A.M. Basheer says he drew from his experience as a civil judge for his first novel, on communal riots.
Riot Widows is the debut novel of A.M. Basheer’s, a civil judge in Kerala. The result of four years of work, Basheer’s novel centres on the lives of women, particularly in the slums, widowed by the violence of communal rioting.
Excerpts from an interview:
What inspired you to take up this theme?
Forced migration has been a common consequence of violence since the beginning of human history. When their security is threatened, people flee their homes. I visualise a situation where all the victims in a riot are men and only women remain in a riot-hit slum.
The slum in this story is universal. The stark reality of riots between two groups of people has always troubled me. So, I decided to deal with the aftermath of the riots; with underprivileged people’s struggle to cope with the consequences of violence and return to normal life. Women are always at the receiving end of sectarian strife. It took me four years to complete this book.
The book strongly advocates a secular approach in handling poverty. Your descriptions of the slum evoke empathy.
India’s multi-cultural mosaic has failed miserably to rectify under-representation and has paved the way for inevitability of the disarticulated subaltern.
My attempt has been to perpetuate a ‘presence’ in an ineradicable absence of full presence. The Indian woman is now much more aware of her rights and liberty.
The main character Nafsan, who is born out of a rape, is a profile of courage. Does she represent the new woman of India?
To my mind Nafsan is at the heart of the novel. Born Hindu, though not out of wedlock, she has an adoptive Muslim father who is imprisoned on charges of rioting. Interestingly, when it comes to the question of marriage, she listens to her father and marries a young man of his choice.
An ambitious medical student, she is still deeply rooted to the slum. She cannot disown the place she belongs to. She is extraordinary because she celebrates her ordinariness.
The young lawyer, who is genuinely in love with Nafsan, has moved into the middle-class milieu but she is still caught between her ambition and her commitment to the slum.
But he cannot take it when she agrees to her father’s proposal that she marry the young man serving a long sentence in the same jail. It’s his ego, his masculinity that is hurt by her decision. The narrator is Basheer, an advocate. You are also Basheer. Is that why you chose this name?
Despite my claim that it is fictional, I can’t hide myself. All writers source their experiences for fiction.
Future plans? Do you expect any backlash, especially given your views on terrorism and fundamentalism?
I am planning a novel about Partition and migration. My father’s uncle, who was in the Indian Army, had to join hands with Jinnah.