Barsa, as its introduction states, is the first Malayalam novel to be set in Saudi Arabia. Written by Kadeeja Mumtas and translated into English by K M Sherrif, the book acts as a record of “a woman’s scrutiny of Islamic scriptures and Muslim life”. 

Sabitha, the protagonist of the novel, after moving to Saudi Arabia, starts questioning every aspect of her every day life – including religion.
The novel traces her personal journey as she is caught amidst culture, religion, and personal agency, and struggles to assert her own identity.

One hot afternoon, Rasheed and Sabitha fi rst stepped out like refugees on the large expanse of land surrounding the grand mosque which housed the holy Ka’aba. Other travellers who knew their way hurriedly moved on while the two of them stood hesitantly at the crossroads, unsure of their next step. Th e coppery glare of the sun sat on their heads like the legs of a giant spider. Rasheed glanced at Sabitha. He could sense her discomfort in the headscarf and the abaya, looking like a lawyer’s coat, which the Malayali workers at the airport had helped her buy. But he thought that even in those uncomfortable clothes, Doctor Prabhakaran’s niece, with her wheatish complexion, had a particular charm. He wanted to tell her this with a little smile, but with his tongue stuck to the roof of his dry mouth. He just couldn’t do it, which was a pity. If he had, maybe the wrinkles on her forehead would have lost at least one crease.

A yellow taxi backed up and stopped near them. Th e face of a man with a shabby headdress clamped down by a black ring came into view, and an arm jerked out of the window at the driver’s seat. “Fain aabga ruh?” Rasheed guessed he was asking where they wanted to go and replied, “Mudeeriya Musthashfa”—the Health Directorate. He had gleaned the Arabic expression from the conversation he had had in halting English with the Palestinian doctor they had met at the airport emergency service. He had seen Sabitha too write it down in her diary.

“Ta’al ”—come. Th e driver opened the car doors and invited them in. As he could not understand the driver’s sarcastic remark, directed obviously at his fairly large suitcase, Rasheed, with some embarrassment, chose to put it on his lap as he sat down and leaned back comfortably.

As the car sped at breakneck speed, Sabitha felt a tremor run through her, but she suppressed it immediately. She felt helpless at having to depend on a complete stranger, an Arab driver whose language she did not know. But she was also reassured by Rasheed’s presence. They had reached this far, trusting strangers, many of whose languages they did not know. As they boarded the Saudi Airlines flight to Riyadh from Mumbai, Thambi, the man from their ticketing agents Ajanta Travels, had said reassuringly, “Th e flight will take about four and a half hours. Someone from the Ministry will be waiting to receive you. Th ere is nothing to worry about, Riyadh is a nice city. Okay then, happy journey!” From the moment Thambi, with that characteristic city dweller’s way of waving goodbye had raised his hands and walked away, Rasheed and Sabitha had taken comfort in each other’s presence. They could make this journey together only because of their decision to stick to each other, come what may. At the interview in Mumbai, it was Sabitha who was selected first, as a lady gynaecologist. Th e interview for ophthalmologists had not yet been conducted and, as there were a large number of applicants, Rasheed was not too hopeful of getting in. When she was asked to sign the contract, Sabitha hesitated, “I will sign only if my husband too is selected.” She had by then realised that lady gynaecologists were much in demand. “You sign; even if he is not selected, he can come with you on a family visa and then try for a job there.” The man at Ajanta Travels, a go-getter, tried to hustle her. “No, I am not that keen to go to the Gulf to work. I will go only if he also gets a job there.” Her stubbornness paid off . An interview was fixed for Rasheed as a special case.


Excerpted with permission from Barsa, by Kadeeja Mumtas, Yoda Press. You can buy this book at 20% off at the FII-Yoda Press Winter Book Sale on 21st and 22nd December 2018 in New Delhi. For more details, check out the sale page.

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