At 8 years old I knew her suicide would define me. Though I relive it each day, it liberates me too. Growing up, I couldn’t taste my mother’s love in home cooked meals; never sensed the larger family she might have connected me to; never received her loving embrace in difficult moments. Nowadays, as a result of what happened and years of survival, I finally find myself blossoming with constants of peace and self-identity. At the same time, I often recall and imagine the ways in which mine and my mother’s lives have been subtly similar/wildly different:
It started when we were born, me in a small hospital in West Kensington (which would prove a privilege in situations to come), and her in Kashmir, one of the most actively disputed territories in the world. We each experienced early childhood with both of our parents, enough siblings, and a good dose of hope. By the time I was 10, I’d go days without seeing an adult during my summers, whereas seasons over and over she would have tight knit generations keen to be, know, share, and see her at all times. My daily meals would be fast-cooked and rarely warm. Hers would be wholesome, hot, communal, and of local soil.
At 12, I learned of periods, sex, and abortions at school with imagery and science I could cringe at. Her lessons would have been hearsay, whispers, and each month’s gifts were a secret between girls. Soon after, I found boys available from any culture I could imagine. Her lovers would appear in the rawness of native tongue and dress. In one of the few conversations I remember between us, I was aged 6 and she was aged 33. She sat me down and asked:
“Would you marry an Indian or white boy? How about a black boy? A Chinese boy? She continued on like this while I struggled to distinguish one question from the next. I watched her smile at me in awe and excitement.
When I excelled at taekwondo, I was wholly unaware of her own feats as a player in league games of kabaddi. I now imagine us playing both apart and together: as I recover from each session in the cold by buttoning up a starchy white school-shirt and wool blazer, I see her wrapping herself in the boundlessness of her local scarves.
And as each year passes, I look more like her. Without fail. Or so say people who knew her then. How I once envied their remarks of familiarity as my fingertips slipped over puddles of tears, over glossy album film cloudily offering false memories of her face!
Today, I write about my mother without struggle, guarded by joy in acceptance, a heart opened up by asanas written by our ancestors, and the cathartic means of art. My growth is a far cry from her eventual rest after silence, grapple, and escape.
Some nights to imagine her near I splash my neck with her one fragrance of choice, Dior ‘Poison’.
As I read this back and breathe the perfume, I notice how it seems to emulate her: a timeless alchemy carrying something unsettling and exotic. And if I inhale too long such stifling warmth.
edited by Divya Ghelani
Jammu, UK (dec'd)
14th February 2017