Rehmat Malik

I wrote this poem about a year ago when I was visiting “Azad” Jammu-Kashmir, my mother’s homeland. I wanted to explore generational differences in understanding the Kashmiri struggle for Azadi (liberation) and solidarity across the Line of Control. I wanted to write about my mother, a Kashmiri who married into a Pakistani Punjabi family and then moved there. As I increasingly shed the sanctioned ignorance that keeps the two occupied sides of Kashmir separated and learned more about the Azadi struggle on the Indian-occupied side, I wanted to understand my mother’s exclusion within Pakistan and her ambivalence toward Azadi. This poem is about the whispered conversation we had on the phone one night because she was too afraid to speak of solidarity on phones that might be listened to.


I was birthed by magic.

my mother is –

mounds of pillowy skin

stomach etched with deep faultlines.

she does not remember when they carved out the lines of control.


in transient moments of reunion, when I’m not continents away

I rub my cheeks against the skin of her stomach, can’t help but love her for her flesh

run my fingers along her scars, imagine quiet haunted valleys,

imagine turbulent rivers, imagine ancient tree-roots binding us to the land

imagine the expansion of flesh that envelops my entire existence in her folds –


we never speak of it.

except when she says

“yeh zameen humara haq hay”

(this land/home is our right)


nehmat, noor, maujza[1]

kashmiri malika[2]


Azadi flows in her veins.


we whisper on the phone

“pata hay keh yeh fauji ab humara phone bhi sun saktay hain?”

(the army can listen to our calls now you know)

“ammi aap bhi Azadi chahtay ho?”

(mama do you want Azadi too?)

“ye log humaray log naheen hain” she says evasively.

(these people are not our people)

“tumharay punjabi papa boltay hain keh kashmiri bewafa hotay hain. lekin wafa kesay karein?”

(your punjabi papa says kashmiris are not loyal. but how can we be loyal?)


her kneecaps ache, reservoirs of unshed water

I can’t get to the hurt so I cup the hard bone

try to massage some warmth in

her hands are unrested,

have weathered unkind storms.

each cracked crevice,

holds years of swallowed pain.


if her skin could talk,

it would cough up ghosts

– cough up vengeance


but her rough, work-torn fingers

still hold me soft

her mamta[4]

conjures up unreplicable sweetnesses


last night I put zaitoon[5] on her hardened knuckles

attempted to knead alive the hurt

failed as I watched two tears seep quietly into old-fresh wounds

as she absorbed her pain into assimilation once again.


she runs.

barefoot, blistered lungs

between the hills of Safa and Marwa forever elusive mirages.



“woh log kya chahtay hain?”

(what do these people on the other side of the border want?)

“ammi bhagawat bhi haq hay.”

(mama rebelling – disloyalty – is their right too)

she tells me to lower my voice when I say “Azadi inshaallah.”[6]


[1]blessing, god’s light, miracle



[4]maternal love

[5]olive oil

[6]god willing, freedom will come



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