Wednesday, January 2, 2008

N P Muhammed: Chronicler of the Life of Malabar Muslims

Remembering the Eminent Malayalam Writer on the Fifth Anniversary of His Death

It is now five years since N P Muhammed passed away. It was on January 3, 2003, that he went out of the scene, leaving a big void in Kozhikode, his home all those years. Ever since the passing of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, the Beypore Sultan who made the city his home after a life time of wanderings everywhere, it was dear old NP who remained a cultural beacon in an atmosphere progressively growing dark and gloomy.

N P Muhammed was a writer and a true secular intellectual who agonized himself about his society, his world and the role of Muslims in a world where civilizations were now being described as warriors, mutually destructive forces while his own thought and upbringing told him that it was a different kind of thing altogether. As the author of some of the most important works of fiction in Malayalam, he left behind the picture of a people and a community steeped in culture, tradition and maintained a kind of symbiotic relationship with outside world in which they lived in harmony with other communities, other people and other cultures. They fed and strengthened one another, they through generations gave birth to what is uniquely Malabari or Kozhikodan in the world of culture, literature and folk arts.

N P Muhammed was the child of the composite culture that Kozhikode had developed through its long and eventful history as it was here, in this land of the rajahs of Zamorins that the Arabs from across the seas came a thousand years ago and built up their own pandikasalas and businesses, became rich and famous and powerful, and came to be the leaders of the Zamorin naval force, with the Kunhalis with their forts in Iringal and Ponnani fighting the Portuguese as they came as colonizers in the late 15th century. These heroic battles continued for over two centuries and they form the basis of a huge body of literature starting from the Tuhfathul Mujahedeen of Sheikh Zainudheen Makhdoom of Ponnani.

In Kozhkode and surrounding villages, even today this long history is visible and vibrant. There are three major families in these places with deep and powerful contacts with the West Asian countries as their forefathers came with trading groups in ships from Hadermouth in Yemen and other famous ports those day. Parappil Muhammed Koya, the historian of the Muslims of Kozhikode, says that the venerable families of Sayeds, Jifris and Baramis came from Hadermouth around three hundred years ago and landed up at Koyilandi from where they spread to other parts like Kozhikode and Malappuram where they settled in later years.

And N P Muhammed also came from such an illustrious tradition. His father N P Aboo was a freedom fighter who was one of the closest followers of Muhammed Abdurahman, the legendary freedom fighter who came from Kodungallur and settled in Kozhikode. Muhammed Abdurahman was a strange phenomenon, he came to Malabar as the Malabar rebellion was brewing in 1921, became the secretary of the Malabar Khilafat Committee and then continued his political life for a quarter century here, dying suddenly one evening a few months ahead of the dawn of freedom. His Al-Ameen press and the newspaper that he started there, gave birth to a new generation of Muslim writers and intellectuals and N P Muhammed was a true descendant of this group. He grew up in an atmosphere of nationalism and the memories of freedom struggle as his family was closely linked to the nationalist Muslim tradition represented by leaders like E Moidu Maulavi, P P Ummer Koya and others in Kozhikode.

He wrote many books and articles, mainly fiction and some on literature and society. Ennappadam, the small and congested place where hundreds of traditional Muslim families lived in Kozhikode, just on the side of the Kallai river, was his own personal Macondo. It was a place with a number of lanes and by-lanes, busy as it was close to the river which once boasted the biggest timber business centre in the world. He grew up there, as his father lived there for long. Every child in the small lane west of the railway line where this place of legends, Ennappadam, started, knew about the lean and tall old man, who used to walk the streets in the evenings. He was a freedom fighter who remained among his people, some one who strongly reminded one about the colonel in Marquez who kept waiting for the never arriving letter.

N P Muhammed’s Ennappadam could be considered along with O V Vijayan’s Khasakkinte Ithihasam and M Mukundan’s Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil, as a novel that recreates the soul of a place. His early works like Arabipponnu, the story of gold smugglers, trace the unique culture and history of the place. It was from these shores that the first migrants to the Gulf launched themselves on a long lasting exodus, when young men desperate for jobs smuggled themselves out of the country in long country boats called urus which took cargo to the Gulf ports. Arabipponnu was written in cooperation with M T Vasudevan Nair.

There are many other important works that should be mentioned like Hiranya Kasipu, a political satire. His last major work, Muhammed Addurahman, the biographical novel on the life of the legendary leader, is a great work of fiction. Burt much more than his literary contributions, he is known and remembered today as a man who remained heroically secular, principled and loyal to the Indian nationalism even in those days when all these great attributes were put to severe test in an India divided deeply in the middle of its soul.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dear Che,

I just read your diatribe against vaccine "scaremongers" whose activities are leading to increased child deaths. Are you aware of the other side of the story? That of children killed by vaccines increasing over the years? That of autism, caused by vaccines, affecting 1 in 250 children in India today?

I am a vaccine victim who fights vaccines. If you care to know why exactly doctors are so taken up with vaccines please do get in touch.

Jagannath Chatterjee.