by Rafiq Kathwari
Mother passed away in her sleep at Hebrew Home, The Bronx. The last time I visited her was on 7th March. Hebrew Home locked down on the 10th. Mother died alone on 31 March. She was 96.
Mother’s caregiver, Sabila from Nepal, who over the last 10 years created an extraordinary bond with mother, called her Ami Jan, an endearment, and who follows the Hindu faith, once gave Mother a framed picture of Mother India or Bharat Mata, which Sabila thought symbolized her relationship with Mother who, in turn, taught Sabila to recite the first surah of the Koran which, consequently, Sabila did most beautifully and by heart.
So, here she is Bharat Mata, or as Sabila saw my mother, wrapped in a bright sari, superimposed on a map of India painted on a box of safety matches. It’s incendiary. Kashmir crowns the Mata who wields a trident in her right hand. A multi-color flag erases Afghanistan and Pakistan. Left-hand shadows Bangla Desh gesturing towards Myanmar. Her foot seems bigger than pearl-shaped Sri Lanka which forms the central story of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Here’s how Sabila told Mother the story.
One day, God Rama saw Sita bathing nude in Sitaharan a spring near the Line of Control in Kashmir: It was lust at first sight. Enter Ravana, demon king who abducted Sita to Sri Lanka to avenge a previous wrong, angering Rama who flew south to Lanka in his glitzy winged chariot Made in Prehistoric India using indigenous materials, piloted by a crew of monkeys.Rama, who shot a divine arrow which pierced Ravana in the heart and killed him, flew Sita back to Kashmir where legend has it they lived happily until India divided herself 73 years ago.
Mother said, broods of the Dogras want their land back, flora, fauna, valleys, peaks, pashmina goats, Mother said after I told her that Hindutva goons are calling it Zameen jihad. Of course, they will, she said. It’s the nature of fascists to clasp opposite concepts to serve their own propaganda.
Mother was an activist all her life, lost her mind fighting the patriarchy in Kashmir. She wrote letters to the “Prime Ministers of the World,” expressing her aspirations. I, her young son, was her proud scribe. It was a different era then. Letters took over 15 days to reach their destinations and, if you were lucky, you’d get a response in about a month.
Those letters are now part of my new collection of poems, “My Mother’s Scribe” (Yoda Press Monsoon 2020).
In our weekly conversations, I quenched Mothers’s thirst for news of Kashmir. Mother said, The state is afraid, she said, very afraid. Activists will be threatened, deemed terrorists. Their poetry collections will be burned as mine were, she said.
Modi is an incredibly vain man, Mother said, much like a woman, but unlike a woman he is hollow. He wears expensive clothes, but he has no clothes on. I remember, Mother said, Mahatma Gandhi wore a lungi, exposed his bag of bones. Brilliant strategy. It confounded the uppity Brits.
Mother said, always be on the Right Side of History even if you don’t have two pennies to rub together, which you don’t (ouch!). Watch out, Mother said. Hindutva goons will build thousands of temples in the Vale of Kashmir to try change the demographics. They’re calling it Gharwapsi, I said. She taught me the correct response to the slogan, Azaadi ka Matlab Kya is Jamhooriya, Jamhooriya.
Eschew martyrdom, Mother said. Draw up a blueprint for Azaadi, Prepare yourselves for the moment when history throws up a rainbow over the Zabarvan. A rainbow is ephemeral. Grab it. Carpe diem, Mother said, before the diem carpe you. Preparedness is everything.
Maryam was born at Abiguzar, Srinagar and is buried in a universalist cemetery, views of Hudson highlands, in Putnam county, NY.
R.I.P Maryam Jan, Mother of Christ. 5 Mar 1924 -31 Mar 2020.
By Rafiq Kathwari / @brownpundit