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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Real to reel: the story of a Muslim woman and a Brahmin widow

Film based on them won national integration award

Written by Shaju Philip | Alappuzha |
March 25, 2013 2:53:27 am

Thirteen years ago,a Muslim housewife in Kerala had stopped an old and destitute Brahmin widow from jumping in front of a train and ending a life for which she saw no hope.

The Muslim woman,then 34,took the 76-year-old high-caste Namboothiri woman home,gave her shelter and sowed the seeds for an unusual relationship that bloomed despite their religious and cultural differences.

Their story of affection and harmony inspired Malayalam producer-director Babu Thiruvalla’s film Thanichalla Njam (I am not alone),which went on to win the national award for 2012 for best feature film on national integration recently.

The story began on January 22,2000 when Rasiya Beevi,who is also a Congress member of Ambalapuzha village panchayat in Alappuzha district,spotted an old,frail frame standing near the railway track.

“I thought it was a woman passenger who was stranded after missing the road to the nearest railway station. When I approached her,Chellamma Antharjanam got irritated and shot back,‘you will not let me commit suicide?’” Beevi recalls.

Beevi said Antharjanam told her she was waiting to jump in front of the next train,after having failed to kill herself through other methods. She had chosen the deserted spot hoping that no one would spot her and stop her. Antharjanam missed the train as she narrated her story to the stranger she had just met.

Antharjanam belonged to a prominent Namboothiri family in Central Kerala and was married to a man with psychiatric problems who died five years after their wedding. For about 25 years after that,she worked as a domestic help and returned to her brother’s house as age caught up with her,only to be thrown out. Distraught,she tried to kill herself several times until Beevi found her.

Beevi said she took the Brahmin woman home and got her to stay with her family comprising her husband and three children. “She was afraid to stay with my family. Initially,she used to ask me whether Muslim organisations would attack the house for harbouring a Hindu. Her only plea was to allow her to live as a Hindu,” Beevi said

So Beevi bought a traditional Hindu lamp used in Kerala and other items Antharjanam needed to do pooja and allowed her to recite Hindu prayers in her Muslim home.

Food,however,was a spoiler as Antharjanam was a strict vegetarian. “My children insisted on fish and meat. Amma could not even tolerate a whiff of non-vegetarian food. As a short-term remedy,I decided to take her to a Hindu ashram where only vegetarian food was served,” Beevi said,referring to Antharjanam as amma.

Antharjanam stayed at the ashram for two years and Beevi paid for it and visited her regularly too. In 2004,Beevi managed to get Rs 55,000 from a housing scheme for the homeless from her panchayat,chipped in with some of her savings and built a two-room house for Antharjanam.

Political rivals accused Beevi of using Antharjanam as a front to pocket panchayat funds and even demanded her resignation. But the two women held a press conference in 2006 to tell their story and silenced them.

Beevi also built a structure to grow the tulsi plant at Antharjanam’s new house and ensured a regular supply of rudraksha chains,sandal sticks and materials for worship. She cooks vegetarian food at her house and takes it for Antharjanam and has also been spending time with the old woman every night for the last year-and-a-half.

“When Amma,now 89,was healthy,I used to take her to the nearby temple. I would wait outside the temple when she went inside for darshan,” Beevi said. “Several Muslim organisations had asked me why I can’t take Amma into the fold of Islam. They wanted Antharjanam to embrace Islam. But my reply was a firm no. I would live my religion and Amma her Hindu religion,” said Beevi,whose husband is a small businessman.

“We will live together until one of us bids adieu to this world,” she adds.

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