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“Kalai Vathi” Kaleel : A versatile Muslim Writer from Mannar

by K S Sivakumaran

Writers in Tamil in Lanka include Tamils, Muslims, and Malays. They are from different parts of the island. One such place is Mannar in the Northern Province.

Almost an icon in the area and a widely known writer, poet, journalist and critic is Kalai Vaathi Kaleel. He hails from a traditional family of artistes and artists. His grand father was a poet. His mother was a folk-singer.

Among his brothers were scholar M A Rahuman, the cinematographer and film director M A Cafoor, his twin brother Maken Cader a media person and poet, Abdul Wahab a theatre man. Waheeda Rahman, his cousin a poet and versatile in many fields, his daughter Fathuma is a writer, his uncle U L Hameed is a film artiste, and another uncle Uma is a poet.

Kalai Vaathy Kaleel was the first Muslim artiste from the Northern Province to receive the Governor’s Award of the then North-East Provincial Council. He is also an artist and a book cover designer having received appreciation from people that matter.

Such a man naturally feels he is not noticed by the critics and newspaper people. However, Mallikai- a literary monthly journal published from Colombo and used his picture in the cover of its February 2011 issue. An educationist, poet and writer from Anuradhapura- Anbu Jawahar Sha, has profiled Kalai Vaathy Kaleel.

Kaleel began his literary career in 1956 with a story published in a juvenile magazine called “Laddu”. We learn that he has so far written more than 50 short stories, 500 poems and 400 articles and columns in the newspapers and magazines numbering more than 30. His multi-faceted talents earned him popularity and acceptance. Most of his contributions appeared in the magazine called “Insan”, a progressive Muslim journal from 1968 to 1970.
He began his career as an assistant teacher in 1963. He is a trained teacher passing out from the Palaly Training College. He has served 41 years in the field of education and retired in 2004 as Vice-Dean at the Dharga Nagar National Education College.

In 1991 the Muslim Religious and Cultural Ministry awarded him for his contributions in different fields like writing poetry, short stories, novel, and criticism and as a radio artiste, speaker, actor, painter, newspaper editor, media person, and compeer. Kaleel was also a commentator in sports and a film critic.

His published works include five books -shorts stories, musical feature, research and poetry. His serialized novel in Thinakaran is to be published.

He was a recipient of the “Kala Booshanam Award in 1999. He also received the Cultural Department’s Award and a cash endowment at the World Islamic Literary Conference. Several appellations like Theenth Tamil Selvan, and Palkalaik Kurusil. He has been the president of Mannar Progressive Writers Union, Mannar Readers Circle and secretary of All Lanka Artists Association, and Sri Lanka Muslim Artists Front, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, Executive Committee member o f the National Drama Panel.

Primarily an artist and painter, Kalai Vaathy Kaleel is a trained teacher in art, sculpture, Arab inscribing and commercial art.

He could draw even portraits, and he has shown his talents in drawing banners, wall posters, and posters. He has drawn illustrations and headings/tags for stories published in the newspapers. For many books and several souvenirs, he has drawn cover pictures. His drawings had appeared in Government text books.

More than 20 books published by the Muslim Religious and Cultural Ministry adorn his drawings and sketches. He has also held many exhibitions in all parts of the island of art, sculpture, and handicrafts.

Such a man public life for more than 50 years needs to be known through the English print medium as well.