You will find skimpily-clad adolescent girls walking with their fully-veiled mothers [in Turkey]. There is absolute freedom to wear the dress of your choice and practise the faith you believe in—Ummar Parambilpeedikakkal
This is a Malabar takeaway from the Turkish coup that wasn't.
As news broke of the chaos of an attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, thousands of kilometres away in Kerala, Ummar Parambilpeedikakkal got an email.
It was from a professor at the Necmettin Erbakan University in Konya, around 700 km from Turkish capital Istanbul. In a short message, the professor exhorted Ummar, and 50-odd others in the group mail, to respond to Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan's call to take to the streets.
Ummar, 30, was confused for two reasons. One, why would the professor, who he thought had disliked Erdogan, want his students to heed the president's call. Two, why would Erdogan, who had punished people for being in the streets, want them to do that on that night.
A few hours of television cleared Ummar's doubts. News channels were breathless described how the power of people was crushing the might of military.
During the chaotic moments after the coup attempt began, Erdogan had appeared live on a CNN anchor's phone via the FaceTime video chat app. As his face streamed live on televisions across Turkey, people began pouring out into the streets in large numbers. By the end of next day, Erdogan was back in business.
For Ummar, the incidents once again reaffirmed his idea of Turkey, the idea that he formed partly by reading up on the mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and partly by living there for 10 months as a PhD scholar.
After doing his postgraduation in English at the University of Calicut in Kerala, Ummar flew to Turkey last year. He had received a scholarship extended by that country to only a handful of students across the world every year. He is now home for a three-month vacation.
"Had I been there, I would have definitely gone out into the streets. Several of my friends have," Ummar said.
Like his professor, Ummar's desire to be part of the people's resistance is not particularly guided by his love for Erdogan, but by a belief that democratic values are have to be upheld at any cost.
"They are people of different political persuasions. The failed coup has shown to the world that Turkish people are ready to set their political differences aside for the cause of their nation," Ummar said.
For someone who is pursuing PhD in Turkey on a full scholarship, Ummar was in rather rustic attire attire when I met him at the Darul Huda Islamic University in north Kerala's Chemmad village of Malappuram.
Donning a simple white shirt and a white dhoti with a skullcap on his head, he didn't look any different from the countless staff and students at the Darul Huda.
It is here that Ummar had done his schooling and later worked for eight years as a lecturer. Darul Huda takes in students from all over Kerala and a few neighbouring states and gives them residential coaching in religious studies as well as formal schooling free of cost. It also provides them college education if they prefer it.
Ummar said he had a very different picture in his mind about Turkey, before boarding a flight to the country for the first time.
“I was expecting Turkey to be like Saudi Arabia or Iran. But the moment I set foot in the country, it gave me a pleasant surprise.”
Turkey, he said, is in most respects a European society, with Islam replacing its predominantly Christian identity. For a person from a traditional Muslim family in Malabar, Ummar said, the way of life in Turkey can be a bit confusing.
On one hand you will see an almost dogmatic adherence to Islamic values, and on the other, a wanton disregard of the same traditions, he said.
“The interesting thing is that they all get along very well in that society,” he said.
One of the first things Ummar said he noticed in Turkey was the freedom it provided its citizens to do what they like. “It is 99.8 per cent a Muslim country. But you will find skimpily-clad adolescent girls walking with their fully-veiled mothers. There is absolute freedom to wear the dress of your choice and practise the faith you believe in," he said.
Another thing that struck Ummar about Turks is their love for Bollywood films, especially those starring Aamir Khan. "Amir Khan is a huge star in Turkey. Almost all of his films have been dubbed into Turkish," he said.
"The first thing any Turkish person would ask me when he or she comes to know about my nationality is whether I know Aamir Khan. He has a crazy fan following there," he said.
Ummar, who is married and has a three-year-old son called Hanoon, said it was unthinkable for his friends and fellow scholars there to even imagine having to leave separately from their wife and kids for long intervals. Ummar's family is settled in Perintalmanna, in Malappuram district.
“From a European point of view, it may be unthinkable. But we are Malayalis. Our cycle of life will not be complete if we don't lead the life of an expatriate, would it?” Ummar signed off.