I admit defeat.
I set out to write a nice little story about Imtiaz’s mother, but realized that I do not know much about her. I don’t know what she wears, what she eats, how she prays, how she communicates with her husband, her daughters’ names, her husband’s name, and a dozen other things about her. I am stuck.
You may grin and ask, “So what? She is your character. Write anything you please.” If I write anything I please, I wouldn’t be doing justice to Imtiaz’s mother. All I know is that she is a human being, just like me. She likes ice-cream, just like me. She has a son, just like me. And he drives her crazy, just like mine. But that isn’t enough for my story.
Let me try to sort out the confusion by reducing the issue to the following five points.
- Imtiaz’s mother is serious about her religion. I am a Roman Catholic turned Hindu turned atheist. I don’t think Imtiaz’s mother would ever understand how a person can be a Roman Catholic turned Hindu turned atheist. And I definitely do not know how a Muslim mother practices her religion. I mean, what exactly does she do?
- Imtiaz’s mother is very good at preparing a variety of biryanis while I am very good at preparing a variety of pork dishes. But I simply don’t know what else she cooks. She must be cooking something else too, right? She can’t have biryani day in and day out, can she?
- She wears a burkha whenever she goes out. I haven’t touched a burkha in my life. I don’t even know what it feels like. What does a woman feel and think when she wears a burkha?
- I am not good at making and retaining friends. In fact, I don’t have any. Among the countless people who have flitted in and out of my life, very few are Muslims.
Let me make a list.
- I used to buy padengi bajil (green gram with beaten rice) from a Muslim lady when I was a kid. She ran a small hotel that was famous for padengi bajil. I still remember the taste.
- I knew S and Z in high school. Z was half the size of S and followed her around like a shadow. S had this habit of glaring at me, and I would burst out giggling at the expression on her face. That would make her very angry.
- I can’t remember much of PUC except that it was a nightmare.
- Post PUC, I spent a couple of years learning yoga and naturopathy. There wasn’t a single Muslim on that campus.
- I chucked yoga and naturopathy and signed up for BA. I do remember a Muslim student who used to talk to me in college.
- I finished BA and went on to get my MA at Mangalore University. I remember visiting the house of a Muslim girl who was actually the friend of a friend. Her mother served biryani.
- I must have taught dozens of Mohammeds. One of them even invited me to his house because he wanted to learn chords from me. His mother served biryani and egg masala.
- I knew a couple of Muslim colleagues, but my interaction with them was rather superficial.
- And now that I am a mother, I meet and interact with a few Muslim mothers. One of them has also given me a biryani recipe.
- And what about her family? Who are they? What are their names? What do they do? How do they think, act, react, feel, and talk?
As far as I am concerned, Muslims are synonymous with delicious biryani. Everything else about the community is a closed book to me, a mystery.
The “fictitious” characters created by writers have real faces behind them. For example, the real face behind Richmal Crompton’s William is her nephew Tommy. And I know who Saraswati and Rajesh are. But I don’t for the life of me know the “real face” behind Imtiaz’s mother because I haven’t interacted enough with Muslims, not because I did not want to, but simply because I had no opportunity to do so.
I regret to say that I cannot write a story about Zubeida Ahmed, Zuby to friends and Imtiaz’s mother to the parent community at Imtiaz’s CBSE school, till I get to know her better. But believe me, write it I will!