Four decades ago, when a Dalit family in the locality was struggling to find a piece of land to carry out the last rites for their child, Jalaludin did not have to think twice before asking them to do it in his house compound.
Since that day, 19 people belonging to different faiths and castes have had their burial or cremation done at his land in Kaipatta in Kollam district. He continued to keep his doors open to strangers until two nearby panchayats set up a crematorium a few years ago.
Jalaludin’s is one of the six stories of communal amity that are part of Sanu Kummil’s latest documentary The Unknown Kerala Stories, which, the filmmaker says, was made in response to the controversial film The Kerala Story that had to face a storm of criticism for allegedly misrepresenting the State. Sanu chose to respond creatively to the film, using documentary as a tool. The documentary is now being screened at public events in various parts of the State.
“All the propaganda overdrive against Kerala, especially the film, made me want to tell the world that the truth is something else. That was around the time tags such as the ‘real Kerala story’ began trending. I have been familiar with several such stories and chose a few out of these to make the documentary. Over a few days, I travelled across various districts using just public transport. The intention was not just to tell these stories, but also to give a taste of Kerala’s social life and geography to those who are unfamiliar with it, but fall for false stories about it,” says Sanu.
One of the stories is from Elavupalam in Thiruvananthapuram district where a temple and a mosque have a common arch with the names of both—Darul Islam Jama ath and Kallumala Thampuran Devi Temple—on either side. At the middle stands a cross, as a representation of the only Christian family in the locality. For the people in the locality, the arch that was first constructed two decades ago is something very normal.
From Sreemoolanagaram in Ernakulam district, Sanu fished out the story of 76-year-old Bharati Amma, who has been cleaning up the Hira Juma Masjid before the daily prayers for the past two decades. Sharing a snack and some laughs with the mosque administrators, she says religion or caste are not her primary concerns, although she has belief in all gods.
The much-told story about the rare bond of close to 35 years shared between Thaha Imbrahim and Sara Cohen, Kerala’s oldest Jewish person when she passed away in 2019, adds yet another dimension to the documentary. Recollecting his earliest memories of meeting Sara as a schoolboy, he says over the years he had almost become a member of the household. The stories of enmity between Jews and Muslims that he heard in the 1980s still surprise him because his experience points to something else.
In another little known story, Sanu trains his lens at the Islamic studies institute being run at the Malik Deenar Islamic Complex at Shakthan Nagar in Thrissur, where Sanskrit is also being taught. K.K. Yatheendran Master, the Sanskrit teacher, as well as the institute’s administrators point at the need to have a better understanding of other religions to reduce the distance between communities. A story from Enikkara in Thiruvananthapuram, of young Priyanka who selflessly donated her liver to N.S. Rajilal, a social worker from the locality, rounds off Sanu’s quest to document little known stories of communal harmony.
Sanu had in 2018 won the Best Short Documentary award at the 11th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), organised by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, for his documentary Oru Chaayakkadakkarante Mann ki Baat (A tea seller’s Mann Ki Baat ), on the sufferings of a tea seller due to demonetisation.