My Mother’s Scribe folds a memorable variety of genres into itself…
My Mother’s Scribe folds a memorable variety of genres into itself. Part memoir, part fiction, part documentary adapting found material, part dream journal, this deeply moving book traces the journeys that its protagonists, a Kashmiri family, make across the globe, from the Himalayas to the Bronx. Some of these displacements are forced, others voluntary; home is both what they lose and what they craft for themselves along the way. Through the medium of epistolary communication – the letter, often addressed to officials or global dignitaries, is a key vehicle in these poems – Kathwari brings the lives of his protagonists into intense adjacency with the often-cataclysmic events that have shaped the world since the mid-20th century. Kathwari’s lifeworld is divided against itself by partition, occupation and diaspora. Yet this lifeworld is also an accordion that brings siblings, lovers, neighbors and strangers together through acts of empathy. Loyalties are multiplied rather than divided, identities hyphenated rather than fragmented. At the heart of these poems, there remains an absent center, celebrated in song, wept over in exile: Kashmir, a homeland reduced to a battleground, its people subjected to endemic violence. The bond that gives this collection its title is the one between the poet and his mother – the poet wrote his mother’s letters to her dictation as a child and teenager, while she retreated into a parallel reality of her own. A profound sadness inhabits these poems, yet so too do a continuity of affection, a lineage of hope. I leave you with the word Mouje: mother, mother country.
Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, essayist and curator based in Bombay; his books of poetry include Jonah Whale. His translation of Lal Ded has been published as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin [India] 2011)
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