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Dec 23rd, 1999, 09:09 AM #1----
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She had to keep her tele-phone off the hook after it kept ringing non-stop for four days. She changed her mobile phone number after it no longer remained a "closely guarded secret known to just four people - my three children and my beloved". The unending stream of visitors to her house is now greeted by locked doors and closed windows. Writer and controversy queen Kamala Das - now Kamala Surayya - had again stirred a hornet's nest by announcing she intended to convert to Islam. She also started off an acrimonious debate with her remarks on Lord Krishna.
But having done so, the passion and the scale of reactions from various quarters have exhausted the ailing 65-year-old author.
According to "Surayya", who has taken to wearing the burqa now, some people -- whom she suspects to be from the Sangh Parivar --
have been threatening her on the phone for "running down" Hinduism and Krishna. The walls of her ancestral home at Punnayurkulam village are plastered with graffiti. Even the screening of a documentary based on her life was cancelled after the theatre owner came under pressure from unknown quarters. A "devout Hindu" has sent her a lawyer's notice for hurting Hindu sentiments by saying her favourite God, Krishna, was no longer resident in Guruvayoor Temple. She says
in her heart she has converted Krishna to Islam and now "calls" him Mohammed.
According to Das, her action was not sudden. She says she has been yearning to do it for the past 27 years. "I am lonely and need the
solace of a protective religion like Islam and a merciful God like Allah," says the writer who moves about with the help of a nurse, sometimes on a wheel chair. The formal conversion ceremony took place on
December 16 at Kochi but over the past weeks, Das had already started writing poems in her rudimentary Arabic in praise of Allah. And
denying the rumours that she is planning to marry Muslim League Rajya Sabha member Abdul Samad Samadani, she insists "Samadani is like a son to me".
It hasn't been brickbats all the way. Many have congratulated Das on her "bold" decision. A congratulatory telegram she particularly likes to flaunt came from Salem Central Prison. It is from People's Democratic Party leader Abdul Nasser Madani, incarcerated in connection with the Coimbatore blasts. Comments writer Paul Zacharia: "I suspected her of having pro-Hindutva feelings as shown by her distribution of "payasam" to celebrate the nuclear tests conducted last year. I now
stand corrected and congratulate her for having taken this decision."
But Zacharia is not enamoured of her adoption of overtly Islamic symbols like the burqa.
The feminists in the Muslim community have, however, been sceptical about Das' pronouncements. According to Nabeesa Ummal, a
CPI(M)-backed municipality chairperson and a retired professor, "I challenge her to write a book like My Story now. She will face the
same fatwa and fate as Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nazreen." But the poet couldn't care less: "Who listens to these feminists? Who wants freedom? All I need is protection." She even says one of the best things about Islam is the purdah. "I used to wear it occasionally in the past too. It's a most protective dress. You can avoid ogling eyes even as you see everything."
Predictably, the Sangh Parivar intelligentsia is far from happy. "It is a cheap gimmick with ulterior motives," says poet P. Narayana Kurup of Tapasya, the pro-Sangh writers' forum. P. Parameswaran, director of the rss-backed Bharateeya Vichar Kendra, puts it rather pithily: "God save Islam."
Das has always been perceived to be "bold". For long she wrote freely on subjects like sex when others cringed. She has now taken another unconventional step. Will her honeymoon with Islam last?It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, the Prophet of Islam. (Quaid-e-Azam Speech at Shahi Darbar, Sibi, February 14, 1948)