Noted Kannada novelist, essayist, and translator Kandabarigarti Sara Abubakar, popularly known as Sara in the cultural sphere, passed away on Tuesday. A recipient of several literary awards, she was a votary of the women’s cause (especially the agony of Muslim women) and communal amity.
Sara was 86 and is survived by her four sons. Hundreds of dignitaries in the socio-cultural and political circles, including former chief ministers Siddaramaiah, HD Kumaraswamy, and DV Sadananda Gowda have mourned her death.
Sara Abubakar’s novels & other works
In her four-decade career in writing, Sara Abubakar published seven novels, including her much acclaimed and controversial Chandragiri Teeradalli, six short stories collections, five translations of Malayalam works (of prominent Kerala writers such as BM Suhara, Kamala Das, and PK Balakrishnan), three collections of articles published in various magazines, dailies, radio plays and travelogues.
Hottu Kantuva Munna is her autobiography.
Her literary works essentially deal with the trials and tribulations in the lives of Muslims living in Karnataka. She is known for boldly writing about the difficulties and injustices faced by them.
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Muslim community in the Kasargod region
Most of her works examine the world she was familiar with: that of the Muslim community in the Kasaragod region (which borders Karnataka and Kerala), where she was born.
Their focus is on the victimisation of women due to the religious or orthodoxy and rampant patriarchal structures that dominate life there.
Sara noted that social relevance was more important to her than literary excellence.
Sara’s brand of feminism was not militant. Yet it raised important questions about the justice of man-woman equations in Muslim society as also in other Indian communities.
Sabiha Bhoomi Gowda pointed out (in the “Meet the Author” brochure brought out by Kendra Sahitya Akademy, when the country’s topmost literary academy organised a programme) that “most of the main characters in Sara’s works are stereotypical. They are often uneducated and hail from lower strata of society, wreaking considerable suffering on their women as they view them as puppets”.
Similarly, noted literary critic and writer MS Ashadevi noted that “her [Sara’s] worldview has an emphasis that is rather life-centered than merely women-centered”.
In fact, a considerable part of her work does deal with multi-dimensional issues such as communal riots and insecurity of the poor, as in her short story Aarakshita.
Sara even dealt with the most troubling issue of corruption in her short story Tala Odeda Doni, and also traced the rise of fundamentalism in the misguided Muslim community.
Another short story Huttu deals with the problems of a series of pregnancies, and Moole Muttida Hulu, with the agony of a woman who is abandoned even by her son whom she had struggled to bring up.
Sara’s main concern in her works has thus not merely been Muslim women’s dilemmas. She has also dealt with significant issues such as linguistic and communal harmony.
Imagination has little room in her works. The central characters of her novels are essentially women, victims of societal exploitation, and they are real-life entities.
Without any dilemma, she admitted that her characters are not fictional and that she depicts them in their flesh and blood. They are mostly women who are victims of societal norms, exploited, and belong to Muslim and Hindu communities.
Sara’s depiction of Sunaina, the protagonist in her novel Panjara, sums up the sentiments close to her heart.
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Sara Abubakar’s awards
Sara received many significant awards in her lifetime as a writer.
They include the Karnataka Sahitya Academy, Dana Chintamani Attimabbe, Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Vardhamana, Sandesha, Anupama, Nadoja award of Kannada University, Hampi, Nrupatunga and Karnataka Rajyotsava awards.
Sara never minced words when women were harassed in the name of culture and religion.
When moral policing by the Hindu fundamentalist forces rocked coastal Karnataka, she said, “Moral policing has no right to set guidelines for women.”
When the Supreme Court in its judgment stipulated compulsory registration of marriages, in no uncertain terms she said, “It is a good decision. I have advocated this demand for years. Despite laws, women, especially from the lower segments, are exploited. Now they can at least go to court.”
Chandragiri Teeradalli by Sara Abubakar
Chandragiri Teeradalli is Sara’s landmark novel. It was translated into English as Breaking Ties.
This offers a disturbing picture of the backwardness and oppression that characterise the lives of Muslim women in a small south Indian community.
This is considered the first authentic account of women’s lives in the Muslim communities of coastal Karnataka and Kerala.
Chandragiri Teeradalli is being appreciated for its simplicity of cadence of conveying the complex structure of misogyny seen in the community.
First girl in community to have passed matric
Sara has the distinction of being the first Muslim girl in her community to have passed matriculation.
She had to face considerable opposition from the conservatives around when her father Pudiyarapura Ahmed chose to send her to the local Kannada school till her matriculation. This was a privilege that had been denied to all young Muslim girls of the region till then.
Ever after her marriage, it was difficult for Sara to read a newspaper. She persuaded her educated husband Abubakar to get her books from the public library.
She was influenced by the writings of Shivaram Karanth, VM Inamdar, UR Ananthamurthy, and P Lankesh among others.
Later she enrolled as a member of the public library and found her own way of choosing the best in Indian literature, especially in Kannada and Malayalam.
Also read: Worthy translation of UR Ananthamurthy’s words into visuals
P Lankesh spotted her
Though Sara did attempt to write some articles and short stories in the 70s, they did not see the light of day.
It was noted writer, poet, translator, and journalist P Lankesh who recognised the fire in Sara Abubakar’s writing and published her article in Lankesh Patrike.
Her Chandragiri Teeradalli was first serialised in Lankesh Patrike, in which she portrayed agonies of Muslim women who were subjected to triple talaq at one go.
When the novel was serialised, it turned out to be controversial and resulted in the fury of a section of society. Orthodox Muslim circles even threatened Sara with ostracisation from the community.
She also faced the threat of physical intimidation from some Muslim youth, when she went to speak at a seminar in Puttur in 1985. “However, the incident made a positive impact on me. It made me stick to my stand and strengthened my determination of highlighting issues pertaining to women, in all communities,” Sara had said later.
Filmmaker Suveeran made Byari, said to be based on Chandragiri Teeradalli. But he did not credit the writer, which is an ethical practice.
Angered by this, Sara took legal recourse and won a plagiarism case against the makers of this 2011 national award-winning film.
Based on Sara’s Vajragalu, Aarna Saadya has made Saara Vajra with Anu Prabhakar as Nafisa, the protagonist of the story. This film shows various stages of Nafisa’s life from early to old age, and her family.
This novel has also been adapted for the theatre with a script written by Roopa Koteshwar.
Reviewing this play, Maithreyi Karnoor in The Hindu had observed: “Its straightforward plot is easy to be rendered into a play; although as a play it can quickly get categorised under ‘social drama’ in yesteryear’s classification imposing its own aesthetic grammar on it, Nayana Sooda’s direction makes it a musical that is disturbing, yet entertaining.”
Throughout her literary life, Sara portrayed the social problems that she has witnessed and in giving voice to those whose mouths had been sealed for long. With her departure from this mortal world, mouths that were shut for centuries will now feel that their voice has fallen silent.
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(Muralidhara Khajane is a senior journalist, writer, and film critic. He is the author of ‘Random Reflections: A Kaleidoscopic Musings on Kannada Cinema’. These are the personal views of the author)