Kolkata: It’s not everyday that an author chooses to narrate stories from the Quran to children. But then, that is exactly what Anita Nair’s children’s book, Muezza and Babyjaan: Stories from the Quran, is all about. Nair, author The Better Man, Ladies Coupe and Mistress, has her book beautifully complimented with Harshad Marathe’s illustrations. The novel has Muezza, Prophet Muhammad’s cat, narrating Islamic fables to a baby camel called Baby Jaan. Nair, a 2013, central Sahitya Akademi Award winner, engages in a bare-it-all conversation with eNewsroom about her writings, Baby Jaan, Islam and more. Following are the edited excerpts of the conversation:
eN: At a time when people want to stay away from things related to Islam, you have come up with this book. Why?
Anita: That is precisely the reason why. I have been noticing a rising intolerance in our country and the world. It is a worrying kind of intolerance, there seems to be no inclusiveness offered to the members of the Islamic faith. There seems to a lot of misunderstanding surrounding Islam, people don’t disassociate between the religion and the fundamentalist elements manipulating the tenets of the religion for ulterior motives.
It was also surprising how little people know about Islam. We all have some general information about all other religions except Islam. I am hoping that these stories will bring to light how similar all religions are.
eN: Was it a conscious choice?
Anita: Yes. It was a very conscious and very carefully thought out decision.
eN: Your book has reference to the Prophet. Did it ever come to your mind that it could create a controversy?
Anita: No. Just because the book has several references to the Prophet, I don’t think it would stir up any controversy. In fact, everything in the book are only positive inferences about Islam.
eN: How much time did it take you to write this book?
Anita: It took me about two years to complete the book.
eN: Was penning this book, difficult?
Anita: Not more so than any other book. You do have to change your tone while writing for children; you can’t come off as being instructive or sound didactic. The most arduous part of the writing was the research, of course.
eN: Your book is out, it has illustrations and also reference to The Quran, still no controversy?
Anita: Sometimes an author’s interpretations of a particular scripture may not be palatable to the right-wing elements of that particular religion. Just as in the game of Chinese whispers, certain references by the time they percolate down to the mass can be blown out of proportions and thereafter used by the right wing elements to further their own cause. This leads to friction and attacking the author for perhaps something they never intended in the first place.
eN: Did you have to put in a lot of time researching on the subject?
Anita: The research was very extensive and drawn from various sources. The primary source was a book by 13th century scholar Ibn Khathir’sAl-BidayahWan-Nihayah (The Beginning and the End).
eN: Why did you choose this book to be a children’s book?
Anita: I just feel like children are a great place to start. Besides, what better way to introduce a religion than through a simple re-telling of its stories?
eN: Do you need to have a different set of skill, to pen a children’s book?
Anita: Not really. But what matters is your tone of writing. To be children author, you need to be very friendly. The narration should be humourous and simple. Also, the book needs to interesting from page one, if they find the start boring, they will just leave it.