Sara Abubakar, who died in Mangaluru, aged 86, on Tuesday, was a pioneering voice in Kannada literature. Born in a Malayalam-speaking Muslim family in Kasaragod in northern Kerala, bordering Karnataka, Abubakar was the first woman in her community to matriculate. Her father, a lawyer, ignored the convention within the community of not educating girls and made sure that his daughter completed school. Since a Malayalam school was not available near their home, he shifted her to a Kannada-medium school. That’s how Kannada became her preferred language of expression. Malayalam’s loss turned out to be Kannada’s gain.
There were few Muslim women writers when Abubakar started to write. Books weren’t easily available, but she convinced her husband, an engineer, to fetch them from the local library. Shivarama Karanth, U R Ananthamurthy, P Lankesh were among her favourite writers. Lankesh, who edited Lankesh Patrike, a publication that gave space to modernist writing, recognised her talent and published her. Chandragiri Teeradalli (On the banks of Chandragiri river), serialised in Lankesh Patrike, attracted controversy but catapulted her to fame. Chandragiri held a mirror to the Muslim society she was familiar with, especially the women who were at the receiving end of religious conservatism, social taboos and practices. The conservative opinion turned against Abubakar but that only convinced her to continue writing.
Abubakar’s fiction opened up a new world and brought out stories that until her arrival had not been told. Her voice was not polemical, but it spoke in no uncertain terms for the underprivileged, especially women. She was sensitive to the complex world of religion and relationships but refused to endorse any action that discriminated against fellow beings. It is the writerly vision that inspired Abubakar to voice solidarity with numerous progressive causes, including standing up with the victims of Endosulfan. Her unafraid voice will be missed.