Rakshanda Jalil's debut collection of short stories, Release and other short stories, is an eye opener about the urban middle-class Muslim in India's cities and towns. Fiona Fernandez directs three questions at the author
After penning the last short story in this book, did you sense a feeling a self-realisation at some level? What thoughts crossed your mind?
The stories were written over a span of almost 18 years; the first one being written in 1993. The sequence is not as it appears in the collection. So, no, I cannot say I felt a sense of accomplishment or self-realisation, as you call it, when I lay my pen down. Maybe that is because it was such a long drawn-out process or it could be because this is a collection of short stories and not a novel. Maybe a longer work such as novel might elicit such a reaction from the writer. I can only say that, having, written and published this collection, I have, in a manner of speaking, "tasted blood"! I want to write more fiction in the years ahead. I have written and published over 15 books -- some have been translations, others edited volumes, some are academic, some non-academic. But the satisfaction that comes from creative writing is unique.
Release and Other Stories, Rakshanda Jalil, HarperCollins India, Rs
299. Available at leading bookstores
What, according to you, is the one factor that divides the lives of ghettoised Muslims with the mainstream ones?
In one word, I think it is education. In the context of present-day India and the Indian Muslims, education is the only key that can open doors. The Sachar Committee Report highlighted this fact in bare, black and white statistics. It is not money or privilege; it is education, pure and simple, that is the most pressing need of the Indian Muslims. Education, in turn, brings changes that mean inclusion, growth and development that can bring Muslims (or for that matter any marginalised community) into the mainstream. Ghettoisation in the context of Muslims is due to a combination of social and economic factors. Education lessens ways of exclusion and brings a certain parity.
How differently does an Indian Muslim of today address day-to-day issues than he/she did 10-20
I think it is important to remember that there was hardly any Muslim middle class in the years after independence. The last few decades have seen the rise of the Muslim middle class and it is this class that interests me. I have written about them because they are the silent majority. People want to talk only of a certain sort of Muslim, one who "fits the bill", the stereotype. Through this collection, I am trying to say the ordinary, middle-class Muslim, is like the rest of urban, middle class India. His concerns are the same as any one else's. Yes, he/she has another layer of identity -- that of being Indian and Muslim in no particular order -- but there is no difference in the way he/she addresses day-to-day issues. How can there be?
About the author
Rakshanda Jalil is Senior Associate Fellow & Associate Editor at Social Change Council for Social Development. She runs an organisation, Hindustani Awaz devoted to the popularisation of Hindi-Urdu literature and culture. An author of over 15 books, she also edited Neither Night Nor Day (2007) which was a selection of short stories by Pakistani women.