethered. I lost my zest for life,” she says, beginning her love story. “Evenin this supposedly modern age, Hindu widows are regarded an inauspicious sight. They’re not the right omen at the beginning of any journey. They’re lacklustre, like a mud lark. They can’t fly. They drag their wings in the mud.”She had spent decades being celibate, extolling its virtues, “carrying my body around like a corpse,” accepting loneliness as thepermanent climate of her life. “In a sense I was lying in wait for death. Everything seemed to be dead, or deadened, even poetry. Ishrank pitifully, feeling diminished for no fault of my own.”Then Sadiq Ali asked Kamala’s cousin to arrange a meeting. He said he had admired Kamala for years and wanted to meet her.Kamala gave him a two-hour appointment, and Sadiq Ali drove five hours from his small town to Cochin.“He sat at my feet laughing the attractive, reckless laugh of a monarch. He was a preacher who delighted large audiences with balladsand narratives lasting five hours. He held his listeners in a spell with his four-octave range and a pure voice that resembled a newborn’scry.”Sadiq Ali charmed Kamala with his eloquence, scholarship, rough wavy hair, white teeth, and “smileof wondrous innocence.” He asked if she would permit herself to be photographed with him, and theyposed on the cane sofa, nibbling on plum cake, laughing together. “I no longer recollect the topics ofour first conversation, but laughter entered our home as spontaneously as sunshine thatmorning,filling each crevice of emptiness.”“Feed me,” Sadiq Ali requested playfully, when Kamala allowed the two hours to stretch into lunch.“But I cannot touch your lips,” Kamala responded. Her grandmother had warned that Muslims ate the corpses of sacred cows, whichmade their breath stink, and that touching them led to exile. “A staunch vegetarian like me would never touch the mouth of a
[flesh eater],” she said.“Then I will feed you,” Sadiq Ali offered, breaking food into small pieces.By the time he left Kamala’s home, his flirtatious play had stirred long-buried feelings and desires. “For many years I had not witnessedthe blush spread on the cheek of a young man finding himself embarked on a new love.”And it had been many decades since she had felt desire, that slow ache in the abdomen, blood surging as on a fast-moving swing.
[Returning from giving lectures in Qatar and] flying on the wings of adoration, she calls Sadiq Ali. He answers and immediately passesthe phone to his first wife, who responds rudely and hangs up. Kamala puts the phone back pensively. “A story I wrote came out lastweek in Malayalam. A sad love story about a love between a Muslim and Hindu. Perhaps they recognized Sadiq Ali, and that’s why theyare so unkind.” I ask her to translate the story so I can see how she managed to be subtle enough to publish a love story in a Muslimmagazine and obvious enough to upset Sadiq Ali’s family.“Salim Ispahani was a guiding light of his community,” she translates, her concentration visible only in the sub-speech movements ofher lips.“He would explain the technicalities of language to his followers. He would acquaintthem with the commandments of Islam. In a voice as sweet as wild forest honey, hetold the people who were guilty that God would forgive them. He was like amessenger from God.“Salim Ispahani had very sturdy corded arms. He wore half-sleeved shirts so it wasimpossible not to notice that the muscles of his upper arms were as strong as abison’s shoulders. Probably that was the reason he was so prompt in lifting andcarrying the lady poet who had come to inaugurate the conference. He carried her toa stage decorated with garlands and sat her down on the stage with tenderness.“A slightly musky smell of perspiration lingered on her body and haunted her. Shekept seeking the right words of thanks, but was silent. He was her son’s age, andwhen she was free from his clasp, the freedom tasted bitter and she was surprised.
THE LOVE QUEEN OFMALABAR
Merrily Weisbord ResearchPress 278pp; Rs. 395
By the time Sadiq Ali leftKamala’s home, hisflirtatious play had stirredlong-buried desires‘For years I have beenlooking for signs tellingme when to convert,’ saidKamala
Page 2 of 3Tehelka - India's Independent Weekly News Magazine5/30/2011http://www.tehelka.com/story_main48.asp?filename=hub181210He_asked.asp