Poem

To Tariq, Younger Brother
7 November 1952 – 7 November 2014

Lines written at Raj Bagh Cemetery and at Jewel House

The root of our life, the life below the life
Richard Howard

At Raj Bagh Cemetery

Aha! There you are buried at Father’s feet,
next to uncle Rasool. Are you still
not talking to him? Why did you steer clear

of him all your adult life? Grudges?

We lived our childhood with his children, after
all. Say, “Hello! Uncle Rasool,” or your
typical “Howdy!” Believe me, talking cures.

“I don’t want to see your face again,”

you wrote me once I sold you my share in
Jewel House for a brotherly sum.
Net one-eighty. In no time, you seeded

Mia’s young mind with poison talk: Don’t

trust our family, you told her. Have faith in
only the peerless Mister Peer, best
friend—who, by the way, was not at your burial.

Everyone is Corruptible,

his creed, you told me once. No money for your
school, you wrote Mia. She spread the news:
I had taken all. Tsk! Tsk! I know no dad,

except in fiction, who would disgrace

his sole heir, not even the tuk tuk driver
who dodges rogue traffic to wheel me
to the lively veggie bazaar at Dal Gate.

Such malice! Matched only by your ex-

wife’s mediocrity, turning up her fatuous
nose as if her kind had all the world’s
culture, Kashmiris only agriculture.

“I am here,” she said at the burial

“to protect my daughter.” From whom? I asked. She
smiled slyly. O, the smell of money!
You lived large from Santa Fe to Srinagar,

left behind a trail of cash deposits,

swept away by your ex, using Mia’s
legal shield. You buggered away
your hopes in vile deeds: Sham documents, forged

land records, post-dated checks on closed

accounts, fake currency. No Will. No goodwill.
No Good Faith. Mia inherited
your quirky gene: “Tariq is survived by his

mother, who lives in New York,” she said

in a legal brief. “Your niece misled the court
by implication,” my lawyer, said.
“Not to object will also implicate five

surviving siblings.” Monumental

insincerity. It is well past one hundred
eighty days: our handshake deal unsealed.
Shall Mia grow up grasping wicked values,

or embrace fair-mindedness? Is she

filling a bucket at Mercy college,
or lighting a fire? No one in this
conceited town will grab her birthright as long

as I am securing mine, unless,

of course the peerless Mister Peer taints
my attorney, or even the judge.
Shall her soul find peace doing it all her way

tutored by her mother and her crooked

connections? Or shall Mia be guided by
the Hadees? “It’s a sin,” Prophet
Mohammad, peace be upon him, said, “to take

what is not yours, but it’s a bigger

sin not to take what is yours.” What would you
know about the Hadees? It ain’t Sin-
atra. Relatives you shunned arranged a fond

farewell. Stepbrother Ali—O how
you hated calling him a stepbrother; loathed
him for looting your rug shop years back

at Father’s urging because he unearthed funds

you embezzled from Decorative
Furnishings. Ali lifted your hard hulk, robed
in white, on his broad shoulders. “The past

is the past,” stepbrother said, his head held high.

The truth is a terrorist, Tariq.
A divinity measures our deeds. She put
you on the Fast Track queue. The sea was

sympathetic. Disgorged you a day after

a rip-tide lashed you from Calangute
beach on your sixty-third birthday. Your desire
not to see my face ever again

became your destiny. I saw your bloated face

in a trashy Goa morgue, claimed your corpse,
booked your remains as cargo on a hopping
Air India flight to bury you here.

I wasn’t expecting hell on my sixty-sixth birthday.

At Jewel House with Aslum, older brother

Aha! Call to Prayer At Dusk, all at once
from banks of the Jhelum and beyond,
a signal for Aslum and me to unscrew

Double Horse whisky. The paint is peeling

in the living room after past September
flood. Some say a chopper plucked you from
the attic. Others, you rafted to safety.

Don’t know whom to believe anymore.

A Bill Blass chain-stitch ribbon rug blends suitably
with the steam-cleaned couch. Art-Deco hearth
is ice. In the dining room, Poppies

mural by Suzanne is a fading memory.

“Jewel house was bought in the nineteen-twenties
by our Grandfather,” Aslum says,
savoring his drink, “from the Maharaja

of Kashmir who had it dotingly

built for daughter of Nizam of Hyderabad,
richest motherfucker in the Raj”—
but you know this already. As the whisky

loosens him, Aslum describes how he

caught his ex-wife red-handed in “a playful
posture”—his phrase—with Father on his
double bed. “Next day, I told her to get out,”

he slurs. I love discovering Aslum

for the first time in my life. The bond is rich.
Wish you were here, Tariq, your name is
a good word. Aslum and I sip our morning

tea on the verandah, just as you

and I used to do in our dressing gowns, striped
night suits. Red poppies sway near the black
wrought iron gate, my name repainted under

yours. The garden, still damp, is raring

for a haircut as are the evergreens by
the driveway. Broken bricks are scattered
along freshly rebuilt boundary walls. On our

western front, all is loud: the Member

of Parliament is raising a new story
on his security barracks. Hmmm…
did he obtain the required building permit?

On our eastern border, the Police

Officers Mess is still pinching our electrical
wires. I shall sort that out tomorrow.
When electricity is purloined, power

corrupts. A crimson rose bloomed. Swallows

vie with sparrows over last night’s rice Aslum
tossed on the lawn. A nightingale is
chirping, “Hello! Hello! Uncle Rasool. Hello!”

—by Rafiq Kathwari, Srinagar, 7 May 2015

Mr. Kathwari’s book, In Another Country, is scheduled for print in September by Doire Press.

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