I wasn’t beside her when she battled for her life in the Intensive Care Unit of SKIMS, though we were both admitted to the same hospital. I’m sure she must have expected me to be there, to comfort her, offer a sip of water, or even recite Soura Yaseen or Awrade-e-Fatiha. Maybe she assumed I was too frail to notice her disappearing in front of my eyes. After all, being the youngest among her children, she adored, cared for, and prayed for me all the time. I am not sure what was going through her mind but, like my father, she must have desired her eldest son ‘Ache Gashe’ (apple of her eyes) to be with her when the time came to bid farewell to this mortal world, and that is perhaps why both left this world while in his arms, my father nine years ago and my mother last year.
Just two weeks before her death, I had been to Kupwara, my native place, to see Boba—my mother. Whenever I would travel outside of Kashmir, I would always visit her first to seek her blessings. The very next morning, I left for Jammu. Upon arrival, I spoke to her. She was in good spirits. After two days, she called me again to confirm my welfare. While speaking, she was intermittently coughing, upon which I enquired about her health. She said, “taph te chass tchem” (am suffering from fever and cough) but hastened to tell me not to worry about it, she will recover soon.
The next morning, I called my brother to inquire about Boba’s health. He informed me that she tested positive for COVID and they were taking her to Srinagar for treatment. I dropped the idea of going to Mumbai and rushed back to Srinagar. As they say, misfortune comes in bundles. While at Srinagar Airport, I, too, tested positive for Covid, and my vitals were not encouraging for other health parameters. A day after, I was admitted to the Kashmir Nursing Home, where Boba and my elder brother were admitted for Covid treatment. Boba’s condition was not improving, so she was referred to SKIMS, Soura, for further treatment. However, she was reluctant to the idea of moving to SKIMS as it brought some abominable memories to the fore. We had lost our father in the same hospital.
After a lot of persuasion, she finally reached SKIMS. However, her condition worsened on the third day of her admission. My SPO2 levels also dropped while tending to her. My brother’s condition was no different. Doctors attending her were planning to intubate her as her condition continued to deteriorate. By then she had tested negative for Covid, but the damage was already done.
As doctors were preparing for her intubation, she’d already given up eating and drinking. But at my request she opened her mouth. I tried to serve her what turned out to be the last morsel of her life—a slice of bread with a few sips of chai. Boba probably knew this was our last meeting, so she conceded to my request. She wasn’t comfortable with the idea of intubation. We convinced her. We thought she will recover, not realising she wanted to be with us for some more days. Her parting words before she was shifted to intubation, “bus chene ather cheme diles” (I am lulling the pain in my heart), still resonate in my ears. A few minutes later she was intubated and taken to ICU.
Admitted to the covid care room which was at a stone’s throw from the ICU, I helplessly watched the misfortunes unfolding.
When healthier, Boba had a strange concern: what if she died and I was not in Kashmir? Earlier during my academic days when I insisted on staying for a longer time in China, she vehemently opposed the idea and refused any prospect of my working outside J&K. Here I was, neither in China nor outside Kashmir, but just a few meters away from her and not permitted to visit her ward. She left this world while in the intensive care unit at 7:30 PM on January 29, 2021. While some of my family members were still on their way to convey this life-shattering news to me, a friend’s text message blinked on my phone screen, “Sorry for your loss, Bhai.” This sent my world crashing; I knew what it meant.
Although I was not by her side as she bade goodbye to this world, she may not have perhaps wished me to mourn her death alone in the hospital, and certainly she didn’t want to be buried before I saw her face one last time. That is why my Covid test report arrived just as they were getting ready to transport her body home. I tested negative, though my condition was not good.
Boba was a noble soul. She always wished for her family to be present when she died. We were all there. She lived and died the way she wanted to. A pall of gloom descended on our hometown when her mortal remains reached home. Young and old alike were in tears. During and after her funeral, I would hear stories about her Ibadat, Sakhawat, and Shafaqat from everyone who had seen or met her. She would pray for everyone including relatives, neighbours, and friends. She would visit every single home in the locality that she felt needed some assistance. Whenever she would call me, before enquiring about my welfare, she’d ask about my friends’ well-being. Boba’s compassion and affection to help others were beyond everything. I remember when 15 years ago security forces began a search operation in our locality, she served them tea. “I am a mother,” she replied when asked why we should serve tea when they are the ones bothering us. ‘Their mothers must be waiting for them, too, back home, just as I do for my children,” she said.
People would call her Sakhi. Because she would give away everything she had. She would lend a hand to those in need with whatever little resources she had. When she left this mortal world, she had only a few thousand rupees in her account. Whenever I would ask her, “What do you do with your money?” “Me tche panen kharche kenh,” (I have to take care of some of my own expenses), she would answer. In the heart of my heart, I always knew she never spends a penny on herself. Though we had no idea she would give away every dime she had. Boba was a go-to person for anyone in need, be it in her immediate family, in the neighbourhood, or in some other hamlet. It has been a year now since she left but I always feel her presence.
Boba was the epitome of love, warmth, and affection. In her death, I lost my affectionate mother, while others lost support and sympathiser. After she is gone, the world is no longer the same place, it shall never be. Till we meet again, Boba…
Zindagaani Thi Teri Mehtaab Se Tabinda Tar
Khoob Tar Tha Subah Ke Tare Se Bhi Tera Safar
Asman Teri Lehad Par Shabnam Afshani Kare
Sabza-e-Nourasta Iss Ghar Ki Nighebani Kare
(Dr Iqbal R.A)