Ah. A refreshing break from the internet was what I desperately needed!
I just cannot see an active screen anymore. I’ve visited a record number of websites in just a few days. Just thinking about that makes me feel dizzy, hehe.
Anyway, have started reading again, good news, yippie!!! Finished with Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times and begun re-reading his Guards, Guards!
I also have been receiving my books ordered from Amazon. The site office guys have been staring at me very strangely these last few days. They have started worrying about me, I think. Wait till they see the piles of books in my room!
Recently got an updated reading list for one of my modules emailed to me. Wow. Impressive. The module’s called Modernism and Mass Culture. Basically, it assesses whether Modernist writers/thinkers/artists were elitist intellectual snobs who spurned the masses and wrote (obliquely) for a select few. Of course, since I’m interested in Postmodernism, I felt it was high time for me to plunge into the unknown and unchartered waters of its precursor, Modernism. Choosing this module has been an act of masochism really, now that I think of it :). As something that mystifies me, it represents some sort of challenge I feel I have to overcome. My stubborn streak again!
Let’s hope it’s not a bad choice!
I have been reading Iain Banks’ The Bridge very slowly and carefully these last few days. Usually I take more or less a day to finish a book but I don’t want to take any chances with that. After all, this book is going to be my food and drink for the following weeks! It’s lying next to me on the table as I type.
I wanted to go out today, but actually didn’t go much further than the library. Moreover, it’s been raining all day, and I didn’t want to take any chances with that horrible cold I’ve got.
Just watched bits and pieces of Moulin Rouge again on my laptop. I just love this movie. Many have complained that the action is so quick that they are left bewildered and confused. But I find this mix of rapidity, spontaneity, emotion and lightheadedness too captivating to resist. I’ve had no problem at all following the story.
After that, I listened to some eclectic songs while I typed some mail to the family.
Today’s Sankranti. I’m supposed to be fasting. Oh well. Thought is what counts. (This last sentence must be the first statement that paves the road to hell, I’m afraid, hehe!) I do not have to show anything to God. He sees both within and without. And He knows how weak and imperfect this particular creation of His is! I have a very different notion of God and religion than the rest of my family. I wonder how that happened. Socialising agents must have made a huge mistake there! Heads are going to roll, hehe.
It is rather strange though for me, as a member of an extended family, to be different. You are not encouraged to be different in an extended family. You are encouraged to watch and learn from your elders and betters. Oh, I have watched all right. I have watched all my life and learnt very well. Perhaps not as well as I would want. The observer always faces the risk of being affected by what he observes, however impartial he might be. I have watched but trod away from the beaten path. I believed then, and I still believe now, that if you pursue something with all your heart, determination, hard work and talent, then why not? Even success will have to queue up for such a person.
Even then, however different my approach to life has been, I have learnt to respect my culture. And my culture enjoins me to respect my elders. So I have. Much of the time, I see my life stretched out before me, and I can clearly see, not presciently, but close enough to that, how my life will intersect with that of my family, how demands will be made and pressures exerted, and how I will react then, perhaps rebelling, perhaps accepting, perhaps compromising. I am no expert but I can clearly understand some basics of family dynamics. There is the individual happiness of the indivudual and there is the happiness and well-being of the family. These two often find themselves in conflict. More on that later because I often think about this.
I have been seriously thinking about living here. Of course, this is only a half-hearted daydream.
For one, I’m bonded to my government because of that scholarship they gave me to come to the UK in the first place. When I finish here, I have to get back and work for them for 5 bloody years. I’d have liked to pursue further studies and research. Indeed, when I left uni in Mauritius, some of the lecturers told me it would be nicer if I could do both an MA and a PhD before coming back. Life here has its attractions.
Maybe the British/Western-born young people would find it odd on my part but talking to young people who have, for several years, been living on their own, separate from their families, seems somewhat surreal. It’s not really incomprehensible, but rather surreal for a person like me (like thousands like me) who are bound inextricably with their families. I understand why my aunt likes it here and why she never came back. Though part of my grandparents’ house is hers and indeed, is presently being furnished (for a highly hypothetical retour au pays natal), I cannot really believe she’d be at ease within the Mauritian society. I know she really dislikes the web of alliances, the mini and maxi feuds (as I call them), the backbiting and backstabbing, the dependency of it all, the high-strung, emotive aspect of extended family ties. And she thinks I‘ve been having it easy while I was back home, that I’ve been pampered (she actually uses a creole term which more explictly explains what she thinks) by so much attention and care; that I need to be more independent. She, as the eldest, wisely (?) chose to leave her siblings on their own, and we children had to grow up in this horribly-delightful/ delightfully-horrible environment. It’s very easy to be opiniated, condescending and so superior when you are far from it all (she likes being British). Try living with people and see if it’s easy!
As she is now discovering, I am much more than what she thinks I am. I will accept things only as far as they are ok with my personal advisors hidden in my heart and my head. Beyond that, I’m inflexible as my beloved mountains back home.
Slowly but inexorably, I’m getting to know her and she doesn’t like that a bit, hehe! As the eldest and, at the time, the only one who’d constructed an independent life on her own, she is the one everyone in the family looks up to. To me, she was that mythical eldest aunt that miraculously appeared once every two or three years to spend some time in Mauritius. For many of us children, she was the stylish and trendy version of Santa who brought gifts by airplanes. I remember wondering while very very small, if she had a special agreement with the pilots to pack in all her gifts into the plane. At that time, I also remember (ah memories!) having once seen once of those big jumbo-thingy cargo airplanes and I always associated her arrival (when I was a tiny thing) to these planes.
Anyway, she was always looked up to and in pure Indian tradition, as the eldest, she was also the arbiter and judge of all petty squabbles that occasionally erupted within the bustling environment of my family. Sometimes, as I observed with much interest, petty feuds seem to erupt among siblings (adults!!!) quite near the time when my aunt would be coming and would hence refuse to cool down (as they usually did). It was as if neither party was willing to let go before the other so that my aunt, who had come for a bit of holidays in the paradise island, would be finding herself pronouncing judgements.
My older cousins and I would convene and discuss the events, especially the childishness and puerile nature of it all. Of course, if they overheard us, we would always get into trouble, because to openly criticize an adult is (of course) an act of immaturity. The parent of the child would immediately be targeted and once within one’s own house, away from prying ears:
“Happy now? Did you see how she/he was laughing at us because of you/what you said? You are really worthless!”
You tend to develop a pretty thick skin after that. I confess that all of us children were highly sensitive to this atmosphere. One way for adults to relieve themselves of the tension of these constrained (not exactly negative or conflicting) relationships was to take it out on the children. Not physically, I mean. We were like the messengers in the old Hindu mythological serials, untouchable ambassadors who went from one domain to the next, irrespective of present feuds, alliances, good/bad times. But even untouchable ambassadors get to hear things, usually snide, insidious comments against self or parents, meant not to hurt immediately, but to be reported back at parents… Of course, these messages are not meant to be understood by us children. How naive of them! Many a time have I repressed the urge (good move) not to reply with something as vitriolic in the face of a supercilious aunt who was mentally rubbing her hands with glee at having said something that would be reported back and thus fire up another misunderstanding. (The truth is, we do love fighting in the family…or at least, being in a state of tension vis-a-vis one another – It doesn’t have to be so all the time and, I assure you, it really isn’t – but as this entry shows – the fights remain the most memorable things you remember) Well, she would be severely disappointed because I would be aware of the hidden tones and keep it to myself. Blake refers to the poison tree in his Songs of Innocence/Experience:
A Poison Tree
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I water’d it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veil’d the pole:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree
A fight does not develop from one side only. It is nourished and sustained by both parties. This is the role I played in the case of such family politics. I was the internal saboteur, trying naively to do his best to keep the peace.
Obviously, I realise now that much of the fighting was light-hearted and fickle and did not last for long. The adults had their own conventions; their own rituals and their own agreements. They fought for the fun of it, to relieve the tension of living so close to each other, of being held accountable to the familial gaze for every action they did. They fought little fights just to see how strong their links were. It was highly therapeutic, their fighting; it certainly made them look and feel younger! At the time, though, this would sometimes keep me awake at night, wondering if this meant the end of the world – my world… and wondering what I could do to save that riotous family (which I absolutely adore) from perdition.
I laugh at this little me…that small, younger, more naive version of myself, who so much loved his big family. Yet, I do not laugh derisively, because that version of me did believe sincerely in what he thought, felt and did. And I know that somewhere, under all these layers of age, responsibility, education and civilisation, he is still there…running about in the large yard from house to house, knowing that all the houses in that yard were his, and all their inhabitants his very own.
Ah…those were the times…
To return to what I was saying before the semi-nostalgic digression, my aunt often found herself being the arbiter of these small feuds. The image of her I grew up with was that of responsible adulthood. She was the one, I felt, who understood everything about people, who could deal with all sorts of problems. Was she an idol? No, not really, but most of us (including the adults) had placed her on a pedestal from whom even she could not budge.
Now that I am here and do see her, if not hear from her, I can see and understand her more clearly, with her faults and foibles, as well as her qualities. You can’t help revealing aspects of your self when you communicate and interact with others!
And she, having realised this, is not very happy with showing what she must interpret as signs of weakness. I will stop at that. The rest is im my mind, perhaps to be written down later.
I had not planned to write about my childhood. It is something that comes with sweet and sour memories. I was never alone when I was small. Never really alone. I always had someone to play with, fight with, etc. This is why when all my aunts and uncles started having larger families and began to move away to houses of their own, I felt the need to be closer to my own cousins. I have tried to maintain my own small web of ties. Let’s see if it withstands the weight and pressure of time.
Nearly 1 am. Got to resume my reading.
James Joyce’s Ulysses intrigues me. I’ll have to read it someday soon because it figures on my reading list.