Writing was a childhood friend, once the keeper of soul secrets, which withdrew without a murmur once life and livelihood took over. Being a doctor was considered a natural progression for studious Kadeeja. Growing up among eight sisters in Kattoor, Thrissur, Kadeeja remembers her ‘strong’ mother who laid down for her daughters a no-compromise attitude towards academics. Her profession was the fulfilment of her mother’s dream. “My mother Fathima was a very good student and she got admission for MBBS in Chennai. But she couldn’t go owing to a lot of reasons,” says Kadeeja, imagining the hurdles a Muslim girl would have encountered in late 1940s and early 1950s. “Since she had lost that opportunity, she wanted me to be a doctor,” she says, just back from the Calicut Medical College where she is the Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
Notes to herself
Young Kadeeja kept up with writing when she joined Calicut Medical College in 1973. “I used to write little poems, scribble thoughts and often the last pages of my notebook would be poems and writings. A small group of friends was aware that I write. As for the others, they were really surprised when I became a writer,” says Kadeeja.
Writing diminished to occasional jottings in the diary once she plunged headlong into medicine and later marriage.
“Once I remember one of my husband’s relatives found my notebook and asked me if I write. I said ‘no’ since I had forgotten all about it,” says Kadeeja.
Work took her places — to the Gulf for seven years; and also brought to her countless heart-rending stories and people of all sorts. Yet no story came forth. However, Kadeeja recollects a nagging sadness that accompanied her always. “I always felt this is not my life.” She recollects the lyrics from the song ‘Tharalitha raavil’ from the film Sooryamanasam which incessantly played in her head. “I used to say those lines, “doore, dooreyayen theeram illeyo” and would feel my ‘theeram’ (river bank) was somewhere else,” she says.
Life remained sedate until over a period of time a disturbing chapter unfolded in real life. The story that scarred her is translated in to her first novel Atmateerthangalil Mungi Nivarnnu. What she wrote, a slice of her life, found realisation as a novel.
“I couldn’t do anything but write. I wrote for myself and emotions burst forth,” remembers Kadeeja. A friend, who saw the manuscript, prompted her to publish it. It was serialised in Chandrika magazine and later published as a novel. Kadeeja, though, never believed she had it in her to bring out another novel. But her well-wishers thought otherwise.
Kadeeja is known best for her second work Barsa, which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award. The tale of a doctor couple set in Mecca, Barsa is an intimate look into the life of a Muslim woman. It gives voice to the questions raised in an intelligent woman’s mind.
“It talks about Islam and asks a few questions. These questions were in my mind since childhood.” Sabida, a new convert to Islam, who does so to marry Rashid, finds herself in an alien land and embracing a religion she is yet to understand, when the couple leave for Mecca. Beginning with her observations on Arab women and the contrast they are to those back home, Sabida looks at her new religion from different perspectives.
Though Kadeeja had her doubts when the work went into public space, she was surprised by the response she got. “Many Muslim women, home makers, called me to say I have written what were on their minds. But a lot of my Hindu friends were afraid for me,” says Kadeeja.
Before Barsa went for publishing, she gave the manuscript to her husband to read. “I knew he too had the same questions in his mind. We used to discuss them. So I was confident,” says Kadeeja. Barsa has gone into its seventh print and has been translated to Tamil and Kannada, while the English translation is on its way.
As a woman who found her soul mate in words a little late, Kadeeja says she too had to fight her little battles and struggles to be where she is. However, now in her late 50s, she is at peace with her profession as a doctor and her passion as a writer.
“In this profession, you get to see so many people who are suffering in so many different ways. I believe doctors can be very good writers,” she says. “Giving care is an art,” adds Kadeeja.
Writing, says the author, has freed her spirit. “I am relaxed now and I am happy. Writing has given me that happiness.” With her next work taking shape in her head, she says she desires to look deeper into herself, her conflicts as a doctor and as a person.