A Muslim Teacher in a Muslim Country taught me Mahabharata and Ramayana

I have often felt that my school life was fun, with friends, pranks and laughter. But education was quite different; Cramming up on things I never understood. I was never an utterly bad student except probably in my first grade when the teachers told me that I was really bad at studies and made me sit in the 1st grade one more year.

The second grade was quite different for I never went to school 🙂 Not a decision I made, but at that time I lived in Iran and the nearest English medium school was 300 kilometers away. So when I returned back to school in my third grade I was usually ranked last or second last in a class of 43.

The fact was I never really loved to study. It was an ordeal sitting through many classes looking out and envying the kids who played in the ground during their free period. When a teacher took a day off due to illness, though we knew we should not rejoice we had a blast. But then your luck would fail you and someone else would come and take a special class and deprive you of your free time and that really sucked.

But all this was different with Mr. Wahid, our Malayalam teacher in my 6th Grade. Back then I used to be in Dubai studying in a school predominantly for Keralites who put their kids there so they could also learn some Malayalam and if planning to go back to India could sit for the Kerala board exams. Though slightly behind the regular syllabus of Malayalam, we did learn how to read and write. May be since the syllabus was quite thin the teacher did not have much to teach I guess.

These are times when teachers make a big decision, they make a choice of what to teach and that is what made Wahid sir much different. He decided to tell us stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana. As kids we loved stories and he would do it so well that all of us looked forward for that one hour.

Looking back I still am not sure why he took that decision to tell us stories that were predominantly considered as Hindu in a class that was predominantly Muslim, and that too in a Muslim country, though UAE in general was liberal even in those days. May be he wanted to teach us that stories do not have a religion and that Mahabharata and Ramayana are not religious but stories from India.

Growing up in Dubai we were well aware about the existence of religions and knew belonging to one religion was different from belonging to another one and we could hardly imagine if a non religious sect existed anywhere. I felt everyone had a religion or they were born with one. You had to either be a Muslim, Hindu, Christian or a Sikh; we knew nothing about any other religions much those days.

I think I changed schools in 7th grade and even before I left, Wahid sir went back to India and I have never been in touch with him and my interaction was just for a year and he had a big impact in shaping my views as I grew up.

I have no idea where he is but Wahid sir is but I can still see him standing in the class telling us the stories of Krishna, Rama and Arjuna. When ever I hear any hindu speak against a muslim or vice versa, the person who comes to my mind in Wahid Sir, who taught me that stories do not have a religion and I close my eyes and go back to my 6th grade so I can be that same kid again because being a kid is better than knowing that I am living with insane adults.

Later when I came back and settled in Kozhikode and grew up there I was also introduced to the concept of Mappila Ramayana, a form of the Mappilappattu song genre where the tale is told in a Malabar Muslim setting. It is called Mappila Lamayana and tells the story of Lama and Lavana and Anuman. These are enjoyed and appreciated by both Hindus and Muslims alike as it is filled with humor and shows the rich tolerant culture we can live in.

I think many of us grew up with a strong binding between people from different religions without really bothering about religion. Religions existed just as an aspect of society. We all can picture the hindu and muslim meeting as they were both walk to the temple and mosque and spend time discussing about the local news and with a sign of love say bye and move on.

Then I wonder when they became just hindus and just muslims? leaving people like me in the middle looking at both sides asking what happened to Rama, Lama, Ravana, Lavana, Hanuman and Anuman. where are they now…? Where is Wahid Sir now…? I wish I could sit in Wahid sir’s class again and listen to stories…..

Here is a glimpse of Mappila Lamayanam that came up in a Malayalam TV channel…. Sorry it is in Malayalam, but you can search Mappila Ramayanam in google and read more about it

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