The Existence Of Family And The Non-Existence Of Self

From the book ‘Baby Loves Quarks!’

Iwatch the children run around with their cousins, or actually I don’t watch them. Like quarks, children have no position until they’re observed. They can’t be doing anything naughty until you see them, so I try to just not see.

So, (out of the corner of my eye) I see them running around—endlessly amused at a praying mantis in the garden—and I remember my own childhood. That joy at just being with other children, hiding under the buffet table stealing cutlets, maybe playing a video game, falling asleep on couches while the parents drink.

I’m old enough to have grown up myself, and to have seen cousins grow, and to see the cycles of life (and death) pass through families. I’ve felt the joy that other people’s children bring to a family, how houses fill up with little voices, how doors close with teenagers, and how young adults eventually leave. I’ve seen how houses fill, and how houses empty. I’m nearly 40.

I think of my 97-year-old grandmother, at home in the place I grew up, briefly. Her garden seems so small now, but in my childhood it was full of relatives, full of energy. I barely knew anyone but they all wanted a kiss and a sniff. For Christmas she’d sprinkle some grated coconut under the tree and tell us it was snow, give us little snips of coconut wine. When I was just a little baby, she used to carry me, me clutching onto her earlobe.

Now the house is largely empty. She tends the garden herself, but especially after COVID and the fuel shortages, people don’t visit so much. There’s certainly no parties. I bring my children and they briefly run around while Achchi feeds them way too many biscuits. The house is briefly alive for a moment, but a moment is all it is. I’m just another photo on the mantlepiece again. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.

On our way out of Sri Lanka (temporarily), we stay with my wife’s family in India, which is where the aforementioned cousins be. This house is alive now, at another point in the life cycle of community. The cousins run around so much that two of them get grounded. My kids stay up so let they get cranky.

We all eat together, we drink together, when I’m here I generally don’t touch money. It’s lucky because I can only withdraw $70 of forex a week from my Sri Lankan bank account. It’s still more than I need. There is a different existence here, different from my bank account, my name, my identity. Within family we share resources, we use relational names (brother, sister, uncle, aunt), and who we are is related. We’re simply not functioning as individuals. It’s a different plane of being.

I think the children understand this better than we do. They’re always rushing together (like quarks), they’re always demanding things of the adults, they’re always climbing on laps and heads with impunity. They—so much closer to the womb—understand the intrinsic interconnection of life, expressed through the eternal cry of Mommy! Mommy!