Bringing tales from the Quran to the fore, Anita Nair’s Muezza and Baby Jaan will hit stands later this year. Talking about how the idea for the book was conceived, Nair recalls the Nairobi mall shooting where Muslims were allowed to go, while everyone else were forced to stay back. One of the ways they differentiated between people was by asking them the name of Prophet Muhammad’s mother. “That hit me very strangely because if you were to ask most people, even if they were only semi-literate, who Jesus’ mother was or Rama’s, they would know the answers. But ask somebody what the name of the Prophet’s mother was and nobody would know unless they were Muslim,” the Bengaluru-based author says. She adds that the incident, coupled with the research that she had done for her book Idris (2014)—where the lead character is Muslim—drew her towards hitherto almost-untold tales from Islamic lore. The 50-year-old author says that she felt a need to combat negative perceptions about the religion by delving into some parts of the Quran that lent themselves to storytelling.
Of cats and djinns
Although the idea for the novel had come about in 2013, Nair says she started work on it in early 2015. She further adds that the stories for this illustrated novel aimed at children, were drawn from scholar Ibn Kathir’s stories from the 1300s. Nair’s retelling of the tales revolves around two narrators—a cat called Muezza and a baby djinn who is a shapeshifter. “According to Islamic lore, Prophet Muhammad had a cat called Muezza. So I took some poetic license and had the cat get lost in the desert. As a means of survival, he meets a djinn, who takes the form of a baby camel,” Nair tells us, adding that the two narrators and their unlikely friendship, crazy adventures and escapades form a major chunk of the narrative.
On her shelf
Nair, who has a disciplined routine when it comes to writing, says that she still prefers writing with pen and paper as opposed to electronic devices. While she refuses to list her favourite authors, Nair admits that “every book I have read, whether it’s an exemplary book or an utterly disgusting one, has always taught me something. So, in that sense, every book I have read has influenced me.” The author who reads three or four books at the same time is currently reading Peter Wohlebben’s The Hidden Life Of Trees, Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World, Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durrant and Anil Ananthaswamy’s The Man Who Wasn’t There.
— Simar Bhasin