My Mother’s Scribe

My Mother’s Scribe tells the story of my mother, Maryam, who started losing her mind during the Partition of India, in 1947, which tore apart millions of families like ours. Mother’s condition worsened when, after 40 years of marriage, my father remarried. Both my mother and the new wife lived under the same roof.

Many poems, set in Kashmir, are from the view of her young son, who serves as his mother’s scribe as she writes to the “Prime Ministers of the World,” airing her aspirations. Together, mother and son, limn an intriguing poetic journey – from the snow-capped Himalayas of Kashmir to the terraced grounds of the Hebrew Home in The Bronx.

Published by Yoda Press.

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Book cover for My Mother's Scribe by Rafiq Kathwari

Mother Writes to President Eisenhower

Photo of US President Dwight D Eisenhower

6 August 1956

Dear Mr. President,

I’m your shadow under the Kashmir sky.

My 7-and-9-year- old boy and girl

are over there across the Cease Fire Line

and my younger four are with me

over here on this side of Partition.

Photo of young boy in shadow by Rafiq Kathwari

Children who grow up apart don’t know

how to say goodbye.

Gods of wrath have flung me

into an unloved city where flowers are dusty,

and branches are weeping.

Even birds have stopped singing.

My home feels empty. Why

can the blessed nuns at Jesus & Mary

Convent, Murree readily cross the Line

to teach at the Presentation Convent,

Srinagar, and my children can't? Gods

of wrath are killing my memory.

A mother without memory has no history.

I shield myself with silence.

A voice speaks inside my heart. Often,

I wish to make myself wings, and fly.

I have run out of tears, Mr. President.

You are the sky and the earth. Please

tear down all walls dividing people,

not just in Kashmir but wherever

children become barricades. Please

show the world our resolve

by printing this in The New York Times.

Good luck in your bid for re-election.

I’ll pray for your victory. Sincerely,

Drawing of Maryam Kathwari by Saira Wasim

Mrs. Maryam Jan,


Pakistan-administered Kashmir

Original drawing by Saira Wasim.

Image of family crewels as sold by Rafiq Kathwari

Ather Zia

Author, Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women′s Activism in Kashmir (2019)

My Mother’s Scribe gut-punched me. Rafiq captures his mother’s worldly vanities, endearing her to the reader. The apple does not fall far from the tree—this is a Kashmiri apple at that.

Ranjit Hoskote

Ranjit Hoskote, poet, essayist and curator based in Bombay, translated I, Lalla:The Poems of Lal Ded (2011)

A profound sadness inhabits My Mother’s Scribe, yet so too do a continuity of affection, a lineage of hope. I leave you with the word Mouje: mother, mother country….

Gerald Jonas

former staff writer at The New Yorker, and a longtime contributor to the New York Times

Rafiq Kathwari is a dangerous man. A poet of family history, of geopolitics, he breaks down walls and leaves glittering shards whose beauties make you weep for what is and what could be. This is poetry that expects tears and earns them.  From a mother’s heart-wrenching madness to a nation’s lost paradise, the words confront change without flinching. Experience the alchemy by which art draws solace from suffering, resolution from desolation…

Justine Hardy

Founder, Healing Minds Foundation, a holistic mental health organization treating Kashmiris mentally scarred by the violence

Here is a threading together of loss: the Kashmir that Rafiq Kathwari spins together, held by poetic legacy so as to stop the essence of Kashmir from slipping through, is not a place but a prayer. Each line of My Mother’s Scribe draws on poetry’s miraculous capacity to  reveal what the head finds so hard to hear from the heart.

Waqas Khwaja

Poet, Hold Your Breath

My Mother’s Scribe brings to life an entire age, with its conflicts, discords, and betrayals. A rare, exacting, illuminating collection that presents the human condition with enviable artistic economy and cleanses the heart and mind of all dross….

Gabriel Rosenstock

Irish poet and a thaumaturgist, his lates work is Walk With Gandhi (2019)

My Mother’s Scribe is not some mealy-mouthed requiem for a departed materfamilias but a madcap homage to someone with imagined links to the makers and shakers of her era. Kathwari does for poetry what Marquez, Kharms and Vonnegut did for prose…

Book cover for In Another Country by Rafiq Kathwari

A collection of my poems won the 2013 Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. Doire Press published the collection as, In Another Country, in 2015.

Colette Inez (1931-2018)

author of The Luba Poems (Red Hen Press)

“Keenly observed, Kathwari’s subjects are the great subjects: family, war, history and love. Whether writing of his “off kilter” mother or harking back to the “speak memory” of his Kashmir childhood forever split by the Partition of 1947, Kathwari writes poetry of brilliant intensity. This is an original and sometimes heart-breaking book and deserves high praise.”

Alfred Corn

author of Unions (Barrow Street Press)

“Rafiq Kathwari is several poets rolled into one, reminding us, by turns, of Ginsberg, Plath and Richard Howard. This diverse collection of poems is autobiographical without being suburban, a window onto domestic experience in post-Partition Kashmir. Also a reminder that the family romance is always only a step away from civil war.”

Susan Shapiro

author of What’s Never Said (Heliotrope)

“Rafiq Kathwari’s poetry — often set in Kashmir — is breathtakingly beautiful, piercingly honest, wildly exotic yet universal too, as if you put Derek Walcott, Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri in a blender.”

Gabriel Rosenstock

author of The Naked Octopus (Evertype)

“Vivid, fearless vignettes of the displaced denizens of our global village, poems and prose poems that encompass a myriad of moods and situations, humour and horror, tradition jostling with modernity, autobiographical and family sketches with an aura of magic realism and sheer cussedness about them… a bloody marvel!”


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