Ancestors’ Tomb: ‘My Mother was a maidservant of the Communist Party’

An old Chinese Communist Party propaganda poster.
An old Chinese Communist Party propaganda poster.

Mar Jang-nyug (pseudonym) is a Tibetan writer born and brought up in Marong village of Ngaba in the Tibetan province of Amdo. TCHRD presents another translated and edited essay from the author’s forthcoming book, Ancestors’ Tomb. This essay was written on 25 March 2012, a few months after the death of the author’s mother.

Ancestors’ Tomb is replete with accounts of unaddressed grievances and unfulfilled aspirations, at once personal and yet political, as is demonstrated by the tortured body of the author’s mother and her legacy to her son of a wounded heart, both bearing witness to brutalities bygone and present.

The invoking of memories about Ngaba during the nascent stages of Chinese rule is telling in that it gives a historical context – resonant with the underlying Buddhist theme of cause and effect – to the spate of self-immolation protests in Tibet in recent years. The recollections of Ngaba inhabitants shed light on deep-rooted grievances against past and current injustices that, in many ways, explains why Ngaba became the first Tibetan area to witness self-immolation protests.

My Mother was a Maidservant of the Communist Party

Mar Jang -nyug

Spending life in emptiness with a cold and melancholic heart, striving hard, walking on humble and unsteady legs; like a divine offering, the dark world hovers above our heads. No activity is more valuable than placing one’s hopes and aspirations in the force of compassion and unapologetic and fearless pride. No work is more precious than dedicating one’s life to the survival of one’s nation and culture. As someone who is supposed to be involved in such work, at times I forget that far away my gray-haired parents are yearning for their beloved son.

My beloved parents! Today, I endure a hitherto unendurable suffering. Unlike in the past, today tears stream down my cheeks. My beloved sixty-nine year old mother created and brought us seven siblings into this world. Amid the warmth of joys and happiness, she passed to us this hearth and home. My dear beloved mother, I am aware of the deep ocean-like faith in your heart that one day we would see each other. I am aware of the burning desire in your heart that one day we would be reunited.

Sadly, I didn’t see the face of my beloved mother. She abandoned me forever. My dear mother, no one can count the amount of sweat and tears you shed for us children. How can we measure the depth of the pain in your heart?

I shall never forget that each time I left my mother to search for the rainbow-like future, she saw me off with her tears. I shall always remember her caring and anxious words: “Do you have enough food to eat and enough clothes to wear?”

In her entire life, my beloved mother never saw a day of sunshine and happiness. She grew up surrounded by unendurable pain and agony. When she was an infant, she was robbed of the love and care of her beloved parents and relatives. She was an orphan, a lonely soul. When she  told me of the humiliations she had been subjected to in life, they reminded me of the exploitation of the capitalist societies in the West.

My dear beloved mother, you are the saviour who helped me cross the desert of melancholy. You are the one who gave consciousness to my life. You are the one who showed me the light to the future. I shall never forget you. Every time I think about the pain you endured in life, terror and nausea strike my heart.

Thanks to the great peaceful liberation brought by the Communist Party, my mother became an orphan. As I mentioned before, my mother lost her father when she was very young. The Red Army killed him in 1959. My mother had three siblings. She was the second oldest child. When their mother died at the hands of the Chinese, their eighty-year-old grandmother took care of them. But the Chinese arrested and killed their grandmother too. The four siblings not only became orphans but were accused of being black hatters. Despite being children, they were subjected to forced labor. People belonging to lower classes abused and humiliated them. They spat on their faces.

Because of the harsh agricultural labor she was subjected to, my mother suffered physical deformities. Her fingers became so deformed that for years she was not able to tie the belt around her chupa.  Her shoulders and knees suffered deformities too.  Her physical deformities finally claimed her life.

I haven’t fulfilled my duty to repay the kindness of my beloved mother. My only excuse is that I was fully preoccupied with my studies. I spent my whole life dreaming about repaying  her kindness. Sadly, I couldn’t see the face of my beloved mother when she passed away.

When I heard the cries of my mother on the telephone, I became so anxious. I felt as if my world had been turned upside down. I thought I couldn’t endure the painful desire to see her. But I had a responsibility to the future of a few thousand students. There was no way I could shirk my responsibility. For a whole week, I had countless dreams of reunion with mother. I shall never forget the advice my mother gave to me in my dreams. Like a nightingale thirsting for water, I left in haste to see my mother on the morning of 10 November 2011. Sadly, when I reached my mother’s home, I found that she had left this world without waiting for me. I felt so lonely, as if I was abandoned in a desert. I felt helpless, as if I was a rabbit at the mercy of an eagle’s claws. Apart from reciting the Buddhist mantras, I couldn’t do anything.

When I saw my mother’s corpse lying in the light of a lone butter lamp, a deep pain struck my chest. Tears that I shed from the depth of my heart were like a fortress to guard the eyes of my mother from death. Bending my knees on the pillow, I gave a gentle touch to the forehead of my mother; it was like a frozen stone in a winter river. The image of a soulless cold body struck me. I stood still there,  like a statue.

With the clanging of sacred bells, my father and siblings prayed for the soul of my deceased mother, offered food to lamas and monks and welcomed visitors who  came to our house to pay their last respects. Following our age-old traditions, they sought blessings for the corpse from lamas and sacred monasteries before carrying it to the cemetery. At the cemetery, an old man took the corpse around, and cut it open in the chest. He struck the skull of the corpse with a hammer. After crushing the skull, he gave the remains of it to my father. Then a swarm of vultures hovering in the air swooped down on my mother’s corpse to eat away all the flesh. The faces of my father and siblings reflected a deep satisfaction that my mother would be reborn in a heavenly realm. But I suffered from an enormous sense of loss. I felt as if I was being crushed by a huge weight of embarrassment. I had no choice but to leave the cemetery.

Of course, it would be of no use to bemoan the suffering of my mother. But she belonged to a historic generation and she was very special. She was one of those mothers whose memory is worth keeping and commemorating.

My beloved father! You have been waging battles to overcome the changing fate of our family. Time and again, you saved mother from the jaws of the lord of death. Time and again, you helped mother rise up from her bed. To you, I express my deep gratitude and love. I pray that my heart is not dispossessed of the feelings of love and care for a father who is being crushed by the weight of old age and time.