A Forsaken Mother

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Bilal Handoo

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Photo: NASEER AHMED

It was early seventies when Yemberzal got married amid huge fanfare in downtown Srinagar. A simple girl, she was ruling hearts because of her sensibility. Such was Yemberzal; just like her name meaning spring-flowering bulb. Everyone wished to have a daughter like her. But who had a hunch that three decades after her marriage, Yemberzal—the lovable, would be left deserted, disowned and dead in an unknown piece of land!

Her arrival into her in-laws opened gates of fortunes for them. Before marriage, her husband wasn’t doing great in life. But he soon got a good job in education department. Her in-laws won a decade old court case involving some disputed land in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district. And soon, her sister-in-law got engaged, who wasn’t getting it right.

“You have really proven a blessing for us,” Yemberzal’s mother-in-law, Hajira once told her when both were peeling and chopping potatoes under the naked sun of May in their courtyard. She didn’t utter a word in reply, but the compliment made her happy inside.

And soon, her mind submerged in the memories of her father’s advice. “My child,” she was recalling her father’s words, “you always made us feel proud. And I hope you will continue to do same after your marriage.”

Later that day, she visited her parents living just few kilometers away from her in-laws. It was eighth month of her marriage, and the bulge was only mounting on her belly. But, she had no complaints. Being a mother was the most cherishing thing for her. No mood swings, no sickness and no exhaustion were enough to make her feel irritated. She was eagerly waiting for her baby. She would pray at length for the safety of her blossomed life. Some four months before, she had even tied a knot at Makdhoom Sahab Shrine for the well-being of her baby!

And then, the day—she waited for, so eagerly—dawned… It was a girl child. Everybody was happy on the arrival of a tender life. That day Srinagar was under a firm grip of bone-numbing chill. An elderly aunt of Yemberzal passed a remark in a lighter vein that the baby would grow up a cold person in her life. Nobody took exception to her words, only a burst of laughter followed.

After few days, the family named a newborn, Salehah or obedient. The name was consciously chosen. For Yemberzal, nothing meant more important in life than being an obedient. She was herself a living example.

But right from her childhood, Salehah was a crying freak. She must have given countless sleepless nights to her mother. But Yemberzal was always calm and compassionate towards her baby. She never lost a touch with her patience—something, she had plenty in her.

Time kept ticking, and then two years later, Salehah’s sibling joined her. The family named her, Gulshan or garden. She raised both her girls like princesses. As they started growing up, she was more of a friend than a mother.

And then the timeline of Kashmir entered into the phase of arms uprising. As guns and gunmen started parading around, Salehah stepped into her teens. But Yemberzal would guard and accompany her daughter everywhere she went. For Yemberzal, the safety of her daughters meant more than her own life.

In between, Yemberzal’s father-in-law and mother-in-law passed away, peacefully. Now the family was reduced to mere four members. Already her brother and sister-in-laws were living separately with their own families.

But in the family of four, both children had grown into brawling cats.

“Is that what I have taught you all these years?” Yemberzal would retort her daughter duo, whenever their rants disrupted the calm of her home.

But as people were forced to stay indoors during those times, a new spell of intolerance started brewing inside Yemberzal’s home. “For God sake, you two, will you stop fighting each other,” thus became a frequent, but futile cry of reprimand for the mother.

But perhaps, her worst was yet to show up…

By 1997, Salehah had completed her graduation in Humanities. And now her parents were looking a life partner for her. And within a month, they came to know about a man who was working as a lecturer in English Department in Government Degree College. After sometime, engagement ceremony was celebrated. And within a year and half, Yemberzal’s family was reduced to three.

Soon after Salehah’s marriage, Yemberzal was overtaken by a strange fear. Her heart would race up with the thought of living without her daughters. She had no son to take care of her. But she never wanted one as she always believed that her daughters completed her motherhood.

And then, one day, her husband was found frozen in his sleep. He was not breathing at all. Yemberzal was all alone in home. Her younger daughter, Gulshan had gone to her relatives. In panic, she raised helpless cries. And within no time, her neighbours came rushing into the room. “Oh! my God, I think he is dead,” cried one of the persons in the room.

And all of a sudden, everything went black in front of her eyes.

Few moments after, pitching voices in the room swung her back to senses. She found herself laid at the corner of the room. The room was filled with her mourning relatives and neighbours. She stood frozen for a while, gave wooden looks to everyone around. But soon her patience gave up. She started crying like a baby. Nothing seemed to console her. Just nothing.

After few days, when her relentless sorrow waned, a bit, Yemberzal tried to recoil and recollect herself. Now, she was all concerned about her younger daughter. And then one day, Yemberzal met her elder sister at her Habba Kadal residence to talk about her daughter’s wedding.

“Look, I understand, how you are feeling right now,” Yemberzal’s  sister told her, “but wait for a while before taking any decision.”

“What is there to wait,” Yemberzal replied. “And who knows, what happens next. Maybe, I won’t be breathing around, just like my husband, who left me all alone to face all this.” She broke down. After consoled hard by her sister, Yemberzal regained her composure.

“I don’t disagree with you, but what about you? Wouldn’t you be left all alone,” her sister continued.

“It is never about me,” Yemberzal said. “It is always about my daughters.”

Fifteen days later, a matchmaker, a local called Ahda showed up at her home with profiles of prospecting grooms. Yemberzal heard Ahda at length that afternoon when Gulshan was away at her College. And finally, she liked the profile of a young businessman from Nowgam Srinagar.

It took another three months to set the date for an engagement. And six months after engagement, marriage was scheduled.

Steadily, the feeling of loneliness firmly rooted inside her. In less than a year later, her second daughter would leave her all alone in their three storey medieval house.

But she was happy for her daughter, who had flatly told her one evening: “Now, if you are thinking that I would live here with my husband, then you should better stop thinking that way. Nothing of the sort is ever going to happen. So, it is better, you should accompany me after my marriage.”

Those words from her younger daughter pinched her too much. And throughout that night, she couldn’t sleep till muezzin pitched the call for dawn prayers.

Yemberzal wasn’t the same after both her daughters left. She was thriving on pension of her late husband. She would pay occasional visits to her daughters. And in return, they had cut off visits to their lonely mother after some point of time. They were too engrossed in their lives. And their mother was wise enough to realize all this. She wouldn’t bother them unnecessarily.

Back in her home, solitude would often trouble her. And to break the monotony, she would spend most of her time at Makhdoom Sahab Shrine. The stay at the shrine would provide her some respite.

But her frequent visits at the shrine concerned her relatives, especially her elder sister. And then, on a sunny day in July 2004, she paid her a visit.

“I know, you aren’t living an easy life,” she told Yemberzal who was preparing tea for her. “Only God can stay alone, not humans!”

Yemberzal asked her to take tea, and chose to stay tight-lipped. Both of them sipped tea in the room where silence was scoring over speech.

“Your silence is not going to end your solitude,” Yemberzal, whose face was beamed with sorrowful expressions, was told. After taking few deep sighs, she finally spoke: “Then, what is going to end it [solitude].”

Silence again overtook them. After some time, something came out of her sister’s mouth which was about to redefine her life. “I think, you should marry, again!”

Yemberzal didn’t protest. Neither she spoke a word of approval nor disapproval. No sign; just silence. Perhaps, she had learnt to settle the scores of fate in silence.

Later that evening, she kept staring at the mud walls of her room. She found herself transporting into new space and time. “Maybe, my sister was right. Yes, I should remarry. Why should I suffer in silence. But, what if, my daughters objected my move. What if…”

All these questions kept flashing across her mind. But she was clueless what to do. There was no anchor of her sailing thoughts in dead of that night.

And next morning, she went to Makhdoom Shahab Shrine, again. She downpoured a fresh drizzle from her fast ageing eyes. With each drop falling, the mounted burden of her heart seemed to lighten up.

In the heart of her hearts, she wanted to break free herself from the life of seclusion! She wasn’t meant for the life she was living. She was entirely a different substance, who always wanted family members around her.

And here was her chance to flip her life. The proposal by her sister started playing at the back of her mind. For the first time now, desire for a change was getting intense inside her. But before she would succumb to her inner desire, she had to talk to her daughters.

“You are such an old shame,” Salehah, her elder daughter retorted once she got to know. “How dare you arrive at such a disgraceful decision. Are you going to earn a bad name to your daughters? This is simply disgusting. Do whatever you want, but mind it: you may lose you daughters forever!”

Those sharp words from her daughter pierced her heart very deeply. And all of a sudden, her late aunt’s prophecy overtook her that Salehah would grow up a cold person. As she was walking back home, sadness kept flowing from her eyes.

She was hopeful that her elder daughter might realize the burden of her loneliness. But no, she was wrong. Her daughter chose her own reputation over her mother’s living agony.

And then in the fall of that year, her younger daughter repeated what her elder daughter had already done to her. Down with disappointment, Yemberzal visited her elder sister.

“Look you have already discharged the duty of an ideal mother,” her sister told her. “Now, you should take care of yourself. Do you want to die in loneliness?”

Somehow, these words were altering her state of mind. And after days of deep thinking, she asked her sister. “Do you know anyone, who is single and worthy to be with?” For the first time, the voice of change was coming out of her heart.

“Yes, I know,” replied her sister. “He is a widower from Karan Nagar.  He must be in his late fifties, but the matchmaker swore by his nobility.”

And then, Yemberzal made up her mind for remarriage, only to end her spell of solitude. Second phase of her life started. In the meantime, she had stepped into fifties, but was looking older than her age. But there was no special feeling attached to her second marriage like in earlier.

Her second husband would take good care of her. He was also living alone, as his progeny were living separately. His marriage to Yemberzal had made them (his progeny) feel the same way as Yemberzal’s.

But her happiness couldn’t stay long…

Few months after her  second marriage, her daughters demanded share from their parental home. Without any protest, Yemberzal sold the house and distributed the share equally between them. But even then, her daughters kept cursing her, and would often refuse to meet their mother whenever her motherhood would drag herself at their residences.

In her new home, where initially everything appeared fine, things started changing. She noticed a change in the attitude of her second husband towards her. And now this badly started affecting her mental balance. She had been reduced to a miserable human, whose identity was mere depression and dejection.

She would now consume pills plethora to relieve her mental onslaughts. But still then, she never failed to visit her daughters. During one such visit, her husband was bed-ridden. In depression, she couldn’t stay with him; her craving for Salehah and Gulshan was touching epitome of motherhood. And in between, his two sons and three daughters visited their ailing father. While finding their father in a deprived plight, they brainwashed him.

“We had swallowed the bitter pill when you decided to remarry,” his younger daughter, Shabnum told him. “We thought, maybe, you need care from someone, but where is she now? Hasn’t she left you dying all alone in this house?”

But it wasn’t a language of concern, rather a concealed one. Somehow, the man’s progeny had heard about the sickness of their father. And thought, in case of his demise, Yemberzal might get the lion’s share out of his ample property. So, the motive was to motivate their father to show door to his second wife.

Finally, they had the last laugh. After due procedure, Yemberzal was directed to leave by her husband. But before leaving, she was handed over an amount (Rs 2.5 lakh)-as sum of good-riddance. In the state of depression, she went to her daughters’ home, offered them money for stay. But an ailing mother found no space there.

In despondency, she sat with beggars at foot stairs of Makhdoom Sahab. She wanted to fight with the saint in whose shrine she had tied knots of faith for her daughters’ good life. She wanted to cry louder there over her fate. She wanted to ask him as why she faced all this. But she had no strength left in her. So, she walked away.

She rented a room in the vicinity of shrine. And again, her loneliness returned. It seemed, aloofness was in mood to leave her, alone. Loneliness wanted a companion! She had no idea what she was doing with money she got from her second husband. Apart from pills, she had started puffing Hookah to relieve herself. But there was no relief.

Disowned by all, she finally gave a last try. She went to her mother’s relative in Srinagar’s Soura area. Somehow, the relative was moved by her plight and took her home. As fate had in it, the relative’s children started complaining about her ‘weird’ behaviour. And then, it was back to square one.

In the summer of 2012, the relative took ailing Yemberzal to her elder daughter’s home in uptown Srinagar. But both her daughter as well as her husband refused to let her in.

Later, she was dropped at some orphanage in Central Kashmir, where she finally succumbed to her miserable state of suffering. She was buried at some unknown patch of land. It is said that Yemberzal had registered her last will with management that nobody should claim her body, after her death.

Even the death of a mother didn’t move her daughters! They never showed up for mourning held at the home of Yemberzal’s sister.

And a mother remained forsaken even after her death!

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About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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