The bus rattles against the uneven road toward Jahangir Chowk. The mother tsks in irritation again.
“Azim!” She holds the boy tightly on her lap, communicating her distress at his hyper-activity.
He continues to ignore her and bounces up and down. The conductor shoots a smile at the pair and pulls the boy’s cheeks.
The mother lets out another sigh of frustration as the bus lurches forward to stop for a passenger and Azim wriggles out of her grasp.
He grins in glee as he presses his nose to the window beside him, glancing at the landscape of the city as it rolls by.
When did my life change so much? she wonders, staring at the boy that strangely resembles her and her husband, looking at her innocently, with glee and humming a rhyme to himself.
Her destination draws near and she perks up, holding strong onto his wrist and pulling him forward. They descend the stairs of the bus. The conductor flashes another grin at Azim and she catches the genuine love that shines on her son’s face when he walks alongside her.
A woman like her has no right to complain, she thinks guiltily.
She’s his mother after all.
In the 2014 adaptation of ‘Hamlet’, titled ‘Haider’, the mother of the Chutzpah protagonist realizes the truth behind her husband’s death and takes a step to make a choice that one, in reality, the mothers of Kashmir have never consciously made.
It is ironic, as the credits roll in after a still frame showing Haider’s trembling eyes, how the movie seems to capture the fate of the sons and the unanswered inquiries of the mothers.
Inquiries about the position they hold in the years that have made the society what it is today.
The position of being a ‘victim’.
She remembers the time when he was born, how happy everyone was, praising her for giving natural birth to such a healthy, baby boy. She remembers when for the first time in a year, her husband had looked at her lovingly and had congratulated her on the news.
She remembers feeling elated, yet dejected at the same time.
She still doesn’t understand how dejection could be a part of giving birth. She should be happy.
Not many are able to give birth, or even have kids after years of trying.
As she walks with her son along the busy streets of Srinagar, she remembers the weeks after his birth. Her relatives flocked from different countries to bid her well and coo at the child. The child gurgled, giggled or cried every time he was picked up. She and her husband were put in the limelight and commended for taking the necessary precautions during her pregnancy. Her husband often boasted of being the only rock of support and sense to her during that time.
And she remembers how on the same day the relatives left and the husband went out to buy some food, she cried.
The position of being a mother, a victim and a woman has been attached, detached and re-attached to proclaim a new, yet repetitive identity that the women of the state are burdened to hold in their quest to sustain their lives. The narrative that surfaces from their mouths, whenever a mouthpiece is attached, gets mind-numbingly patriarchal.
And then suddenly, it doesn’t matter how often the mothers are chaffed or reconstituted into tight, familiar and threatening boxes of expression.
The show must go on.
She didn’t understand what she was feeling. The tears weren’t of happiness, but rather a deep, foreboding that was manifesting within her.
She didn’t know who to talk to, her parents were beyond elated, her in-laws were smug about it and her husband seemed on top of the world.
So why wasn’t she?
She looked at the child in the cot beside her who was fast asleep. He was innocent, his birth wasn’t his fault.
Her husband, in the next moment, entered the room and looked at her face in alarm.
She quickly lied about being in pain.
The lies came frequently after.
When the child was crying at night and her husband nudged her to check up on the boy, she closed her eyes shut and willed the cries to go away.
When the child would pee or poop, and her husband would nudge her to change the child’s diaper, she would let the child rot in it for another hour.
When Azim, as they began to call him, spoke his first words and everybody laughed in admiration, she made a face.
When it was time for Azim to go to school, the knot in her chest grew tighter.
She didn’t know when, but her face had become a permanent expression of irritation.
Sometimes he wouldn’t eat, swaying his head from side to side, so she would take ahold of his jaw with more force than necessary and shove the food in. He would then start bawling and she would face the indignation of her in-laws.
Other times when she had finally laid down after a day’s work of tending to him, her husband would call her and tell her to look after him while he was gone.
I haven’t been out of this house for a month, she would think bitterly, looking at her husband while he started the car and yapped away on the phone.
“Mummy,” Azim says, halting her train of thoughts.
“What?” the mother snaps, eyeing a group of girls walking together and laughing.
“Can you pick me up?” He stretches his hands and pouts. “I’m tired.”
“No,” she says, knowing well that she couldn’t say this in front of her in-laws, “I’m tired too.”
He blinks. “Huh? Mummy can also get tired?”
She gazes at him and tries to smile.
“But Papa says Mummy is like Superman!” he answers in her presence excitedly. “He says Mummy is very strong!”
She stops to look at him. “Don’t you think Superman also needs sleep?”
He looks at her as if she just asked him a difficult question. Slowly, he shakes his head.
“Well, he does,” she says tiredly, pulling him along and stopping her tears from coming out. “Superman is also human.”
She remembers Azim’s allergies.
She remembers her husband’s favorite food, Kadu ki yakhni.
She remembers the in-laws’ medicines.
But she doesn’t remember who she was before she got married and became a mother.
She doesn’t remember herself.
This is as real as it gets.
For mothers, the era of sacrifice and compromise, two overused words like an ancient manuscript, never ends.
And it is in this story that the arrival of consequence enters, otherwise known as postpartum depression, the ghost that walks the mind of mothers.
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder known to have affected millions of mothers. It occurs in the span of 12 months and it usually starts with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the responsibility of mothering a child. The feeling escalates into the mother believing she cannot do it at all, and that, maybe, she shouldn’t have become a mother in the first place.
The feeling of guilt occurs. The mother doesn’t feel connected to the baby and feels that the baby deserves better than her.
There is absence in bonding. The mother feels confused about her conflicted emotions, and feels irritated or angry for no reason.
A feeling of hopelessness and fatigue prevails. The mother doesn’t feel like eating. She feels defective and weak.
There is a general feeling of disconnectedness. There is a sense within her that she is apart from other people, that there is an ‘invisible wall’.
Postpartum depression has rarely been a conscious phenomenon in Kashmir. Rather, it is tangled in a complex web of continuous victimization, glorification and marginalization of women, hence pushing the topic in a nitpicked space of the mother’s mind.
Many, would rather not believe that such a phenomenon can exist, because the first thing that comes to mind is, “But it’s a child! Why wouldn’t she be happy for having a child!”
Expressing dissent and anger for women, in reference to their participation in stone-pelting in 2016, it seems, is only viable under the context of ‘Azadi’, and nothing else.
As Safina Nabi writes, “during that era, when the Kashmiri people were riding high on the wave for “azadi” (“freedom” – from India), the women in the Valley could not keep themselves isolated from these developments to the political landscape. They were pushed by circumstance or sentiment of nationalism to engage either as victim-activists, protesters or as separatist politicians. However, a Kashmiri woman’s identity and place in historical accounts describing her position in the ongoing struggle, more often than not, is seen as culminating at being a mere ‘victim’.”
Nabi consciously strings the words victim and activists together, silently voicing the idea that has been dominant in a Kashmiri mind, but not quite at the tip of the tongue, possibly out of sheer denial of the gender’s state.
In a Facebook post that has outlined their core objective, Kashmir Women’s Collective reclaimed public spaces in a Mughal garden in Srinagar, which has almost always been occupied by men. Whether it is the famous Cherry park, now a frolicking spot for drug addicts, or Badamwari, a point of being eve-teased, women seem to just wriggle within the posh and shabby cars allotted for their ‘safety’.
Yet, it seems that the mothers have, in reality, never been ‘safe’. Even while dealing with their own child.
Kumam Davidson, while reviewing the movie Haider said, “If Ghazala (the mother of Haider) is at the centre of the story, the root of all problems, then why is the truth not recognized explicitly rather than being constantly accused by her own son? Why is she not given a fair chance to present her viewpoint on all these? Why is she never even allowed to express her nature of affection towards Khurram (the uncle who pursues her)? Does she even love him? Why is there no explanation of her existence in her own voice and language? Why are women always without any choice but their own deaths? These questions need to be addressed and answered both in life and art. I wonder if this film should have been titled ‘Ghazala’ or ‘Kashmir’ to give justice to the story.”
The Kashmiri mother hides behind the portrait of her son and/or husband while cameras are flashed and funerals are carried out. It seems more apt to name the movie as it has been named – Haider, the tale of a rage-driven son troubled by the actions of his mother, ultimately realizing the entirety of his dependence on her existence and her importance after her sacrifice.
The sacrifice that obviously contains the package of nine months of labor, eighteen years of effort and a perfidious hope that the ‘bahu’ will lessen the load — though with sky high divorce rates rampaging the city, the bahu might disappear after a while.
Citing testimonials from western mothers is a fickle solution, for there exists a festering sore between the civil help in the West and the East; a mother who comes out with postpartum depression in Kashmir will be sent to a Pir on the pretext of being possessed by a Djinn that apparently has vested social interests against the in-laws. Or be taunted, for her whole life.
Both victimize her even further.
Where does the buck stop, one wonders, as eyes swim with anger, regret and frustration, looking at the women who throng the shrines of famous saints and wail over their sorrows.
A burqa-clad woman sweeps the floor of Dastgeer Sahab with her shawl, beseeching the dead saint to intervene and give her peace.
The answer, it seems, lies with people like Bashir Ahmed Nadawi, with the advent of Athrout as a helping hand for underprivileged women in the city. Women who were initially, victims of circumstance, but rose to became the determinants of their destiny.
In reality, the Azadi that lurks in the houses, is also the Azadi of the mind from the ghost that grips and strangles the throat of a mother- lessening their existence and ebbing their importance in a period of need of strength in women.
What is needed is the Azadi from being a victim of tragedy, to a survivor of sorrow, and a warrior of circumstance.
Though, for mothers, the battle will continue to rage on, whether it means being a victim of postpartum depression, or simply, unfortunate circumstances.
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