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DESCENT OF ANGELS

A first of its kind, this chilling autobiography by Havvabi, a poor, Muslim AIDS patient from Kerala, turns trauma into a testament to courage, writes KA Shaji

``It was a single-window house. A small home for me, my brothers and my parents in a remote village. My freedom there was limited to watching the movement of fireflies at night through our one window. That and the moon and, on many occasions, the descent of God’s angels arriving, as I imagined, in search of me… to bring me the good fortune that would include a caring and religious husband.
''A woman who had never left home alone, she came to see the virus as helping her to a unique freedomThere was nothing extraordinary about Havvabi’s village girlhood in Kerala’s Kasargod district — growing up in a conservative home, she was content to not question either orthodox Muslim practice or the plans her family made for her.
When she was married at 16 to a 45-year-old from Karnataka, she went along with it willingly enough. No one told her that Mohammed, her husband, was already married and had six children — nobody bothered to find out. That life with Mohammed would be one of near-constant abuse wasn’t something she could have known either. Nor could anyone have foreseen that Mohammed would die ten years later of AIDS, leaving Havvabi with two children and the lethal virus amok in her veins.
Today, Havvabi lies in a Kasargod hospital, her body the ground of a war that life is losing to death. But it is a struggle in which her spirit has already carried the day, the spirit that held her through the devastation that followed her diagnosis six years ago, and took her into volunteer work for others in her plight. Her last testament to the cause that sustained her through these years is the autobiography she has written — Havvabi: Oru HIV Badhidayude Athmakatha (Havvabi: an HIV patient’s own story), soon to be published in Malayalam by Fabian Books.Educated till the fifth standard of her local madarsa, Havvabi had never heard of HIV or AIDS until her husband tested positive for the disease.
She writes of coming to see the virus as helping her to a unique freedom — the opportunity to access new reading and new information beyond the religious texts that previously had been the only books she was allowed. For a woman who once left her house only if accompanied, HIV introduced her to a world outside the confines of home. People were often amused, she writes, to see a woman in burqa distributing condoms and pamphlets on HIV/AIDS among truck drivers and commercial sex workers in Kasargod.
“In the course of my work, I have met so many persons who, like me, carry HIV/AIDS for no fault of their own,” Havvabi says in her autobiography. “People commonly believe that only sex workers are vulnerable to the disease. They’re wrong. Look at Kasargod city. Most sex workers here don’t have the disease, but a large number of housewives in Kasargod do. How do these innocent women… fall prey to this danger? It is their husbands who should be called to answer this question....“I’d never done anything wrong.
Never deviated from morality or my religious values. I was faithful to the husband my parents and brothers chose for me. Now, for no fault of my own, I have... this disease, this gift from my legally wedded husband. It is the same story with several other women of Kasargod as well… I have only one appeal to the parents of girls. Don’t marry off your daughter to somebody you don’t know anything about.
Say a resolute ‘no’ to marriages before the legal age.”What makes Havvabi’s story the more chilling is the simplicity with which it is told. The courage that has kept her going for the last five years doesn’t let her flinch from facing her own impending end. “Each and every death here reminds me of the horrible reality of my final day,” she writes of her time in hospital. “I often pray to Allah, Don’t let my corpse lie orphaned. In the darkness of night, I often wake with weird dreams. I always remember, my countdown has begun.”(Tehelka, Aug 05 , 2006)

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