Meet Rafiq, once a tea vendor, now professor at Kannur University

Rafiq Ibrahim has beaten heavy odds to earn a doctorate, spurred by a love of reading, reports M A Rajeev Kumar

Published: 14th November 2021 06:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th November 2021 10:53 AM   |  A+A-

Rafiq Ibrahim

Rafiq Ibrahim

Express News Service

WAYANAD: Rafiq Ibrahim used to call Echome, in Panamaram panchayat, a dead village. “During my childhood, I watched with amazement how time stood still there, almost oblivious of the world outside,” says the 34-year-old. 

The son of a tea-shop owner, Rafiq had a difficult childhood, and at times stared at poverty too. But he persevered to get better at life. He sold tea, went as a cleaner in jeeps and worked in a hotel. At one point, he even had to discontinue his studies. Through all that, he kept reading books, and managed to earn a doctorate. On November 6, Rafiq joined the Nileshwar campus of the Kannur University as an assistant professor in the Malayalam department.

“I am not a hero,” Rafiq says. “But the reality should not go unaddressed, as there are thousands of underprivileged people like me.”  Like his father, Ibrahim, his mother, Nabeesa, too did not attend school. Though the conditions at home were not too conducive for studies, both Rafiq and his older sister, Bushara, passed the SSLC examinations. “Though I had a first class, my first thought was to try some manual jobs in the area. Once out of school, boys would work in a jeep as a driver or a cleaner, and girls would be married off. That was how it was in Echome,” he says.

Caught in debt, however, his father had to sell the tea shop and the income of the family dried up. So he went to a friend in Mysuru, at 19, and became a tea vendor. He had joined a BSc course then, and completed the first-year examinations. But he was pulled down by typhoid and had to return home. “As the condition at home remained the same, I went to Wandoor in Malappuram district where I got a job in a hotel at the bus stand,” he recalls. 

Rafiq started reading books and magazines at the book shops there during his free time. “I found that reading keeps me happy, and took a liking to the ideas expressed by great writers,” he says. However, Rafiq lost his job yet again as the hotel eventually had to be closed down after the authorities decided to renovate the bus stand. “During my journey back home, I read an article by Sunil P Ilayidom about politics of identity and class. That instilled a spark in me,”  he says.

Rafiq then worked as a salesman at a footwear shop in Kalpetta. He worked there for two years, and the situation improved as his sister got a teaching job in a parallel college. Encouraged by his friends, he joined the BA Economics course under Calicut University. “During that period, I read plenty of books at the district library in Kalpetta,” he says.

Later, he attempted the entrance examination for the MA Malayalam course at the Sree Sankara Sanskrit University in Kalady with the sole aim of meeting his idol, Sunil P Ilayidom, who was the head of the Malayalam department. “I enjoyed every moment there, and the atmosphere helped me change my outlook as a student and human being,” he says. 

From there, things became a lot easier for Rafiq, going on to complete his MPhil, and earning a doctorate in ‘literary form and cultural history’ under the guidance of Ilayidom. Rafiq says his life is an example of generosity changing fortunes. “All that people require to come up in life is a helping hand at the right time.”

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