A different love story
By Matters India Reporter
Ambalapuzha: Chellamma Antharjanam was rude when Rasiya Beevi met her first time near a deserted railway track.
“Won’t you let me die?” she asked irritated.
The elderly Hindu Brahmin woman did die, but 17 years and six months later, on July 11 this year, as “the mother” of the Muslim woman. Thereby hangs a tale of great humanism.
“At a time when people are demonized on the basis of their religion, what a great example Rasia Beevi has set for humankind,” says A J Philip, a veteran journalist on his Facebook wall while narrating the extraordinary tale.
The story began on January 22, 2000, when Rasiya Beevi, who was then a Congress member of Ambalapuzha village panchayat in Alappuzha district of Kerala, spotted an old, frail frame standing near the railway track.
Beevi recalled to media persons later that she first thought the elderly woman had been stranded after missing the road to the nearest railway station. When she approached the stranger, she became greatly upset.
The Muslim woman, who was then 34, pacified the 76-year-old woman who then revealed her plan to jump in front of the next train, after having failed to kill herself through other methods. She had chosen the deserted spot hoping that no one would spot her and stop her. Antharjanam missed the train as she narrated her story.
Antharjanam belonged to a prominent Namboothiri family in central Kerala. She was married to a man with psychiatric problems who died five years after their wedding. For about 25 years, she worked as a domestic help staying at her brother’s house. As age caught up with her, she was thrown out. She then tried to kill herself.
Beevi took the Brahmin woman and persuaded her to stay with her family comprising her husband and three children. “She was afraid to stay with my family. Initially, she used to ask me whether Muslim organizations would attack the house for harboring a Hindu. Her only plea was to allow her to live as a Hindu,” Beevi recalled to media persons after their story became an award winning film in 2012 titled, “Thanichalla Njan” (I am not alone).
Beevi bought a traditional Hindu lamp and other items for Antharjanam to do her prayers and allowed her to recite Hindu prayers in her Muslim home.
Food, however, was a spoiler as Antharjanam was a strict vegetarian. “My children insisted on fish and meat. Amma could not even tolerate a whiff of non-vegetarian food. As a short-term remedy, I decided to take her to a Hindu ashram where only vegetarian food was served,” Beevi said, referring to Antharjanam as amma.
Antharjanam stayed at the ashram for two years and Beevi paid for it and visited her regularly too. In 2004, Beevi managed to get 55,000 rupees from a housing scheme for the homeless from her panchayat, chipped in with some of her savings and built a two-room house for Antharjanam.
Political rivals accused Beevi of using Antharjanam as a front to pocket panchayat funds and even demanded her resignation. But the two women held a press conference in 2006 to tell their story and silenced them.
Beevi also built a structure to grow the tulsi plant at Antharjanam’s new house and ensured a regular supply of rudraksha chains, sandal sticks and materials for worship. She cooked vegetarian food at her house and took it to Antharjanam. She also spent time with the old woman every night.
She also took the Hindu woman to a nearby temple as long as she was healthy. She waited outside the temple when the elderly woman went inside to pray.
Several Muslim organizations had asked her why she could not convert Antharjanam to Islam. “But my reply was a firm no. I would live my religion and Amma her Hindu religion,” Beevi told those organizations. Her husband, a small businessman, and children supported her.
Last June, Chellamma was hospitalized for a month at the Alappuzha Medical College due to fracture in leg as she fell down. A few days back she returned home. She died at the age of 94.
Beevi arranged her funeral according to all the rituals of the Brahmin community.